We all know about the surge in e-commerce during the pandemic — and how online shopping in such sectors as food and drug made lives easier for countless consumers.
However, what happens when the emergency is decreased? Will shoppers stick with their higher levels of online shopping?
This is an important question because the e-commerce experience wasn’t always optimal during the pandemic. Shoppers at times experienced out of stocks, long waits for delivery or pickup slots, and inaccurate orders. This was especially true early in the pandemic as retailers pulled out all the stops to address unprecedented demand.
Meanwhile, shoppers over time are likely to increase their expectations about what constitutes a good online shopping experience. So what more can be done to keep shoppers engaged and to accelerate momentum?
The outlook for e-commerce was spotlighted during the recent virtual Midwinter Executive Conference of FMI — The Food Industry Association. Elizabeth Buchanan, head of consumer intelligence for North America at NielsenIQ, delivered a presentation on the current landscape that included eye-popping data points. She was joined by co-presenter Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at FMI.
Buchanan relayed the following stats:
- The total online food and beverage landscape in 2020 saw $106 billion in dollar sales, a 125% increase in growth versus the year-ago period;
- The rapid growth of click and collect led to a 130% increase in orders and a 113% jump in users; and
- The 2021 sales forecast for digitally engaged food shopping (excluding retail foodservice and meal kits) ranges from $94 billion to $109 billion.
I was particularly focused on points Buchanan made about how retailers can maintain and build on the momentum for online shopping in the future, including as the pandemic wanes. Many of her comments centered on new ways to accelerate shopper experience:
- Entertaining occasions: The online shopping experience creatively can help support entertaining when those types of gatherings become more possible, such as through the use of recipe builders that can add the needed ingredients to shopping carts;
- Personalization: E-commerce can personalize search with enhanced strategies. In one example Buchanan cited, Nordstrom enables online customers to shop in a category such as dog walking — not a traditional segment for a department store, but one that opens up the potential for new experiences and recommendations; and
- New partnerships: New collaborations can expand customer experience in retail omnichannel environments. In one example given, Carrefour of France has partnered with Uber Eats to provide customers access to both prepared meal solutions and groceries.
Other retailers are stepping up with new e-commerce experiences of their own, including for curbside pickup.
One such initiative that caught my attention recently was from The Fresh Market, which launched “The Friendliest Curbside Experience in America” customer service platform. The retailer’s offering includes personal shoppers and such “wow moments” as having costumed Santa’s bring out curbside orders during the Christmas season.
I like the way that The Fresh Market is thinking. This kind of strategy helps to step up omnichannel experiences. I’m using the “omni” prefix because most consumers don’t just shop one way. Nielsen’s Buchanan said two-thirds of U.S. consumers are using online and offline channels — so retailers need to meet their expectations across the board.
E-commerce broke all records during the pandemic because of necessity. Yet once the landscape changes, there will be bigger shopper expectations for overall experience. Retailers have an opportunity to start planning now to be ready for what comes next.