3 Ways to Retain Online Grocery Shoppers Beyond the Pandemic

a hand holding a cellphone

Lingering concerns over safety, combined with eGrocery’s added convenience and new capabilities, means online grocery is here to stay. Even as vaccines are slowly administered, it’s certain that once we reach a semblance of “normalcy,” online grocery use will far exceed pre-pandemic levels.

A record number of consumers are opting to shop online for groceries during COVID-19 pandemic. After more than a year into the pandemic, the number of new online registrations are dropping off, and many customers are willing to try out multiple grocery e-commerce offerings in search of services to meet their satisfaction.

This begs the question, how can grocers inspire loyalty and retain this new audience?

What Keeps Shoppers Coming Back?

After years of shopping in local and familiar brick-and-mortar stores, shoppers are looking for certainty and control when ordering online. If the overall experience is rewarding and frictionless, shoppers are likely to repeat a purchase.

Recent research from Brick Meets Click reveals that after four positive experiences, a customer’s repeat intent to purchase from the same grocer is 87.3%, measured over three surveys from Aug 20, Nov 20 and Jan 21. In short, reliability begets loyalty. As such, creating a rewarding experience continues to be key for reaching and retaining customers.

To build a strong e-commerce offering that’s attractive to today’s online audience, grocers can take the following approaches: optimize fulfillment strategies, utilize valuable shopper data and offer programs that matter.

1. Optimize Fulfillment Strategies

Fulfillment was the name of the game in 2020 as shoppers opted for curbside and delivery to safely receive groceries. However, stores that struggled to keep up with these online orders undoubtedly lost some shoppers’ trust and therefore business.

To keep up with orders, retailers often simply throw labor at the problem to increase output. While this is essential in the short term to remain competitive, the more sustainable solution is to improve assembling productivity.

Retailers can improve productivity by implementing strategic methods throughout the fulfillment process — such as robotic technology or wave and zone picking to facilitate efficient completion of multiple orders. Many retailers, such as Walmart, are investing in optimizing store footprints to allocate a larger staging and pickup area for online orders or micro fulfillment centers and dedicated dark stores.

Meanwhile, automating the pickup process, with arrival to store alerts via geo-location technology, allows orders to be fulfilled quickly and reduces wait times for customers, helping ensure satisfaction.

2. Utilize Valuable Shopper Data

Consumers expect personalized experiences while using Netflix, Spotify and TikTok. Shouldn’t they get the same treatment while grocery shopping? Utilizing shopper data gained from online purchases empowers grocers to provide personalized product suggestions, timely marketing emails, auto-replenishment for key items and more to create a curated, relevant experience.

While it sounds simple, this requires access to shopper data and the tools to act upon it. Too often, grocers that are eager to launch e-commerce programs partner with third-party marketplaces that take control of the experience and the data. The pandemic has shown that to continually build relationships and enhance e-commerce offerings, this data is essential.

3. Offer Programs That Matter

SNAP purchases account for a significant amount of national grocery spending and the online market, making it an important market segment. IRI found that SNAP households make up an estimated 10% of the U.S. food and beverage spend, worth approximately $55 billion.

Offering SNAP recipients the ability to make purchases online provides customers a safer alternative for using SNAP EBT and EBT Cash. With increased federal investment into SNAP and prolonged economic recovery, regional grocers should offer a SNAP EBT program online to not only serve their community, but retain loyal shoppers and protect market share.

Building Tomorrow’s Loyalty, Today

Providing a strong, efficient and frictionless grocery e-commerce experience will increase customer satisfaction. It’s crucial for grocers to retain the online customers that they have, as there are fewer new customers to capture.

Investing in fulfillment, customer data and programs like SNAP, grocers can create a loyal group of repeat shoppers and build a sustainable online model that thrives beyond the pandemic.

Sylvain Perrier is president and CEO of Mercatus.

More on Loyalty