A cashier checks out a customer at a grocery store in Brooklyn, New York

Juan Arrendondo / The New York Times

A cashier checks out a customer at a grocery store in Brooklyn, New York

July 2, 2020

Ithaca-Based Online Grocery Shopping Platform Booms Four Months Into Pandemic

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When COVID-19 infection rates began spiking in March, the U.S. entered a food frenzy as long lines and sparse shelves became the nationwide grocery store norm. However, to many people — especially the elderly and immunocompromised — grocery store shopping poses an increased health risk.

Due to these health concerns, Rosie, an Ithaca-based online grocery shopping platform founded by Cornell alumnus Nick Nickitas MBA ’14 in 2013, saw online order volume hit an all-time high in April.

“Our sales team saw a 900 percent increase of new stores signed between March 10 and June 1,” said David Makar, Chief Customer Officer of Rosie. Grocers who had already partnered with Rosie also saw increased demand in their online pickups and delivery.

Accommodating this increase meant ensuring that software continued to operate smoothly amid the pandemic. In the first 60 days of the coronavirus frenzy, Rosie launched 45 new software releases, offering continual operating upgrades to allow both customers and retailers to shop and fulfill orders with increased ease. These releases included a no-contact delivery option, where the grocery deliverer leaves bagged items at the doorstep, to further mitigate any potential spread of disease.

Even as the U.S. economy begins to reopen, online grocery shopping has remained popular. Makar attributed this to increased customer flexibility and convenience.

“Retailers have found [online ordering] is a great way to provide a lot of groceries to customers who don’t want to wait in line or cannot get into the store. They’ve been able to convert their customers to online by delivering a safe, convenient, and seamless experience,” Makar said.

The process has become very streamlined and arguably more convenient for customers. Makar describes the steps involved in online grocery shopping as pulling into the parking lot, having an employee place the groceries into the trunk, and leaving.

“There is no face-to-face contact at all,” Makar said.

In an increasingly technology-focused world, the preservation of time has become a requirement for most people, and customers are willing to “trade their money for time,” Makar said. “[Customers] are learning a new way of getting groceries and they like it.”

Although people initially may be hesitant to try online grocery store shopping, first-time customers tend to order online again.

“Once a shopper has placed their fourth order, there is between a 70 to 90 percent chance of converting to online shopping as their primary way of getting their groceries,” Makar said.

As grocers become more comfortable with online services, Makar predicted that online services will become more conventional.

“The online ecommerce experience is competing with the in-store experience,” he said. “It’s going to be as good or better of an experience than it is in store. Ultimately, stores will adapt how they operate as more business comes through online.”

And Makar’s statement may not apply exclusively to the grocery industry. The U.S. is expected to shift to a more technology-driven economy, especially after restrictions were put in place because of the pandemic. Since the market’s lowest point in March, NASDAQ has quickly outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 due to its disproportionate share of technology growth stocks including Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc.

Companies realize the cost-cutting gains to working from home and many retail stores are now closing locations to focus only on e-commerce sales. The country is transitioning — quite suddenly — to a more virtually interconnected society. Online grocery shopping represents just one of these many expected changes.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly titled David Makar’s position as Chief Compliance Officer. The article has since been updated to Chief Customer Officer.