By Kaitlin Ruchniewicz

If you’re anything like me, you may like picking out the freshest batch of strawberries or examining the carton of eggs with your own eyes ensuring there aren’t any cracks. Nevertheless, I personally fall into a couple of key online grocery consumer categories…

  • Skews young. Checkish? Does 30 count as young?
  • Urban household. Check.
  • Pressed for time and values convenience. Double check.

…yet the personal adoption of online grocery commerce isn’t that easy. In this blog, I want to explore the transformation of the grocery industry and how consumers are reacting to it. Consumption habits are personal and industry-wide change doesn’t happen overnight. Meanwhile, shoppers are left to balance what works best for them with available add on services that vary grocer to grocer. Grocers, on the other hand, are expected to provide the latest and greatest tech while keeping the customer’s lifestyle in mind. But they can’t get too comfortable because those preferences change…and quickly. Sounds like it might be tough to keep track of, right?

The grocery vertical is continuously evolving, so what does this mean for consumers and advertisers? Let’s discuss…

Past, Present, Future 

Back in the day, shoppers had to visit a shop for canned goods/non-perishables, the butcher for their meat, the baker for their bread and greengrocers for their produce. As time marched on, so too did the concept of grocery shopping. From consolidation to chain stores, supermarkets, shopping centers, discount stores and everything in between, the grocery industry has certainly experienced change. It could be argued that today’s transformation is moving faster than ever.   

According to eMarketer, “US grocery ecommerce – specifically online food and beverage sales – will grow 18.2% to $19.89 billion in 2019 and will rank as the fastest growing product category online” thanks to the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Target and Kroger. This trend is expected to continue through 2023. While the ecommerce element of grocery is not something every shopper takes full advantage of now, it’s expected that there should be a full-fledged solution ready and waiting should they want to. The numbers eMarketer is reporting suggest that more and more people will be buying online – not exactly shocking considering the time we live in. You can buy everything online, why not groceries too?

Onward and Upward

In the consistently competitive environment that is grocery, how does one stand out from the rest? That’s easy. Not only appeal to the customer but cater to all types of shoppers! Each grocer has developed their own unique formula with the heaviest weighting falling on added convenience and cost efficiency. And the goal…drive increased sales through new customers, more shopping trips, and larger and more frequent purchases. We all have seen some form of grocery pickup at this point and sometimes at no additional charge. Wait, more time for me and no premium? Yes, please! For the grocery shopper who doesn’t mind spending a couple extra bucks, you can have groceries delivered to your doorstep – it doesn’t get easier than that!  The industry has shown significant investment in mobile app development. Knowing how important the customer is, this includes technology advances based on their feedback catered to their convenience from custom shopping lists to price checks all the way to managing digital coupons. Everyday low price has become more dominant with evergreen competitive price promos. There’s been a bulk up on product assortment and brands that speak to the health conscious or dietarily restricted consumer…the list goes on and on.

Time to Walk the Walk

We’ve outlined consumer preferences and how grocers are responding to them. Now it’s up to us, as marketers, to help highlight the consumer-centric initiatives. From here, brands and agencies need to leverage available data to segment consumers based on a variety of factors. This should include demographic data, historical shopping habits, contextual reference clues (maybe they’re meal planning) and potentially some loyalty card information to not only find them but improve their overall customer experience. We need to connect the dots and talk to the right customer in the right way, otherwise grocery ecommerce will fail to resonate properly. We know that grocery advertising is so much more than item price. It’s an exercise in understanding who the shopper is and catering to them to get them in store or make that online purchase.

From previous blog entries, you know that we believe in taking a holistic approach to any media plan and grocery campaigns are no exception. We are constantly evolving our grocery client’s channel mix based on all the known attributes of their target consumer and that is crucial. Understanding shopper nuances will help drive strategy for the plan and validate the media that’s ultimately put in market. Do shoppers plan their trips before they venture out, reviewing their weekly ad and circling items of interest? Or are they an impulse shopper looking to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible? Are they always on the hunt for a good deal? Maybe they’re willing to pay a little more for a specialty brand. Are they a recent retiree with more time to dwell in store and without children in the household? Or are they a parent with family to consider? Hey, don’t forget about what the competition down the street is doing to get their shoppers in store. Appealing to these variations in shopping patterns with different channels, messaging and calls to action just makes sense, right? We think so. It’s something we take a lot of time to dig into in the planning stages and pride ourselves on as an agency. We take all of the nitty gritty store up specifics into account to build the strongest media plan based on data.  We know the time we take with the details drives big picture results for our clients.

And why does this matter? It matters because the trend of grocers creating conversations with consumers to explain the how’s and why’s of their shopping transformation will become the norm of industry success. For those who fail to adapt, best of luck.

The future remains to be seen, but at least for now, I remain on the traditional side of the grocery fence, straying from the pack of my younger, urban household, pressed for time consumer cohorts. Personal shopping habits aside, the trend lines don’t lie. Grocers will need to continue to accommodate the shifting landscape and inevitable growth of ecommerce in their industry – shoppers too.