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Can’t Touch This: Contactless is Now a Must-Have for Grocers

One of the biggest ironies of ecommerce had been how willing people are to purchase cars or 60-inch TVs sight unseen, but still prefer to choose their own eggs and apples. Then… the pandemic came along ready to disrupt an industry that was ripe for change. Hello, online grocery. 

In 2019, Publicis Groupe had predicted that it would take five years before click-and-collect—grocery’s version of buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS)—would hit 20% of grocery sales. The early days of the pandemic, however, caused foot traffic to plummet and online grocery to soar as everyone sheltered at home while still needing to eat.

While foot traffic returned to somewhat normal rates by September, the change in behaviors may have finally made online grocery ecommerce a requirement retailers wanting to retain or grow market share.

Understand that there are multiple paths to the same mountaintop here. Delivery—whether working through a partner like Instacart, Uber, or a store-run experience—is another way to meet consumer demand.

Regardless of how you meet the challenge, the demands for online grocery are high around accuracy and ease of use. Consumers have a lot to say about what works, what doesn’t, and where the opportunities are for those who get it right.


1. Click and Collect: A Bumpy Experience

Whether the store is doing curbside or requiring customers to come inside, click and collect brings plenty of challenges. Customers appreciate the ease of online grocery ordering, but are challenged by the execution of the pickup.

An Ipsos study found that confusion over where to go to retrieve the order was a big headache. Sam’s Club scored points for signage clearly directing shoppers where to go. For curbside, shoppers told Ipsos that Walmart excelled.

While a Progressive Grocer survey of shoppers found those who went in-store were less satisfied than those who had in-car service, there was opportunity there, too. As many as 61 percent of shoppers who went in said they are likely to buy something else—and some add as many as three items to their pickup. (Men and younger shoppers are more likely to do so.)

Other challenges, as found by an Incivis survey, were around the availability of pickup slots. While completing the order online earned an average of four stars or higher, 81% of shoppers dinged their favorite store for availability of preferred pickup date and time.


2. ‘A Near-Perfect View of Stock’

The biggest pitfall of online grocery, from the online portal all the way through to pick up, is visibility into what’s available. Here, there is a significant gap in what shoppers expect and what grocers are delivering. The Progressive Grocer survey showed that 95% expect to know if an item is in stock when they are shopping online, but only 75% found the inventory to be accurately reflected at the time of order.

More frequent shoppers—those who shop at least weekly—have an even greater expectation here. Ipsos showed 9% of shoppers found errors with their orders. But that is eclipsed by being unable to get ther preferred brand of ice cream without knowing that it’s out of stock.

As Neil Saunders noted in RetailWire, one of the most upsetting complaints “comes from orders being cancelled due to a lack of stock in the store. This underlines the necessity for a near-perfect view of stock and having some buffer of a checking system built in so that consumers are not let down.”


3. Other Contactless Options 

Self-checkout can remove the need to interact with a customer while bringing the added benefit of reduced labor requirements. This area was growing before the pandemic and seems poised for even more investment in the near term. Walmart is opening its first self-serve only store. Even convenience stores are upping the self-checkout options.

Kroger is experimenting with a pick-up only store—which means the entire store layout can be optimized for quicker picking without the need to appeal to shoppers. Kroger says what it is learning in that store is helping it to reduce the cost of online orders at all of its stores.

Another interesting point here: stores ranked higher in online grocery satisfaction if they managed that on their own rather than with a partner like Instacart. That’s according to the 2019 and 2020 surveys from Retail Feedback Group. Amazon and Walmart tended to outpace other grocery stores, which still were higher than Instacart. So partner carefully.


4. No Excuse for Reducing Customer Service

Clearly, online grocery requires some level of human support. Mistakes will happen. Someone will swap English muffins for bagels—the packaging looks alike, after all. A customer will be waiting for 45 minutes for the groceries to come to the car trunk. So who will deal with it? Your customer service employees. Life is already challenging enough, so disappointed shoppers may bring a little more bite to their customer service encounter. How well trained and empowered are employees to make the customer happy? Technology can’t solve that issue yet.

Technology does raise another issue, however. As more and more stores rely on customers to use their own devices to increase contactless shopping, customer service representatives may need to become more tech savvy. User experience designer Joe Johnson notes the opportunities in helping customers meet dietary needs or shop on a budget, too. And don’t forget taking temperatures or directing consumers to their pickup spots for online grocery orders. Yes, it’s a tall order for today’s grocery employee and more training might be needed.

The contactless experience has forced customers to allow someone else to choose their banana ripeness and offer up replacements when the preferred brand of toilet paper is out. There are hurdles to be overcome when it comes to making BOPIS a true grocery experience. The first one to solve the online grocery challenges for the consumers will no doubt have a strategic advantage.


CB4’s solutions can help ensure your employees and store managers can solve the issues that consumers face, all while providing inventory insight to reduce out-of-stocks and the frustrations that come with them. Learn more


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