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The online tipping point – is your grocery business ready?


his blog was co-authored by Jeremy Neren, Founder & CEO of GrocerKey, part of the dunnhumby Ventures' investment portfolio.

In the past few months the shift to online sales in grocery has been significant, increasing across all geographies. We now expect to see online grow to 5-7% of sales in most grocers and up to 15% for those retailers who have the ability to capitalise on that demand.

With this growing demand from consumers and heightened importance of the online channel, it's important for retailers to both maximise the customer experience while at same time drive efficiency and profitability of their service.

It's not without challenges, but there are some key strengths retailers can focus on.

Online satisfaction and adoption

Whilst satisfaction with online is higher than stores during the Covid-19 crisis, getting customers to fully adopt this new way of shopping can be massively influenced by delivering on what matters most:

1. Amplify your offline strengths – shoppers tend to use their preferred offline grocers for online if they can, so reflect your brand strengths fully be it key categories, private label, your loyalty programme. Most customers will be using both offline and online channels going forward and expect a seamless experience

2. Make the first few shops easy and quick to do – baskets are bigger online, typically 60+ items, so quick and easy basket building is essential. Instant favourites – where Shoppers can see all their normal items they've brought previously in-store when they register can save significant time and frustration.

Simplicity is the key in eCommerce grocery. It's a convenience-oriented experience, so you can ultimately drive the greatest convenience by providing customers with the quickest path to locating items of interest, allowing them to easily build their basket, and check out quickly.

3. Go big on Fresh. Shoppers are keen to do their full weekly shop, so fresh is the key category. It needs special care and attention in terms of picking and delivery routines, as well as the right shopping cues for Shoppers such as date codes, provenance, seasonality, and ease of choosing the right quantities and weights.

4. Focus on reliability – late deliveries, missing items, poor substitutes are the most common reason for leaving or switching service. Set outstanding operational metrics on these and improve functionalities such as integrating substitutability science into picking and ordering routines. Services such as reminders for forgotten items and amending your order before delivery also make a big difference to service satisfaction.

With out-of-stock challenges retailers need to be proactive with easy options for Shoppers to pre-select preferred substitutes and have a reactive approach to substitutes with great data supplied to personal shoppers for when the Shopper hasn't selected their preferred substitute.

5. Personalising the shopping experience – online enables many things that just aren't possible in-store. Relevant product recommendations, personalised merchandising of associated products or specific ingredients, displaying the most relevant promotions, help improve the experience and the basket size by 10-20%.

Improving the customer economics

Making the online service drive incremental value to the business is key to success.

Many retailers make the mistake of treating eCommerce like an IT project. Simply standing up a nice looking front-end eCommerce experience, while simultaneously ignoring all of the major operational considerations and many nuances of eCommerce grocery, will lead to failure. Collectively, these considerations can make or break the success of an eCommerce grocery business. Just like grocery retailers obsess over the details in their physical stores, they must do the same with their eCommerce business in order to drive profitability and ultimately sustainability.

This requires continued choiceful investment and focus in the following 4 areas:

1. Track customer value not just channel performance.

Having a cross channel view of shopper impact is key for right investment decisions. In most cases online sales at 70% incremental driven by existing shoppers spending more and attracting brand new shoppers to the business.

It's important for retailers to cultivate multichannel shoppers by augmenting an integrated digital experience with promotions that drive in-store customers to shop online and online shoppers to shop in-store. This ultimately will lead to increased visits, improved loyalty, and greater share of wallet.

2. Maximise basket size and frequency.

Whilst already 3-4 times higher than the store continuously growing average Shopping basket is essential for bottom line profitability. Dynamic product recommendations, forgotten item reminders, and delivery subscriptions are a few examples of activities to have in place.

Making "sale items" immediately accessible as a distinct category with filtering options (i.e.; past purchases, dietary preference, brand preference, etc) is helping drive basket size. This is an area where eCommerce is simply 10x more efficient than the store as you can essentially browse all promotional items of interest in a matter of a few clicks vs. traveling to the store and walking each aisle.

3. Drive operational efficiency.

Expanding current capacity is clearly important but equally reviewing ways to maximise pick per hour rates and delivery rates is key. Systematic reviews of picking by zone, planogram mapping, labour scheduling, dynamic routing of delivery orders are necessary.

One way GrocerKey is driving efficiency is by creating incremental staging capacity via temperature controlled totes. This is far less expensive than adding freezers / coolers – so there's major capex savings, more efficient from a space allocation standpoint, growth can be handled in a modular fashion, and the retailer can then promote never breaking the chill chain because the product is kept at the appropriate temperature from the time it's picked until it's in the customers hands.

4. Provide suppliers a combined data asset across offline and online.

Multichannel insights and activation that enable brands to grow the channel with you through highly personalised digital onsite and offsite media will be very beneficial to the economics of and profitability of your service.

The tipping point for online grocery is underway and retailers need to be ready to make the most of this opportunity.

[This is the fourth in a series of articles advocating the voice of the Customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry. David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for dunnhumby, a pioneer in Customer data science, serving the world's most Customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years experience in retail, 25 of which were in Store Management. He can be reached at].

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