Exploring Online Grocery Shopping Perceptions among WIC Participants

Published April 2020 in Current Developments in Nutrition (CDN) as a Brief Communications: Research Report, “Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Grocery Shopping among Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Participants in Eastern North Carolina” has captured the attention of ASN journal readers.  To date, this research report has registered more than 7,000 full-text downloads.

Lead study author Stephanie B. Jilcott Pitts explained that she submitted her research team’s manuscript for publication in Current Developments in Nutrition because “this journal is a new and exciting journal.  Moreover, the readership includes the researchers and the practitioners that I wanted our research to reach.”

In addition, Dr. Pitts chose to submit her team’s manuscript as a Brief Communications: Research Report, a format that the CDN Editorial Board offers for publication of studies that are complete, but limited in scope.  Research Reports offer the same level of scientific rigor as full-length research manuscripts; however, they do not require extensive analysis and discussion of data.  According to Dr. Pitts, “I felt our study was very innovative and worth publication in the peer-reviewed literature.  Given the small sample size, however, the Brief Communications: Research Report format was more appropriate.  Moreover, the review process was highly efficient.”

Dr. Pitts’ study was designed to examine the perceived advantages and disadvantages of online grocery shopping among seven participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).  Following an initial in-depth interview, study participants completed an episode of online grocery shopping.  Next, participants completed an in-store shopping episode.  Finally, another series of in-depth interviews were conducted among the participants.

According to Dr. Pitts, “We wanted to learn if impulse or ‘vice’ shopping choices changed depending upon whether the shopping event occurred online or in-store.  We also wanted to learn whether online shopping versus in-store shopping changed shoppers’ perceptions of ‘pester power,’ such as children begging for unhealthy foods.  Finally, we wanted to learn how individuals perceived the advantages and disadvantages of shopping online.”

According to the study findings, participants believed that online grocery shopping offered the advantages of ease, convenience, and time-savings.  Disadvantages included inadequate substitutions, online shopping fees, lack of control over the selection of perishable goods, and the inability to find good deals compared to in-store shopping.

Interestingly, most participants made more impulse purchases online versus in-store; however, participants noted that they were more tempted to make impulse purchases in the store versus online.  “One surprising finding,” according to Dr. Pitts, “was that individuals sometimes reported healthy foods as impulse purchases.  Earlier literature has mainly characterized impulse purchases as unhealthy items such as candy, snack foods, and sugary beverages.”

Although this study did not specifically address how to enhance online shopping for WIC participants, Dr. Pitts believes, “placing WIC-approved healthy items front and center in the online grocery interface would be helpful.  In addition, providing recipes that use WIC-eligible items, with links to the ingredients, would be helpful for WIC moms.”

When Dr. Pitts initially launched her research study, she had no idea of how the COVID-19 pandemic would change grocery shopping: “It is incredible how online shopping has increased with the COVID pandemic,” she noted.  “It is my hope that our study findings can help researchers and grocers make it easier for customers to make healthier choices.”

If you are conducting a study that merits publication, but does not warrant a full research manuscript, please consider submitting your manuscript to Current Developments in Nutrition as a Brief Communications: Research Report.