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Technology

Forget the ‘E,' It’s Just Commerce Now

The line between what happens in retail stores and online has disappeared
Photograph: Shutterstock

It used to happen all the time, so much so that it became a running family joke inside many households: Mom would go to the store just needing a few basics and leave with a shopping cart full of stuff she never intended to buy. Of course, those in the grocery business recognize that was achieved (to the delight of store owners) thanks to the science of aisle design and well-positioned row displays and sale items.

But decades of science designed to get customers to stay longer and buy more is aging out thanks to changing shopper needs in 2020 that emphasize convenience, speed and quality, coupled with the advent of technology enabling convenient shop-at-home commerce. The grocery store industry, which once saw itself removed from what was happening with retail stores down at the mall, no longer have that luxury.

Sale on E-Commerce

To be clear, the grocery world as a whole is confronted with two very specific changes in customer buying habits. First—thanks to the rise of shop-at-home, pick-up-in-store services (up 8% in 2019)—shoppers, particularly millennials, no longer distinguish between online and offline shopping. For them it's all shopping, and what they're looking for from their shopping experience—no matter online or offline—is seamlessness. If they put something in their cart on the app via their phone, they want to be able to log into their computer and see the same items in their cart there. When they go in-store, they want to see the same products on the shelves they saw on the app. All of which is putting more pressure on traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to provide a seamless experience for their customers.

We all know grocery profit margins are tight and any expenditure into online is imbued with some risk, but the demand is not going away: Shoppers see the value in these types of services and they want them. Recognize this is not going to change, and plan that investment, whether it’s developing your own app or, more likely, establishing partnerships with third-party delivery services such as Peapod, Instacart and Shipt.

More Quick Trips

Standing in sharp contrast to the rising demand of online shopping is the increase in "quick trips" (which now encompass 50% of all grocery trips) and demand for a wide variety of in-store prepared meals. Mega stores such as Walmart and Target have created "grab and go" sections of convenience items–light snacks, smaller servings of popular fruits and vegetables, dairy—up front by the register for quick/convenience trips so that people don't have to wander throughout a store three times the size of a football field to find them. Whole Foods is experimenting with similar types of get-in-get-out setups. More traditional grocers are experimenting with store designs that put grab-and-go items front and center, as well as rethinking SKU assortments around this new convenience-oriented shopper.

But even though that may mean smaller baskets per trip, those same shoppers are likely to go back frequently because they know they can get in and get out fast.

Bottom line: Bricks and clicks in which data and the in-store experience are coupled with choice and consistency online is the future of grocery. Today, retail needs to be hyperconvenient and deliver the immediacy today’s shoppers demand regardless of whether they shop in-store or online. Thus the “e” in e-commerce becomes redundant and outdated.

Kinda like the idea of mom going to the store for one thing and coming back with a trunkful.

Kristen Keenan is director of digital strategy and media for IN Connected, an integrated brand activation agency. She helps clients connect the online and in-store shopping experiences to convert shoppers into buyers.

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