Convenience and Reliability Trump Speed in Digital Grocery, and Here’s How to Deliver Them

Reliability is an important aspect of any ecommerce transaction — no one likes shipping delays or out-of-stock messages — but digital grocery is where this consideration becomes truly paramount. Food is often time- and temperature-sensitive, and retailers looking to get their online grocery programs right need to deliver on convenience above and beyond even what’s expected in the rest of the retail industry.

Retailers that can deliver a great digital grocery experience are poised to be the frontrunners in this changing landscape. More grocery shopping is happening online than ever before: 73% of consumers had purchased grocery items online in the three months leading up to February 2021, compared to 17% in February 2017, according to the PowerReviews Evolution of the Modern Grocery Shopper study. Another 61% of consumers do more online grocery shopping now compared to pre-COVID.


The key to bringing shoppers on board and meeting the unique needs of food delivery is flexibility. PowerReviews found that 65% of consumers have ordered groceries from a local retailer, which offers an opportunity for these retailers to put their buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) experience to good use.

“You need to offer a choice,” said David Bishop, Partner and Research Lead at Brick Meets Click in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The two methods, delivery and pickup, serve two different markets, and there’s very little overlap between them. Customers had very strong personal preferences for how they shop online and how they receive, and even though that may change from month to month, the fact of the matter is a pickup customer is not likely a delivery customer. If you’re only doing one or the other, you’re underserving the market.

Shopper expectations for digital grocery are explored in greater detail in the special report: “Modern Digital Grocery: How to Leverage Technology, Associates and Loyalty Programs to Meet High Shopper Expectations.”

Sponsored by Mercatus

Speed is Not Enough for Digital Grocery

More and more retailers are offering same-day delivery, but speed isn’t necessarily the key to a great digital grocery experience. In fact, it wasn’t even among PowerReviews’ top three reasons consumers order groceries online:

  • Time savings (59%);
  • Personal safety (49%); and
  • Avoiding impulse purchases (31%).

“I think [retailers] need to understand that speed is not enough, and they need to acknowledge that precision and flexibility are as important or more important,” said Pedro Amorim, Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Porto in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It does depend a lot on a specific customer situation. You actually need to understand that you have to segment your offer, maybe even to the client level or to the instance level, taking into account what this particular customer at this moment is actually expecting.”

While the reasons behind digital grocery orders can vary greatly, from throwing a party to stocking up a pantry, one aspect of the experience is universal: ordering off of any platform should be just as easy as shopping in-store. Customers want easy navigation, intelligent search functions and simple filters no matter where they choose to place their order. No one wants to wrestle with an unintuitive interface.

“The ordering experience should be convenient regardless of the channel or the form factor that the customer chooses,” said Rob Harrold, Managing Director and Consulting Retail Store Operations Leader at Deloitte in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Whether via desktop computer, a mobile phone or a tablet, having an easy-to-navigate interface, one that’s similar across all those modalities, is critical in making the customer feel comfortable. If they shop in one way on the laptop [but] then they’re forced to shop in a different way on the phone, that starts to create some challenges.”

Data Tames the Chaos of Managing Grocery Orders

Retailers also can deliver on reliability and convenience by utilizing shopper data. This can, for example, narrow down delivery and pickup windows by predicting when repeat shoppers will want their orders fulfilled. Using shopper data insights also can reduce out-of-stocks by providing better estimates of how much inventory is needed — particularly helpful when managing both BOPIS and store-based fulfillment.

The key to getting great digital grocery data is to go one step beyond simply looking at what shoppers actually end up buying to look at all the factors that led there, including potential substitutes. Machine learning algorithms can use this additional contextual information to provide deep insights that will improve service over time.

“Most companies record happenings,” said Amorim. “Someone chose this time slot at this moment, and they bought this, this and that, and it’s recorded. What you also need to record is the context in which they selected the given choice, meaning ‘What were you seeing? What were the options available for you on that morning?’ Based on that, you can then apply your machine learning algorithms to understand what drives customers to pick this instead of that.”

From there, retailers can get a better understanding of their audience to refine their fulfillment options and personalize the ordering experience. Digital grocery might be chaotic compared to other forms of ecommerce, but retailers that keep up with customer expectations will be in position to profit greatly from such offerings.

Get more detail on digital grocery success strategies by downloading the Modern Digital Grocery: How to Leverage Technology, Associates and Loyalty Programs to Meet High Shopper Expectations Special Report.



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