How Independent Grocers Can Own E-Commerce

As retailers and shoppers prepare for a post-COVID-19 future, it’s time for independents to take a closer look at their e-commerce program and decide if it truly meets their unique challenges and requirements.

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Before the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, many independent retailers may have never imagined offering online shopping. Now, it’s an essential part of growing sales, competing for business and meeting customer expectations. When the pandemic arrived on the scene in March 2020, many independents reached for the nearest life raft to stay afloat, regardless of which solution was the best fit for their program.

As retailers and shoppers prepare for a post-COVID-19 future, it’s time for independents to take a closer look at their e-commerce program and decide if it truly meets their unique challenges and requirements, and whether it fulfills the expectations customers now have for e-commerce experiences. For a better understanding of these customer expectations and the current landscape of grocery ecommerce, here are the top must-haves for grocery e-commerce success post-COVID-19:

1.   A modern and intuitive customer experience. After over a year of shopping online, U.S. consumers have utilized a wide range of e-commerce experiences during the pandemic. If a site is too difficult to navigate, they will move on to an easier one. Take checkout, for example, nearly 70% of online carts are abandoned on average, with 18% of those left because the checkout process is too long or confusing. The good news is there’s an estimated 35.26% increase in conversion rate when a retailer offers a modern, well-designed checkout. The industry standard is a one-click, buy now experience that saves customers time and energy by saving their address, preferred payment method, and more. A simple, easy checkout experience will have customers choosing that retailer again and again and ensure retailers aren’t losing out on sales.

2.            Digital merchandising that inspires. When customers shop online, they’ve come to expect hand-picked recommendations and enticing promotions the moment they arrive at the site. Savvy retailers will utilize merchandising tools to put the products they want customers to shop most front and center with thoughtful collections of products. These digital end caps allow retailers to bring curated product displays online in a way that would be impossible to do in person. No need to worry about temperature class or department - a digital display can include hot dogs alongside buns, ketchup, and paper plates and watch basket size grow as shoppers add related products to their carts. 

3.            Meet customers where they are. During COVID-19, most independent retailers watched their loyal in-store customers convert to online shoppers. Now that some of this base is returning in-store, retailers must learn how to bring their online items front and center to their shoppers across digital touchpoints. Take a page from many online-only businesses who meet customers where they are -- social media, email and mobile. Close to one-fifth of U.S. consumers have shopped online using the “buy” button on social media or by clicking a shoppable post or story on a social network. Solutions that offer deep linking capabilities make it simple for retailers to share their products on social media, in email marketing and on their websites. Retailers shouldn’t wait for customers to find them; instead, they should bring products to the customers.

4.            Fully own customer relationships. The highly personal experience customers receive when they shop locally is what makes independent grocers special. It’s important for independents to own this customer relationship fully, including customer data which can inform business and marketing decisions. Working with an ecommerce solution that won’t make customer data available to the retailer will greatly hinder future decision making and, in some cases, mean a customer’s loyalty lies with the e-commerce solution rather than the grocer. E-commerce solutions that allow retailers to fully own that special relationship through a branded experience, data analytics and communications will facilitate customer retention and loyalty. 

With the pandemic surge slowly falling by the wayside, it isn’t enough just to offer online shopping; it’s time to make online shopping work for the long term. To ensure the health of the e-commerce program in the years to come, retailers should make sure they’re offering dynamic merchandising features, creating a digital pipeline to products across channels, surpassing the expectations of tech-savvy customers and fully owning the data essential to customer retention and financial success.