Engaging shoppers’ hearts, minds and taste buds from behind a keyboard — is it really possible?

15 may 2020

Erik Wallin

Woman Smiling
Woman Smiling

The moment you step into a grocery store, your senses are alive to the possibilities of the foods around you. The produce section encourages you to see, smell and handle delicious fresh produce the moment you step into the store, while the scent of freshly baked bread and cakes drifts mouthwatering across to you from the bakery counter.

It’s not by chance that supermarkets are arranged in the way that they are. Add in carefully targeted lighting and the odd plate of nibbles for you to sample and the shopping experience quickly becomes one that delights the senses, enticing you to discover new foods and to buy more than you intended.

Sensory deprivation

This sensory shopping experience is one that online grocery retailers have traditionally found it hard to compete with. You can’t sample new foods from behind a keyboard and all that in-store psychology that’s designed to make you pick out exciting new products just doesn’t translate.

However, if online grocery retailers are going to capitalize on the new user behaviors that are resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to find ways to do just that. Online grocery shopping needs to delight the senses, not simply be a click and pay process. This means that retails need to prepare NOW if they’re going to ensure that their new customers remain their new customers once the lockdown restrictions lift.

Of course, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a psychological element to the way that online grocery retailers go about their business — there most certainly is. From the way that stores arrange their page layouts to eye-catching multibuy offers, plenty of expertise has been applied to ensure that customers impulse buy when shopping online. But there’s so much more that could be done…

Online opportunities

This is the logic behind a new breed of apps that are helping to ignite the same sense of discovery online that grocery shoppers experience offline. Walmart’s shopping integration into the Tasty app is a prime example. Tasty with their billions of recipe views each month makes it easy for shoppers to discover recipes, meals and even weekly meal plans that they would like to explore and, ultimately, eat.

The key to embedding shopping in this process is, as it is with so many things, convenience. Not only do shoppers need to be able to discover new products, recipes and meals with ease, they also need to be able to fill their cart in an instant. This allows online grocery retailers to capitalize on shoppers’ impulses in just the same way that bricks and mortars stores are able to.

Making it easy for shoppers to stick to their values and priorities is also key here. Some grocery buyers will focus on their budget as their top priority. For others, buying organic produce will be the driving factor behind their choices. Others still will be strict in their need to buy vegetarian or vegan products. This means that retailers’ online services need to be able to satisfy a range of priorities with ease, even when auto-filling carts with multiple ingredients based on individual recipe or menu plan selections.

Seriously high stakes

The stakes are certainly high. Rakuten Intelligence reports that e-commerce spending in the US from the beginning of March through to mid-April is up by over 30% when compared with the same period of 2019.

Signifyd’s E-commerce Pulse data, meanwhile, shows a jump of 25% in e-commerce sales during week ending April 20, 2020. Nasdaq reports that the jump trumped the previous record of 17%, which was set during week ending April 6.

In terms of the overall picture across the US, ecommerce spending has grown by 85% since late February. 85%!

Such growth presents an incredible opportunity for online grocery retailers who are able to capitalize on it. Social media engagement has never presented greater opportunities than during this time of social distancing. Socially active retailers who can funnel shoppers into their online stores while also supporting them to discover new products and flavors have the potential to win big, not just now but in the world that comes after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

That world won’t be the same as the one that we lived in before. The psychological impact of COVID-19 is one that won’t disappear overnight just because we can all go outside freely once more. Retailers who can turn that change into something positive and use it to improve shoppers’ experiences are an important part of that post-COVID-19 existence, but they need to be planning for it and setting wheels in motion now.

Capturing shoppers’ hearts, minds and taste buds is no easy feat when you can’t access their senses of smell and taste like you can in-store, but sufficient opportunities exist for online grocery retailers to engage shoppers in other ways, allowing them to feel that same sense of discovery-based excitement as they fill their carts. That is what will keep them coming back for more even once the world goes back to ‘normal.’