Online Shopping Preferences

A recent SupermarketNews article shared the results of the latest NielsenIQ omnibus poll, which indicated U.S. online shoppers value speed of delivery.

“Same-day delivery, same-day pickup and next-day/later pickup all gained traction among online consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas two-day and next-day delivery lost interest,” the article said.

Their findings were based on NielsenIQ’s Omnichannel Shopping Fundamentals Survey, conducted in February and March 2021. Other findings of note include:

  • 61% of online grocery shoppers said they prefer same day deliver. This compares to only 27% of shoppers saying they considered same day delivery in September of 2020, versus only 20% in 2019
  • 39% of online shopper panelists claimed a preference for having their product deliveries consolidated in one shipment to reduce packaging and frequency of trips, even if it extended the delivery time
  • 63.2% of homes with children favored quick delivery versus 59.8% of households without kids

Supermarkets Leveraging Technology & Innovation to Make Continuous Improvements

Recent Progressive Grocer articles have highlighted a variety of examples of how supermarket chains are leveraging technology and innovation to make ongoing improvements in operations and the customer experience.

For example, Save Mart Cos., based in Modesto, Calif., is investing in robots that automatically audit store shelves to ensure that products are stocked and in the right location. The initiative involves a partnership with Simbe Robotics of San Francisco. The robots, named “Tally,” will first be deployed in seven stores. They are able to scan up to 30,000 products a day, helping retailers “reduce out-of-stocks by up to 30% and redirecting store staff to personally interact with shoppers.”

flex postAnother example of innovative thinking in response to shifting consumer shopping habits involves new products designed to improve curbside pick-up, which many industry leaders believe is here to stay. FlexPost® helps retailers manage traffic and keep people safe during curbside pickup trips. These flexible signposts and bollard systems can claim to reduce parking lot repair and maintenance costs, and also minimize the impact of minor collisions with customer vehicles.

Finally, in honor of Earth Day a number of organizations have come out with announcements this week about their sustainability efforts, ranging from waste reduction to regenerative farming to net zero energy use.

Among those we found most interesting are:

  • Four Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts are piloting a Flashfood mobile app that shares sales pricing on perishables that are close to their best-by date. Stop & Shop has a goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.
  • Given concerns about package waste associated with home delivery services, HelloFresh reported this week that it is teaming up with Pratt Industries to switch to cardboard packaging made of 100% post-consumer recycled content for its HelloFresh and EveryPlate meal kits. The company estimated that the move will help reduce GHG emissions by 6,800 tons and save more than 115,000 trees a year.
  • C&S Wholesale Grocers outlined several areas in which the company is preserving the environment, working to eliminate waste and reducing its carbon footprint. Among those sustainability steps, the C&S reports that it is improving fuel efficiencies in its fleets, including piloting trailer reefers on zero emission technology and tractor fleets on non-fossil fueled power in key markets.

Post COVID Supermarket Expectations

After a year of record-setting sales in the grocery industry due to the pandemic retailers are anticipating those once-in-a-lifetime numbers to normalize somewhat in 2021 says a recent SupermarketNews article.

The impact of COVID on the grocery industry, which included some heavy “stock-up” buying, has been significant. Here are some of the highlights:

  • US online grocery sales reached a new high of $9.3 billion
  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers reported switching purchase loyalty to less-expensive brands
  • Sales of meat increased an unprecedented 34.6% during the pandemic
  • Frozen food sales rose 21% over the previous year
  • 85% of consumers said they aim to eat family meals at home more often or the same amount as they did before the pandemic when things return to a “new normal.”

Looking ahead to the balance of 2021, the rollout of vaccines and the reopening of many businesses and a return to indoor dining will have an impact on grocery sales, although most feel they should remain elevated for much of this year.

A New Approach to Customer Loyalty?

loyalty

In a recent blog post, omNovos takes a new and innovative data-driven approach to defining supermarket “loyalty program,” which, they say, might make it better for all parties and stakeholders.

Based on the premise that the emerging digital aspects of customer engagement have had an impact on what the term “loyalty program” actually means, omNovos suggests it’s time to reconsider the concept of rewarding people for repeatedly purchasing goods, despite the fact that this approach has generally worked well for many years.

