Although many still characterize online grocery shopping as “niche” activity, recent numbers suggest it’s about to grow very soon and likely very rapidly. a January report from Toronto-based e-commerce platform provider Unata found that one in three U.S. consumers intends on grocery shopping online this year––up 64% compared to those who actually did shop for food items online the year before.
Other research from both the Food Marketing Institute and market researcher Nielsen has shown even higher anticipated growth in online grocery shopping for the near future. Second-year findings of the “Digitally Engaged Food Shopper” report predict that seven in 10 consumers will be grocery shopping online as soon as 2022 or as late as 2024.
With significant change looming on the horizon, many grocers are struggling to know how to take their first few steps toward catering to online expectations. To help those in this very early planning stage, we’ve summarized a few strategies those on the frontlines of change have taken to prepare themselves for shifting consumer trends.
1. Start making space for online grocery fulfillment
As store-level fulfillment of online orders becomes a major component of the grocery world, all grocers looking toward a more online-friendly future should consider how and where they’re going to allocate the space for holding orders and making pickup easy for consumers.
While it’s too early to nail down best practices for this type of physical store conversion, keep in mind that all early indications make it clear that many stores will need to handle periods of high pickup traffic, especially in the after-work rush.
2. Consider meal delivery and meal kit services
Consider adding meal kits and meal-delivery services for delivery or click-and-collect if you have the systems in place already. This allows customers to purchase meal solutions without the headache of a subscription service like Blue Apron or the variety of other services users pay for monthly.
In addition to partnering with third parties, retailers such as Publix, Walmart, and Kroger have recently introduced or expanded their own private label meal kits.
3. Keep the focus on your customers
When any retailer makes the mistake of concentrating on building a new channel rather than what needs to happen from the customer’s point-of-view, the end result can be a customer experience nightmare. A retailer might start to believe, for example, that sales from one channel will cannibalize sales from others, when in fact, a simple look at the numbers would suggest something very different and wholly positive.
In this example, most retailers who add online components to their traditional in-store channel find that online sales are largely incremental business and change consumer shopping behavior in beneficial ways––whether it’s more “top-off” trips, or larger overall basket sizes.
In short, grocers should be cautious when making significant changes when catering to a new channel. Make sure all activities are supported with real-world evidence that suggests customers will in fact take advantage of the new channels you give them access to.
4. Get a handle on out-of-stocks now
In other areas of e-commerce that mix online ordering with brick-and-mortar pickup, on-shelf availability (OSA) has proven itself to be a major struggle. In short, online ordering makes out-of-stocks feel much worse to consumers. While users may tolerate an occasional out-of-stock, pervasive problems can be a customer experience nightmare that will have shoppers going elsewhere when what looks like convenience ends up being a waste of time.
Grocers need to offer an actual, live view of store inventory––not a “catalog” with estimated assortment. It’s this disconnect that ends up forcing substitutions on consumers and slowing the whole process down while killing trust among your shoppers.
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