Today, 2 in 5 shoppers buy groceries online at least once every three months. Digital grocery shoppers have been increasing steeply in recent years, and are expected to keep on growing in number in the next few years, as the digital natives – the Millennials and the generation after them – grow older and start having families of their own.
By 2025, research firm Nielsen predicts, online grocery shopping will cover 20 percent of the whole grocery market.
Barriers and opportunities
Although many sectors have already successfully penetrated e-commerce – think fashion, travel, books or music – the grocery industry is still lagging behind.
Among the barriers that have slowed down the online sale of grocery items and other consumables, the first one is the issue of quality. Many consumers still prefer to go in-store to select their fresh produce, to insure it is at the right degree of ripeness, and then take it home in person.
On the other hand, research shows that many people actually deeply dislike going shopping for groceries, and report finding this activity time-consuming, inconvenient and boring. Add crowded stores and long lines to the mix, and you have a great opportunity for omni-channel grocery retailing. Doing the weekly food shopping online would solve all the issues for bored, impatient consumers: it is convenient and quick – plus people can get their supplies without having to drive to the store, or queue to pay.
Here are our six pieces of advice for supermarkets and grocery retailers planning to attract online grocery shoppers.
1. Make your e-commerce site simple and fast
When building your e-commerce website, focus on usability. Make it easy for people to register and find the products they need, add them to the cart and pay. Include predictive suggestions and autocorrects (“Did you mean…?”) to help customers find their items quickly; this is especially important when people are browsing your website on a mobile device (we all know how annoying it is to scroll through a long list of items on a small screen).
Make sure all relevant product information is available and easy to find. Include high-quality pictures, and clearly label brand names, prices, ingredients, and pack size.
Give customers the possibility to recreate previous orders quickly, enable shopping lists, and give your registered customers the possibility to see their buying history and copy items from previous shopping trips. This way it will be easy for users to add staples or family favorites to the current basket. Remember – it’s all about making the experience as quick and convenient as possible.
Ensure short page load times. If your pages are slow to load, buyers may abandon their cart without completing the purchase!
2. Think of the different platforms
Over the past two years, the time people spend on mobile devices has more than doubled, according to Nielsen’s latest “Total Audience” report. Today, more consumers access websites from mobiles and tablets than from computers, and mobile shopping is only going to get more commonplace.
Does your website perform well on mobile devices? If your e-commerce site is not responsive, you may miss out on a large chunk of potential revenue. According to a research by PayPal, in the UK alone, retailers are missing out on $36 billion a year by not going mobile! Make sure that your website works seamlessly on all devices and platforms.
3. Feature the right product mix
On your e-commerce site, you can easily display a larger product selection than in-store. Nonetheless, it is important to present the right items. Although the ideal product mix can vary widely based on geographical location, some product categories have more potential for e-commerce success. According to Nielsen research, customers are more open to shopping online for items with a long shelf life, such as packaged food, household cleaning products and beauty and personal care items.
4. Offer flexible delivery
You won’t get much traffic on your e-commerce site if your delivery options are rigid. Today’s shoppers don’t want to stay stuck at home for hours waiting for their grocery to arrive; after all, they shop online because it is more convenient!
Be flexible and precise when it comes to delivery times. The best practice is to let people choose a precise delivery window that easily fits their schedule. According to Nielsen’s “Global Connected Commerce Report”, ensuring customers that their shopping would be delivered within a selected 30-minute interval window would convince 50 percent of non-online shoppers to try buying grocery for the first time.
How should you deliver the stuff to customers? Food retailers worldwide have been experimenting with different delivery methods. Which one(s) you should implement will depend on your customers’ demands, as well as on the local context and competitive landscape. Do your customers prefer to get their products delivered home, or would they rather use a third-party delivery station, such as a refrigerated locker? Do they want to order online and pick up in-store? Or would it be more efficient, and feasible, to organize product pick-up at the curbside, or even via drive-thru?
Offering delivery options is fundamental – but what if you don’t have the infrastructure to manage timely delivery and distribution of your goods? Then you should consider partnering up with distribution agents. This is the model of startups such as Instacart – many supermarkets are already successfully adopting this model.
5. Guarantee high quality
Research by Nielsen shows that two of the main barriers limiting the spread of online food shopping are concerns over the quality of fresh items and worries about the risk of spoilage during delivery.
How can you, as a retailer, help consumers overcome these concerns?
One solution is to offer delivery options that preserve product quality. Retailers have been experimenting with delivery to refrigerated lockers at terminal stations. This kind of solution can help deliver high-quality items while maintaining flexibility of pick-up.
Instant, one-hour delivery is another option many food retailers are testing.
Click and collect models are also increasingly popular: consumers can order online, and then pick up at the retailer in a specific time slot, getting items that have been freshly selected and bagged.
Another solution to reassure customers of the quality of the items they are buying is to provide detailed information for fresh produce. This means including not only descriptions on the website, but also freshness labels that say how many days the product will last after it is delivered. Featuring product-specific customer reviews on your website can also help convince consumers of the quality of your products, and of the reliability of your service.
By far the most effective strategy to quell quality concerns is, however, a simple one: allow customers to exchange the products, or get their money back, if the food does not meet their expectations at delivery.
6. Tie the online and in-store experience
According to Nielsen research, 59 percent of grocery shoppers look for sales or coupons on their mobile devices before going to the physical store, and 53 percent of grocery shoppers use retailers’ apps to shop while at the store.
Today’s consumers do not think about your sales channels as separate – and neither should you.
Your key focus should be to ensure a consistent brand experience, no matter where your customers choose to interact and shop with you.
Link the in-store and online shopping experiences with digital tools such as omni-channel loyalty programs that reward your customers for shopping with you online and offline, or mobile Point of Sale devices that your staff can use to quickly find detailed information, including product details and availability in other store locations.
7. Make it all work together seamlessly
When you are an omni-channel retailer, you won’t be judged only on the quality of your products: if your website crashes; if the delivery service runs late; if the description for a product on your website contains wrong information, or if the refrigerated locker where you deliver products breaks down – customers will hold you responsible for the poor shopping experience.
Convenience is a core element in consumers’ decision to shop for grocery online; any snag in the process, and you risk losing a customer forever. To satisfy the digitally engaged food shopper, redesign your strategies focusing on consumer engagement across the channels, and make sure that every step of the buying process is simple, smooth and efficient.
Online grocery shopping is at a tipping point. Retailers wishing to shape the market and win over competitors must move quickly and fearlessly. If you need advice getting ready for the digital future of grocery shopping, do not hesitate to contact us: we have helped many grocery businesses go from good to great.