Online grocery shopping gives new meaning to the term “shopping cart”
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Make no mistake: the Internet has generated technological advancements, business opportunities, successful (and not-so-successful) personal relationships and a social media storm.
And those are just a few of its conquests.
But for some people, the advantages of online accessibility has also led them to fork over shopping carts, grocery aisles and long checkout lines for a virtual food buying experience.
That’s right: No more touchy, feely sessions with organic Fuji apples. It’s time to point, click and buy.
“There is a changing emphasis on retail accessibility,” said Vanessa Hartnoll, global head of Shopper Insights at New York-based Hall & Partners. “Since shoppers are increasingly looking for accessibility to retail on their terms, this has helped increase the popularity of online shopping. Shoppers have long been driving demand for the integration of the online and bricks-and-mortar experience.”
That means grocers with actual storefronts, like Meijer, have been urged to set up delivery services that can compete against online-specific, nationwide grocery retailers, such as Netgrocer.com, Alice.com and Amazon.com Grocery, all of which deliver products from produce to baking supplies to toilet paper, straight to a consumer’s front door. Meijer kicked off its Doorstep Grocer program early this year and now offers thousands of grocery and drugstore items for purchase.
“Beyond the freedom to shop whenever or from wherever you like, [online shopping has] reshaped when the purchase cycle actually begins,” said Tony Takla, director of Digital Services at the Integer Group in Lakewood, Colo. “Today’s brands need to begin the conversation long before a shopper enters the store or logs onto Amazon.com — because by then, their decision on what to buy has been heavily influenced.”
Part of this, said Elizabeth Schofield, founder and editor of FashionsCollective.com, a publication that covers e-commerce and consumer behavior, stems from the recession which has caused more people to use the Internet as a research tool in their purchasing decisions, leading naturally, to a more informed consumer.
“Comparison shopping is one of the most common uses of the web,” Schofield said. “With less money to spend, consumers feel the need to be more savvy and make more informed purchases. Often, through online research there is more content at your fingertips than a customer would typically get by going in-store and talking to a sales associate.”
But, even more so than the shop-savvy consumer’s knowledge base, said John Federman, CEO of Searchandise Commerce, companies must be aware of the fact that the average consumer still seeks a problem-free shopping trip – whether it’s in-house or online.
“For retailers, providing a seamless experience has the payoff of loyalty in an un-loyal world,” Federman said. “Consumers are notoriously bargain hunters, but providing a good experience will make them initiate their search at the retailer who is providing the overall best experience.”
For stores that incorporate both an online and in-store experience, Federman said successful stores are sure to provide a cohesive online and offline strategy, one that, regardless of the channel a shopper is utilizing, will allow a recognizable presence on their behalf.
Takla agreed: “With the blurring of online and offline worlds it’s even more important for brands to communicate with shoppers all along the path to purchase,” he said.
That path, said Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Lubin School of Business at Pace University, requires stores to maintain a consistent relationship with their shoppers, one that keeps up-to-speed with consumers’ use of mobile phones, social mediums and several other outlets to make their purchasing decisions.
“Retailers are searching for ways to maintain an ongoing relationship with consumers so that consumers are exposed to offers via email and mobile phone texts,” said Chiagouris.
That smooth flow between in-house and online shopping, Schofield said, has not only allowed stores to grow and capitalize on technological advancements, but it has also made shopping a social experience.
“The viral nature of the web enables people to pass content along to their networks of friends, which are typically much larger online than the people they may encounter in their lives, so word of mouth has a wider reach online,” Schofield said. Now, with the rising popularity of mobile commerce and social shopping, the companies that are already running successful e-commerce stores will be ahead of the curve.”
Amanda Anderson online store manager at the Hills Market in Columbus, said taking the stress factor out of shopping is one of the main qualities of online grocery stores that is so appealing, besides the obvious “convenience” factor.
“Decision-making can also be overwhelming at a grocery store, especially one you may be unfamiliar with, but online you can search for exactly what you want and be on your way,” Anderson said.
A less stressful experience is what drove Robert Corrigan, of Dayton, to use online grocery stores when he was living in New York City. He said grocery services, such as FreshDirect.com, eliminated the often tedious experience of hauling groceries throughout the city or on public transportation.
“In the city, this was invaluable because going to a good grocery meant getting on the subway with bags of groceries and hauling them several blocks,” Corrigan said. “Even with snow on the ground, deliveries were prompt, always in a two-hour window that you select depending on availability.”
Jennifer Bourgoyne a busy, working mom from San Jose, Calif., couldn’t agree more with Corrigan, adding that online grocery shopping helped her through one of the busiest times in her life – immediately following the birth of her children.
“It’s just so much easier than lugging your baby out with all the gear, weather, germs and so forth,” she said. “It’s actually a fantastic gift to offer to friends who have new babies in the house, or anyone else that could benefit from a skipped trip or two to the store.”
And she couldn’t help but point out a less obvious, but certainly worth mentioning, benefit of online grocery shopping: no “buying just to buy” something, Bourgoyne said.
“No more impulse triggers at the checkout,” Bourgoyne said of how online shopping has also helped keep her diet in check. “I’m talking about you, Mr. Hershey’s chocolate bar and king-sized Snickers.”
Hey, whether it’s a matter of convenience or keeping a waistline in check, one thing’s for sure: today’s grocery shopping and the accessibility of online technologies are like peanut butter and jelly – they just work better together.
Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannon-Karasik@daytoncitypaper.com.