Can Amazon persuade enough people to buy fresh food online?

NEW YORK (AP) — Can Amazon, the company that persuaded people to buy ever more items online, win enough of them over to having their fresh groceries arrive in an Amazon box?

Going full throttle into groceries by announcing a $13.7 billion deal for Whole Foods on Friday, Amazon gets the advantage of using the stores as mini-distribution hubs to deliver items to customers. But online delivery of groceries has been tough to pull off.

Some shoppers worry about the quality of their produce and say they’re rather pick their pears themselves. Amazon, though its Prime benefits program has created strong loyalty, has a long way to go before it’s a default choice in groceries as it often is for books and electronics. And shoppers may be skittish about having Amazon take over one more element of their shopping experience.

“It’s funny. I was just ordering something on Amazon,” said Nick Yezierski, a hotel manager who was eating breakfast outside the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, Texas. “But I don’t really buy any home items on Amazon, not anything I put in my body.”

Peter Belanger of Newington, Connecticut, who was shopping at a Whole Foods in West Hartford, said he didn’t think he’d be interested in groceries online. “Most of us like to see what we’re buying, and it’s a good store, but we just wouldn’t buy online,” he said. “That’s something that doesn’t seem to right to me, actually.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, 59-year-old Deborah Sullivan says she does order some items online, but when it comes to clothes and food, she prefers to touch and feel the items. Her daughter Bethany Capels agrees and says she likes Whole Foods for the organic fruits she can serve her kids.

“Consumers want to know what they’re getting and putting in their bodies,” said Madeline Hurley, a senior analyst at market research firm IBISWorld. “Books are lot more homogenous,” she said, noting that a hardcover Harry Potter book is the same at Amazon — though Amazon can sell it at a lower price.

But shoppers could start to grow more comfortable buying, and Amazon sees the grocery business as a hot market because shoppers buy weekly or even more often for items they run out of. Walmart, which has the largest share of the U.S. grocery market, is ramping up its grocery services as a way to fuel online sales.

Online grocery sales are expected to increase from $71 billion this year to $177 billion in 2022, according to John Blackledge, an analyst at Cowen & Co. So there’s lots of room to grow.

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