By Jason Stemm @NYCubsFan
Since the days of open air markets and general stores, the food shopping experience has been in person. Trips to the grocery store have started with a list and ended with a cart full of groceries filled with planned and impulse buys. Retailers have relied on these incremental purchases to improve margins and increase sales. As the In-Store Sales Begin at Home evolves and gas prices rise, grocers have adapted to service their new consumer.
For some time, and spurred by the economic downturn, consumers have been using the internet to find bargains. The model for supermarkets has been to use store ads featuring popular loss leaders to draw consumers into the store, likely to purchase a myriad of items on their way from the front door to the checkout line. With the advent of online shopping and delivery of mobile information, new approaches must be considered to counter the loss of impulse buys.
Online Communication In data collected January 2011 by Lucid Marketing, 93% of moms use Facebook and 91% use email to communicate. E-mail marketing of store circulars has been evolving. Some chains are offering exclusive communications to subscribers and social network followers. Ads and coupons are still a prime driver for consumers, but others are going further. Kroger has developed a Culinary 411 program offering recipes with videos demonstrating preparation. Recipes are a great way to motivate customers to click on a few more food items to try a new dish at home. A chain’s website serves as a critical hub for this information, but without active communication by email and on Facebook, a huge pool of prospective sales are being lost.
Grocery Delivery It used to be a convenience for busy people, but as gas prices rise, consumers are making fewer shopping trips. Fresh Direct and Pea Pod have had recent success, but I still find their websites miss opportunities. Fresh Direct does provide recipe links at the bottom of an item’s page, but there is nothing to draw shoppers to them. Once they do, there is a handy tool where all items in the recipe can be purchased from that page. Photos could easily be added to entice the eye and draw clicks. How-to and cooking videos would also enhance the pages clicked through during shopping. A video showing best practices for cooking fish or handling artichokes may help a timid cook to add it to the virtual cart. If they don’t have the content, or the desire to produce it, they could easily tap resources from the food companies and commodity boards that supply them. They have a wealth of recipes and educational content they would be happy to share at no charge to entice purchases.
Grocery Pick-Up To address customer demands for convenience and desire to shop online, many stores are offering pick-up service. Superstores Walmart and Meijer have been the latest to allow customers to select groceries online and have them collected and waiting for pick-up. With new shoppers not getting far past the entrance, the impulse shopping happens online, where comparative pricing among local and online competitors is only a few clicks away. Many of the techniques described already, are applicable here. I’m interested to know how the pick-up process works. Certainly perishable items need to be kept at different temperatures, and I can envision wait periods where customers get frustrated. This could be a good opportunity to offer samples of new products or coffee with the opportunity to easily add it to their online purchase.
Mobile POS Paper and cardboard have ruled the aisles for years. Food companies and marketing groups have delivered these in-store attention grabbers to stores free of charge to entice shoppers to their products. As mobile adoption expands, there are new ways to connect with these mobile consumers. If you have a mobile app, what are you doing to entice usage? Pushing out exclusive deals or encouraging social sharing (e.g. rewarding a customer for tweeting a special or sharing on Facebook) is one way, but dangers alienating non-adopters. If you don’t have an app, a mobile website can be as or even more effective. Streamline the information on your website and make it mobile-friendly to deliver information. Shelf talkers can now include short URL’s or QR codes directing them to special content and an alternate way to take advantage of specials. The content available is limitless.
All of these platforms offer food retailers new ways to provide customer service and enhance the shopping experience. At the same time, they are for-profit businesses. There is a reason that the bread and milk are in the back corners of the store. They rely on additional purchases made by the shopper’s eye and stomach. That is why I try never to shop hungry. Today, the eyeballs are moving, and marketers must find new ways to hit this moving target.