Are consumers making healthier food choices when online shopping? Is it easier to stick to the list or can retailers make impulse purchasing more attractive online?

Nielsen projects that within the next ten years, 20 percent of all grocery purchases will be conducted online. Despite this, there has been little research conducted in the market that looks at how online purchasing environments influence consumer choice.

A new study has found that online shopping can be a double-edged sword. While it has the potential to increase healthy choices due to reduced amount of impulse purchases, nutrition labelling strategies, and overcoming food access limitations among individuals with limited access to stores, it also has the potential to increase unhealthy choices due to reasons such as consumers’ hesitance to purchase fresh produce online.

Retailers should look to leverage insights found across the globe and locally into consumer behaviour to help shoppers make decisions that are better aligned with a long-term health outlook. In-store product placement has previously been a successful tool for influencing consumer purchases. Therefore, the same could be applied to the online shopping environment.

There is a lot of scope for retailers when it comes to online shopping, with online shoppers less price-sensitive and less inclined to search for a cheaper alternative, they also tend to spend on average nearly $50 more per month compared to in-store shoppers.


What if when online food shoppers went to review the cart and it showed foods in ascending order of saturated fat? Or even further, offered a swap with a healthier alternative that can help to facilitate healthier buying choices?

“Finding effective ways of lowering the saturated fat in our shopping baskets, such as from meat, cheese or desserts, may translate to eating less of it, which could help lower our risk for heart disease,” said Dr Dimitrios Koutoukidis, the lead author of a study that looked at offering substitutes. “This is the first randomised trial to directly compare interventions targeting the environment and the individual to encourage healthier food choices. The findings could provide effective strategies to improve the nutritional quality of online food purchases.”

Koutoukidis said these results could be capitalised by online supermarkets which could implement either or both strategies knowing that they are potentially effective for lowering the saturated fat in their customers’ shopping baskets and therefore shape healthier food choices.


Shopping online for groceries makes it easier to avoid impulse purchases. However, researchers (and the industry) know that this is just temporary with retailers looking for ways in which to get products in front of consumers as if they were walking through the aisles of a traditional bricks and mortar store. Online shoppers have been seen to cut back almost ten percent on less nutritious items and six percent more on fresh produce, dairy, and meat.

The reason? It could be due to fewer distractions. Online shoppers don’t have to deal with other shoppers, noises, marketing suggestions, product placement and aisle layout. Because of this, online shoppers are more likely to be able to exercise self-control over their purchases which leads to fewer ‘treats’ being purchased.


According to six studies, online displays can help consumers make healthier decisions with the first screen shoppers see being the most powerful tool to influence their purchase decisions. There could be opportunities for retailers to tailor home screens to fit consumer needs, or complete personalisation, in order to promote new products to consumers that they are likely to purchase. In the meantime, with the homepage filled with fresh produce and healthy alternatives, it has been proven that it can help shoppers make better choices.


Consumers who shop in-store can stand in the breakfast aisle, or any aisle for that matter, and spend a lot of time looking at all of the different options, get lost in the colourful packaging, and the overwhelming amount of choice. Another study found that this brand exploration is more prevalent in-store than online and quantifies how features of online shopping websites like ‘My Favourites’ and ‘Previously Ordered’ along with the difficulty of quality verification, can contribute to a decreased brand exploration behaviour. Purchasing patterns are significantly different from offline to online despite being fulfilled by the same retailer. Consumers tend to be more brand loyal, purchase quantity and size as per previous orders and less price sensitive when they shop online.

Studies have shown that online grocery shopping makes sticking to a list easier, as well as helping consumers make better food choices if done right. It not only can save consumers time, and money but it also has potential to help fight food waste. Key takeaways from all of the studies have found that for grocery retailers, the future will most likely see increased revenues through online purchasing.

But for now, it is just as easy for a pack or two of chocolate biscuits to be added to the cart.