The In-Store Shopping Experience Always Wins, Right?

Online and physical shopping moving toward parity
Retail Feedback Group
Photograph courtesy of Retail Feedback Group

Retailers that can figure out how to successfully integrate the best of online shopping and the in-store experience are best poised to survive and thrive.

I have spent the vast majority of my career in the food industry with a nearly 20-year stint with a wholesaler/retailer followed by another eight years as a consultant. As many of my peers in the industry have likely experienced over the years, I remember often being told that the in-store experience would always trump the online shopping experience. After all, how could shoppers feel truly fulfilled shopping online? They can’t pick their own produce, taste a cheese sample or see the quality of the meat firsthand.

The results of the Retail Feedback Group's 2019 U.S. Online Grocery Shopper study, compiled from a national base of 1,000 shoppers, indicate that at least for some people today, online shopping and the in-store experience may not be perceived as all that different.

Let’s start with what endures, at least at this point, as most unique to each type of shopping experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, convenience and efficient use of time remain the two strongest points for online shopping. On the flip side, providing products that best meet shopper standards for quality and freshness persists as the most robust point for in-store shopping, with one-third of shoppers indicating so (although a majority, 56% of shoppers, indicate that this is equal for both types of shopping experience).     

But once you get past these few attributes, it appears the differences between online and in-store food shopping are quickly moving to more equivalence in the minds of shoppers. For seven of the 12 factors measured, 50% or more of shoppers find the factors are equal for both types of shopping.

What perhaps might be most alarming for food retailers focused solely on the in-store experience is that about 7 in 10 shoppers indicated that showing a company knows and cares about food is equal for both online ordering and shopping in-store. Other areas where both in-store and online grocery shopping are viewed by at least 50% of shoppers as equal include things such as providing more value for money spent, offering a better selection of products, making customers feel valued, providing better customer service, taking better care of securing payment/personal information and providing products best meeting shopper standards for quality and freshness, as mentioned earlier.

Clearly, these results show the growth and maturation of online grocery shopping continues to erode the advantage once held by the shopping experience at a physical store. For a large number of shoppers, those qualities that retailers once prided themselves as providing in-store with the belief that they couldn’t be replicated online simply are no longer an exclusive advantage.

This doesn’t, however, mean that there aren’t certain challenges inherent to one type of shopping or the other. For example, despite the fact that all of the fresh categories are now purchased in double-digit percentages online, produce remains a department with opportunity for improvement from an online ordering perspective. Forty-five percent of shoppers (specifically those who didn’t give the highest quality rating on a five-point scale) report produce as falling short of their quality standards.

It would also be a mistake to conclude that it is just the younger set that are driving the transformation of the food shopping experience. In fact, research findings from this study also show that boomers award online grocery shopping the highest satisfaction marks. So older shoppers aren’t just patronizing the physical store but are present online too—and giving high marks.    

It’s time to change the thought process that the in-store experience will always prevail. Clearly the data illustrates both shopping types are moving toward more parity in significant ways. In the end, those retailers that can figure out how to successfully integrate the best of both online shopping and the in-store experience will win into the future.

Brian Numainville is a principal with Retail Feedback Group and can be reached at bn@retailfeedback.com.



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