When it comes to grocery shopping, the impact of COVID-19 further fueled the push from consumers for prepared, ready-to-serve meals as well as the strong preference to place and manage orders online. Grocers learned through the chaos of 2020 that having a strong online presence and their catered/prepared items ready for prime time was key, especially among younger customers who were already used to purchasing electronically and having everything at their fingertips on mobile devices.
With this in mind, we’ve put together tips for grocers to use everyday, and especially during the busy holiday season, to better understand their customers and be ready to take advantage of online capabilities. To start, grocers should walk through these four exercises to prepare for any season:
1. Use internal sources and systems to find trends.
This is all about using your data to make better decisions. Grocers should be using their current software or programs to run regular reports and/or talk to managers and staff for anecdotal information to discern:
● Selling peaks
● Important local holidays and celebrations
● Slow periods
● Most-popular items
● Slowest-moving items
● Patterns of praise or complaints from your customers
Understanding these trends can allow grocers to more fully shape and operate their catering business. By knowing what your local community likes, dislikes, celebrates and has a high demand for, grocers can build their catering business more effectively, offering the right items to the right people at the right time.
2. Figure out how your customers purchase.
For example, do your customers come in-store mostly? Or do they call or email? Do you have an e-commerce site, an in-store kiosk or both? Your customers are on social media. Do they know that you are? How are you promoting your social channels?
Understand your current channels for customers to order through, and if there are any gaps where you could add a new channel to generate new business and better match your customers’ preferred method of shopping.
3. Give customers a feedback option.
Make sure you have ways customers can easily provide their feedback, whether via a survey, an in-store suggestion box, a frequently checked email account or something else. This is especially important for maintaining customer experience standards.
4. Understand how to reach your customers.
Do you offer a newsletter or email sign-up? Do you get a large amount of traffic to your website or Google listing? Figuring out where and how your customers consume or would like to consume information about your business is vital for deeper customer engagement and feedback.
Preparing for the Holiday Catering Rush
The holidays are showtime for grocers across the U.S. For example, one of FoodStorm’s largest grocery customers prepares more than 4,000 turkey dinners for Thanksgiving, and the coordination between the e-commerce, payment and production aspects for that many orders in such a tight period of time is complex. Many of FoodStorm’s clients have doubled their holiday meal sales because they are able to take on more orders due to their streamlined processes as well as use the insights they gain from having their operation online. These are our tips for prepping for the frenzied holiday catering season:
1. Create targeted menus based on customer taste. Start by asking yourself these four questions:
● Is there a regional cuisine your customer base enjoys?
● Are you catering to all dietary restrictions and preferences?
● Does your local community love certain times of the year?
● Are there specific events your customers celebrate?
Make sure you are capitalizing on these customer preferences by creating seasonal, local and holiday menus that match their interests.
2. Reach new customers through multiple channels.
Consider how to reach new customers beyond traditional ordering channels like phone and in-person through social-media marketplaces, such as Google Retail, Facebook and Instagram. Make sure your e-commerce site is up-to-date and mobile-friendly, and create email or promotional campaigns online and in-store to communicate your new offerings through those channels. These new channels should be in addition to, not in place of, the traditional channels of phone or in-person ordering.
3. Use customer feedback to pivot quickly.
Once you have your feedback system set up, use it to monitor your business continually. If customers keep requesting items or changes, consider making an amendment to your offering immediately. At Mollie Stone’s, we successfully did this with our Thanksgiving pie offering by providing pie selection options for customers to choose themselves instead of a preselected, fixed flavor. This was a small and easy change for us with FoodStorm, and it made a big impact with our customers.
4. Implement technology to streamline.
Manual processes are laborious and prone to errors. Using software that can automate many of those jobs lets you focus on your core business, without being pulled into repetitive, time-consuming administrative tasks. Evaluate software options that will help you with e-commerce selling, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), promotions, instant online updates, and better analyzing your business trends. At Mollie Stone’s this was important to us not only during the holidays, but year-round.
Preparing for especially busy periods such as the holidays requires a deep understanding of your customers and their preferences for meals and ordering. Grocers benefit from technology that can handle all of those aspects (e-commerce, payment and production) under tight deadlines. Following these steps should help make the holidays and busy spikes in your catering season a more profitable and efficient experience for your business.
Aaron Stone is vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Mollie Stone’s Markets, a family-owned grocery business with nine locations in Northern California. Rob Hill is CEO of FoodStorm,developers of a catering software management system specifically designed for the grocery industry. FoodStorm’s software automates the entire catering/prepared foods ordering, production, payment and fulfillment process from one centralized system.