How Grocery Can Better Seize Social Media

Why the future is personal and why 'what got us here will not get us there'
buying groceries on smartphone
Photograph: Shutterstock

If you build it, will they come?

When it comes to building out or sprucing up an online grocery presence, the answer is "not necessarily"—and especially not if a copy-and-paste, one-size-fits-all approach is used, IRI's Jonna Parker and 210 Analytics' Anne-Marie Roerink said.

Speaking at an IDDBA 2022 show workshop, "The Future is Digital and Personal," last week, Parker and Roerink said grocers need to take advantage of the personalization possibilities of the digital realm rather than look merely to duplicate online what they've always done in-store. In addition, retailers must speak both to online users' needs as well as their curiosity to drive engagement and repeat purchases.

The average American in 2022 spends more than two hours a day on social media, Parker noted—and there are, unsurprisingly, marked differences by age group. In a 2021 survey by YPulse, Gen Z respondents pegged their own social-media use at 4.5 hours a day; Millennials estimated their time scrolling Instagram and Twitter, et al., at 3.8 hours. 

That's important because social channels are how a lot of shoppers, and young shoppers in particular, arrive at new products, new recipes and eventually at grocery retailers' shopping sites themselves, according to Parker and Roerink. It would be a missed opportunity, they suggested, not to meet those consumers where they are online with easy meal-making solutions; new, novel and affordable tastes; and/or fun and accessible ways to liven up an at-home meal or social gathering. For example, if you sell a tray of plain cookies or cupcakes as well as decorating supplies that shoppers can use to personalize their treats at home, provide that inspiration, Roerink urged.  

Nearly 1 in 4 TikTok users (24%) say they participate in food challenges "all of the time," said Roerink, and 18% said they do so occasionally. The Baked Feta Pasta recipe that went viral on TikTok in 2020 and became a food phenomenon unto itself, leaving store shelves bare of feta bricks, shows the power of social media to drive real sales, Roerink and Parker said. And retailers can use consumers' appetite for easy meal solutions such as that to their advantage, the two emphasized—but being effective in doing so means thinking about what the consumer needs, not just what the retailer wants to sell (or say).

"With social media, is it anchored in what you want to tell the consumer, or how they can use you in their life?" asked Parker. "Just having it doesn’t mean that people will come. Just creating your hashtag won't do it."

Just fewer than half of grocery shoppers, 49%, have told IRI they don't deliberately look for new items online, Roerink said. It takes work to inspire them and get them past the items they most frequently add to their baskets, she noted. "All of the things that grab somebody in-store, we need to do that online," she said. One of the benefits of the online realm is that there are no limitations for product descriptions, and 53% of consumers say they look for a detailed product description online, she added. (The No. 1 thing consumers look for online? A clear picture of the product.) Merchandising is as important online as it is in-store, Roerink said, whether in the form of grouping mains, sides, desserts and accompaniments (beverages, flowers) together or highlighting new line extensions that are hitting store shelves. 

"What got us here will not get us there," Parker offered. "Don't be on autopilot."



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