Omnichannel Grocery: Where Do We Go Now?

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As 2021 draws closer to a close, so does another challenging year in grocery retail. Enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced grocers to change, and quickly. What changes persist? Top of the list is seamless omnichannel grocery: Having a strong, personalized, efficient eCommerce platform has become the clear-cut competitive advantage. Heading into 2022, the necessity and convenience of ordering groceries online remains vital; quality and ease of use might make or break how some grocers drive online growth and innovation. 

The question remains: Where do we go from here? 

Quality and Grocery eCommerce 

At the start of the pandemic, panic-buying meant consumers were less focused on quality and convenience of online buying, and hyper-focused on the speed of pickup or delivery. But now that panic-buying has waned, online consumers are less and less concerned with speed—and the pressure to deliver quickly is hurting grocers. In an August 2021 article, "Online Shoppers Don't Always Care About Faster Delivery," MIT Sloan Management Review rightly points out that “executing a strategy dedicated to speed alone can be expensive, particularly for grocery retailers, whose margins are notoriously thin.” Thankfully, recent data suggests that shoppers care more about the ability to select a specific delivery day and precise delivery time than speed of delivery; which, in turn, allows grocers a chance to step back and reevaluate where eCommerce can improve on quality. 

The keystone of quality grocery is appealing to consumer needs: And consumers need online grocery that is easy-to-navigate and reliably provides fresh products. Diversifying focus from solely speed of delivery may be the most cost-effective strategy when easing the online grocery transition from pandemic to post-pandemic. MIT Sloan research found that “...delivery attributes such as time slot precision (the duration of the delivery time window) and day choice (the availability of time slots across days of the week) also matter [to consumers].” While not all consumers will prefer precision or flexibility over speed, quality remains #1: And orders packed and delivered too quickly have a higher risk of mistake—like including an expired item—and a higher chance of a dissatisfied customer. 

Shifting focus from the ultra-fast delivery can bump customer service; and with consumers coming in-store less, achieving satisfaction may have slimmer timeframes. Among changes in consumer behavior brought about in the pandemic is the impetus to buy more food on fewer shopping trips. A recent Gallup consumer survey found that consumers taking multiple grocery store visits per week dropped 6% since 2019, while in-person shopping once or twice per month climbed 4%. Prioritizing quality of online orders over speed can allow grocer to focus on delivering without compromising freshness—because delivery on a promise of quality is ultimately top of every grocer’s mind.

Reimagining Grocery eCommerce Best Practices

Change has come quickly for many online grocery platforms: Sometimes, at the detriment of quality. Past the throat-clearing brought about by early pandemic hysteria, grocers have a chance now to take a look at pre-existing—or hastily made—online systems and make decisions on what to prioritize: Functionality? Inventory? Speed? For many grocers, the question of whether to own or to outsource home-delivery capabilities remains top-of-mind. As retailers look to advance online capabilities, a new challenge emerges: Keeping up with apps. 

Heavy investment in mobile may just be the next wave in online grocery. Grocery Dive posits app development as a great frontier of online grocery: “Regardless of their fulfillment choices, people who participated in the survey made clear they prefer to use mobile apps rather than websites when interacting online with food retailers...people look at more than four times as many products using grocery apps as they do on websites.” 

Of course, surging success of mobile ordering should come as no surprise: The tap-and-go, at-your-fingertips appeal of apps is an indisputable draw for consumers who crave almost instant gratification when it comes to mobile platforms. In terms of grocery app ordering, convenience and usability is key—especially to increase the likelihood of larger orders. 

Incisiv’s Amar Mokha predicts that once retailers can get past the challenge of retaining labor, the next wave of investment will be “experience on mobile, followed by personalization.” Keep up with the forefront of omnichannel: Allowing the mobile platform to fit in well with fulfillment, pickup, and delivery. A task easier said than done: but, as online grocery surges ahead, grocers would do well to keep up.

Growing Pains: The Continuous Evolution of Omnichannel Grocery

In “Meet the World’s Best Omnichannel Grocers,” Winsight Grocery Business compares the recent growth spurt in digital grocery to the growing pains faced by adolescents: Just like “no two teenagers mature at precisely the same pace, retail grocers today find themselves somewhere along the continuum of providing shoppers with the tools, capabilities and experiences they need to serve this growing field most effectively.” Being a part of the continuum means trial and error, learning and failing: but, most importantly, growing forward. 

Because grocers have tried it all when it comes to online grocery: 20-minute pickup, third-party delivery service, interactive mobile ordering. Not all of it shapes up. And it goes without saying that meeting consumer delivery preferences is one—if not the key—differentiator in an already highly competitive retail front. In the scramble, some may lose sight of seamless omnichannel. Latching onto digital loyalty is no easy feat. No matter what a consumer prefers when ordering groceries, retailers have to be prepared on all fronts. The most successful omnichannel retailers thrive in categories like Search & Discovery, Seamless Ordering & Checkout, Convenience of Placing & Receiving Orders, and Customer Satisfaction & Issue Resolution—and prove that well-rounded solutions reign supreme in the online-shopping ecosystem. 

An ecosystem that will only get larger. Incisiv’s 2021 Digital Maturity Benchmark Study finds that “online grocery adoption, which jumped almost 43% between 2018 and 2020, is expected to grow to 50% by 2022.” The growth goes on. Grocers must keep pace—or risk falling behind in the digital race.


Check out A Grocery Retailer’s Guide to Omnichannel on our site. 

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