The COVID-19 pandemic has affected how people go through their daily lives. We now face a new normal wherein we try to avoid getting too close to one other. Social distancing has become a common practice and so is wearing a mask. As much as possible, people stay at home and limit their outdoor activities.
What did not and will not change, however, is our need to shop for food and groceries. The pandemic has made people keener on stocking up food in their homes. When lockdowns started in March, the supermarket scene was apocalyptic. Many essentials are gone from the shelves and people had to find ways to get their needs in other ways.
With the lockdowns imposed, many started to resort to online shopping. Before the pandemic, online shopping was already common for many. The e-commerce industry has grown a lot in the last few years, but based on data, people are shopping online for items like clothes, shoes, and furniture. Online grocery delivery was already an option but it wasn’t as popular as online retail shopping.
While there has been significant growth in online food and grocery shopping in the last few months, online shops remain to be challenged by the demands of the market. When the lockdowns started, many shops struggled to keep up with online demands. Months passed and shops and grocers are already well-adjusting. However, making online food shopping relevant still poses a few challenges.
Still, statistics show that online grocery shopping is slowly growing. However, what boosted the growth of this sector is the start of the pandemic. People are turning to online food and grocery shops to get their essentials as many are trying to avoid supermarkets. It could be because some are scared of getting the virus, while some just don’t want to the lineup in supermarkets filled with panic buyers.
The Food Industry Association (FMI) conducted a webinar in June wherein the chief executive officer of The Hartman Group, Laurie Demeritt, gave a talk about online and retail essential shopping. She said that one challenge that online retailers face is how shoppers have a lack of planning when it comes to meals.
Demeritt said, “This idea of last minuteness can be a challenge for online retailers. Delivery times are getting faster, but for almost half of all dinners, people decide what to eat within an hour of actually consuming it.”
The vice president of the industry relations for FMI, Doug Baker, then talked about how retailers could improve their services and that some are already working on opportunities. Baker said, “That’s why we continue to see retailers piloting so many different scenarios. There’s a number of them working at customer fulfilment centres, but technology and automation are going to be where most of the investment is.
“Consumer perception is really important here,” Baker said. “Whether true or not, there is a belief that if someone is picking groceries for you, you would like them to be a store employee. It is this idea of an employee going into a store that has a beautiful display of products or has the folks in the meat case who know what they’re doing.
“When we start talking about someone fulfilling it in the warehouse — whether it’s someone who isn’t necessarily a food specialist or a robot doing the work—there’s a perception that it won’t result in the highest quality selection.”
Demeritt also talked about the advantages that both in-person and online shopping has for customers. Demeritt said, “In-store has advantages in terms of allowing you to select your perishable items, finding better customer service experiences, and even the easy returns.
“There’s also the perception of affordability. Shoppers feel online has its advantages in terms of more transparency through detailed product information. That leads to a feeling of more openness and honesty.”
According to the Hartman Group and the FMI, online shopping also has the convenience factor. Customers tend to think that online shopping allows consumers to have access to greater selections and wider options.
Well, now that people are starting to face the new normal, going to the supermarkets appear to no longer be as scary as it was when the pandemic started. Will this negatively impact online grocers and retailers? Most likely not. E-commerce has always been expected to grow even before a pandemic.
We can just expect that more people from different demographics will be keener to shop online as long as there is a health crisis going on.