Their position is that traditional points-per-spend programs have become less valued and looked upon more as coming from a “what have you done for me lately” perspective.

So, what’s a better approach you might be wondering…

Well, the article addresses the question, “Do my customers want a great loyalty program?” with the answer, “No!”

Instead, the article suggests, “they yearn to be recognized as individuals—and a part of a mutual, long-lasting, meaningful and highly personalized relationship. This is loyalty at its core, far removed from a program.”

So how does this new definition of loyalty work?

OmNovos says supermarkets must do away with the concept of dollars and points, and replace it with strategic “actions” based on customer data knowledge.

“This is where relationships begin,” the article said. “Where brand begins to emerge, and so-called rewards are highly personalized… this is a prime environment to convince customers that they are wanted, appreciated, and loved.”

An example given assumes customers can be encouraged through advertising channels to download the store’s mobile app.

Once they have done so, the engagement process begins, omNovos suggests.

“On day one, they [customers] are prompted to list likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions—all while a grocery list builder prompts them to divulge what they typically shop for… then they are immediately offered specials just for them. It could be a discount. Better yet, it could be a fantastic recipe for them to try based on their data inputs. Going forward, they receive personalized weekly check-ins letting them know about sales on the things they like, plus additional food recommendations—again, I dare say the possibilities for personalized content are endless.”

The article also points out that at no time are points-per-spend mentioned to the customer. Yet the customer was made to feel special and prompted to buy more all because they felt like they were personally appreciated.

Sounds a lot like the primary point of this blog!

Canada’s Virtual Food Festival: Another Example of Innovation

In an enormous effort to keep stakeholders at all levels informed and engaged, and another good example of innovative solutions during the pandemic, Canada is running a virtual “Flavors Food Festival.”

The four day event, scheduled for March 22-25, will feature direct connections with Canadian food, beverage, and ingredient companies. Attendees will include supermarket, specialty retail, c-store, food service, food distribution, food manufacturing, and alcohol importers, distributors, and retailers looking to find new products from innovative brands.

Educational breakout sessions will also be offered.

Surprisingly, there is no cost to join in the fun!

More information…

Tech-Driven Improvements an Emerging Trend in Supermarkets

The mounting demand for e-commerce due to COVID-19, and the expectation that it will be necessary to continue offering many of the “new normal” services post-COVID, has resulted in a number of grocery chains making major changes to their infrastructure and improvements in their processes.

As reported by SupermarketNews, some of the process and facility enhancements include:

  • Conversion of store or shelf-space to accommodate online order fulfillment
  • Creation of automated micro-fulfillment centers (MFC’s) to support automated fulfillment for grocery delivery, sometimes referred to as “dark stores” since they have no retail space
  • Curbside pickup
  • Installation of automated pickup points, enabling customers and delivery personnel to drive up, scan a code and retrieve their orders

The expectation is that those retailers who are able to convert store space or operate MFC’s will be better able to scale their business as the demand for e-commerce continues to grow.

“For grocers to adapt and stay relevant — and for consumers to eat the cost of the last mile — grocery retailers need to embrace curbside pickup,” said Rob Wilson and Shang Saavedra in a recent report from L.E.K. Consulting.

“Given that stores are designed for optimal in-store shopping, it’s often inefficient for staff to wander through aisles to assemble orders and, when it comes to operating margins, far from sustainable. Moreover, stores have been forced to quickly create online pickup areas, leading to messy front-of-store experiences for consumers.”

Clearly the costs associated with some of the major changes such as building stand-alone MFC’s favor the larger retailers. One possible solution for smaller chains might be the use of “solution partners” to get the job done.

Either way, and as noted in a recent SupermarketNews article, all indicators say that online grocery shopping and curbside pickup are here to stay.

Supermarkets Dealing with Accelerated Training Demand

A recent progressivegrocer article referred to 2020 as “a year of feverish activity for training and development” in supermarkets due to new job functions and tasks brought on by a public-health crisis.

