Marketers Must Humanize and Personalize the Grocery Ecommerce Experience

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As widespread quarantines propel online grocery shopping for both delivery and pickup, we’re seeing a different motivation take over. Before Covid-19 disrupted our world, online was about control over time; what I want when I want. Now it’s about control over environment; what I need without leaving the safety of my own home.

In other words, emotion is driving ecommerce.

That’s what we found when we surveyed 500 people who are the primary grocery shoppers for their households at the beginning of April. While 32% more people are ordering online than before Covid-19 and another 50% aim to try online soon, there are still three times as many people going to stores because they crave control over their shopping experience. They want to see, touch and smell the products, compare visceral quality and price, interact with store personnel and feel like they are truly shopping. 

Online isn’t just a transaction platform; it’s a brand relationship channel.

That underscores the deficiency in ecommerce. Online grocery has grown out of convenience, but it hasn’t risen to the level of true shopping. It lacks the feel of shopping, the visceral reward of shopping and the personal touch of shopping. It lacks the feelings of trust, humanity and control of real shopping that are inherent in-store.

To become a mainstay shopping behavior post-crisis, ecommerce needs to deliver these missing emotional benefits. The change calls for new perspective, principles and practices.

The perspective shift is crucial. Online isn’t just a transaction platform; it’s a brand relationship channel. With grocery portals, shoppers still pick the stores. They need to be able to trust that there are people who care about their well-being and the quality of their experience. They’ll assign that value to the store.

Make the site feel like a store

Take consumers there. To start, show HD photos of the abundance that distinguishes the store, from colorful produce to packed meat and seafood counters. Then look to leverage 5G technology to enable virtual tours of the aisles so consumers can feel like they’re shopping. A virtual store allows for popup windows and other devices to let brands promote varieties and tips without taking the consumer offsite.

Give shoppers people to consult

Part of the in-store experience is getting direction and intelligence from professionals, whether that’s asking the butcher for recommendations on cuts of meat or asking a produce manager where the pears are coming from. Bring these influencers to life online. Let them talk about products, preparation tips and their departments on video. Offer online consultations the way drug chains do with pharmacists.

Let people meet their designated shopper

Groceries are personal, with somebody fulfilling the order. Make the connection visceral with a name, a photo, a voice. Give the consumers a chance to say what’s important to them. To highlight shoppers, start by celebrating them like other frontline employees in crisis time. Then show the team available to consumers so they can select a person to do this very personal job for them.

Make the shopping trip a real-time experience

Once you connect online consumers with designated shoppers, let them go on the trip. You can put a GoPro on the designated shopper and let people see what they’re looking at, how they’re considering their pick and how they’re handling cleanliness. Rather than the phantom substitution when a brand is out of stock, imagine being able to specify an available product or at least consider an alternate. In this way, invisible errand runners become brand emissaries. They can bring distinct value to what has been a commoditized experience.

Create levels of service

A more visceral experience will likely be more expensive, but there’s no reason why ecommerce can’t offer tiers of service. Let people choose what level of experience they want so they have the option to control their experience. Online doesn’t have to be cheaper and it doesn’t even have to match the price. It just needs to feel clear, transparent and dependable. It doesn’t need to be one-size-fits-all. There’s room for variation between the standard, express lane and the high-touch personal shopping experience.

Introduce incentives

Grocery shoppers like on-sale items and buying incentives, which is what many shoppers told us they miss online. You can feature a sale item and merchandise it via an end aisle that displays perfectly at whatever square footage you need, and it never looks depleted. It can likely inspire online as much as it can in-store.

When ecommerce becomes a real shopping experience, it will be a mainstay rather than a stopgap. As American consumers add methods to their shopping lexicon, they will expect a connected experience where convenience comes without compromise.

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