“I Don't Want an App to Do the Work for Me”: A Qualitative Study on the Perception of Online Grocery Shopping From Small Food Retailers

Angela C.B. Trude, Natasha B. Bunzl, Zoya N. Rehman, Brian Elbel, Serena Lau, Lillian A. Talal, Beth C. Weitzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Small food retailers often stock energy-dense convenience foods, and they are ubiquitous in low-income urban settings. With the rise in e-commerce, little is known about the acceptability of online grocery shopping from small food retailers. Objective: To explore perceptions of the role of small food retailers (bodegas) in food access and the acceptability of online grocery shopping from bodegas among customers and owners in a diverse New York City urban neighborhood with low incomes. Design: In-depth interviews were conducted with bodega owners and adult customers between May and July 2022. Participants/setting: Bodega owners who either had (n = 4) or had not (n = 2) implemented a locally designed online grocery system. Customers (n = 25) were recruited through purposive sampling and were eligible if they purchased at bodegas (>once per month), had low income (household income ≤130% of the federal poverty level or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] participants), and owned smartphones. Analyses performed: All interviews were transcribed and analyzed in MAXQDA (Verbi Software, Berlin, Germany), using grounded theory. Results: To owners and customers, bodegas were seen as good neighbors providing culturally appropriate foods and an informal financial safety net. Their perceptions concerning food cost and availability of healthy foods in bodegas diverged. Although most perceived online grocery from bodegas as a positive community resource, they also believed it was not suited to their own community because of the bodega's proximity to customers’ homes and the low digital literacy of some community members. Customers reported social norms of pride in not using online grocery shopping. Owners and customers believed the service would more likely be used if government benefits such as SNAP allowed payment for online orders. Both suggested improved outreach to increase program awareness and uptake. Conclusions: Online grocery shopping from small food retailers may be acceptable in urban communities with low income and was perceived as a community resource. However, important barriers need to be addressed, such as social norms related to pride in not using online grocery services, digital literacy, program awareness, and allowing SNAP payment for online orders from bodegas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)804-822
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2024


  • Food access
  • Food insecurity
  • Online grocery
  • Qualitative study
  • SNAP program
  • Small retailer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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