However, the piece went on to suggest that an even greater need for employee training will emerge this year, because “the pandemic accelerated technology’s impact on innovation and created all manner of new and elevated shopper expectations that front-line employees must satisfy.”

The article referenced a study by The Center for the Future Work, which included data on the extent to which algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are permeating businesses of all types (73%).

“What we once thought of as the future of work has now become the ‘now of work,’” the article said, and suggested more training around analytical skills will be needed going forward.

However, despite the wide-spread use of AI in supermarkets, the human touch still drives the customer experience. “Humans will continue to add value and be valuable by upskilling — having skills and capabilities that cannot be supplied by even the smartest of machines,” the report noted.

Walmart’s Innovative Delivery Plan

“Helicopter, nylon, radar, jet engine, canned beer, sunscreen—all these inventions are the legacy of the Great Depression of the 1930s,” wrote Alex Petrunenko, Product Evangelist at Creato. “We might not know all the innovations of the coming years brought by the COVID-19 crisis, but we know for sure there will be more companies leveraging low-code technology across different industries.”

A good example of innovative improvements such as those listed above was reported in a recent SupermarketNews article, which announced that Walmart plans to pilot an Internet-of-Things (IoT) “smart box” from startup HomeValet for home delivery of perishable foods.

According to the article, the “smart box” test will begin this spring in Bentonville, Ark. Participating customers will be able to receive deliveries from their local Walmart store in a temperature-controlled box located outside their home. Three temperature zones inside the box will allow for storage of frozen, refrigerated and pantry items.

The “smart box” can interact with the courier’s mobile device to provide access and complete “hands-free” fulfillment of the order.

“This gives customers the ability to receive secure, contactless deliveries with peace of mind, knowing their grocery items will stay fresh,” explained Tom Ward, Senior VP of Customer Product at Walmart U.S.

Supermarkets Providing COVID Solutions

As reported in several Supermarket News articles, supermarkets are stepping-up to help customers more easily protect themselves from the pandemic.

Some specific examples of what might be considered an “extra” component of the customer experience:

  • Publix expanded COVID-19 vaccinations to over 100 pharmacies, expanding their collaboration with the state of Florida to 12 counties.
  • H-Vee expanded its coronavirus diagnostic services, and is planning to offer COVID-19 rapid antibody testing at more than 250 pharmacy locations.
  • Ralphs launched a program for administering COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Meijer partnered with the state of Michigan and will administer COVID-19 vaccine at select stores in Wayne County to patients 65 or older.
  • Wegmans has partnered with state and local government officials to offer the COVID-19 vaccine at select pharmacy locations in New York State, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
  • H-E-B has launched a registration portal on its website for people who are looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and is administering doses as supplies last.
  • Walmart will start providing inoculations in the city of Chicago as well as in Indiana along with six other states. The company has already been providing vaccinations in New Mexico and Arkansas.

2020 Saw Big Growth in Omnichannel Shopping!

A recent SupermarketNews article reported that omnichannel consumption grew by 50% this past year, and nearly half of all consumer goods purchases were made via e-commerce.

The report was based on new research from Nielsen.

Not surprisingly, both food and nonfood products have seen marked shifts in omnichannel shopping since the COVID-19 outbreak, and the number of shoppers who deem themselves as “heavy” or “exclusive” online shoppers for everyday items jumped 133% from September 2019 to September 2020.

The article went on to quote Nikhil Sharma, vice president of North America consumer analytics at Nielsen, who said, “Within the U.S., new behaviors have emerged that retailers and manufacturers must acknowledge, accommodate and swiftly act on — especially as online shopping habits begin to solidify. While we do expect a return of some kind to pre-pandemic habits, consumers will not be returning to a pre-pandemic retail environment.”

Order History Tool Most Popular as Consumer Preferences Shift
The article also pointed out that, when making online transactions, 29% of consumers polled by Nielsen found the order history tool to be the most helpful feature when shopping for nonfood items.

In a final statemen Mr. Sharma added, “Undeniably, consumers have more choices than ever in their path to purchase, meaning as consumer needs and preferences continue to evolve, it is crucial to have an omnichannel strategy in place to sustain and grow momentum in 2021.”