Ten things to fix about online grocery experiences today

We explore ten things to fix about online grocery experiences today.

A bag of groceries with icons indicating reviews and negative feedback surrounding it.

In the UK, double the amount of people are now buying groceries online compared to twelve months ago. Although, the pressure of dealing with the initial hike in volume strained experiences and the technologies underpinning them to breaking point, grocers have had twelve months to right these wrongs.

Online and offline shopping behaviours differ, whereas many online experiences have attempted to translate existing instore solutions to digital. This creates problems across all grocers who offer online ordering.

These problems need attention to generate long term profits and ward off challengers who are emerging to rival existing players with super-fast deliveries and dark hyper local ‘stores’.

The complexity lies in finding the right solutions to deliver a fulfilling online ordering experience as well as guaranteeing profitable fulfilment.

Without further ado here’s our ten ideas to seize upon to improve online grocery shopping for customers today.

Allow customers to tell you their dietary requirements, and change your substitution logic too

Substitutions for groceries ordered online are commonplace and the algorithms or people that choose them often create poor outcomes. One thing exasperating this issue is a customer’s inability to notify a vendor about their dietary requirements.

This plays out in items which don’t contain an ingredient being substituted for those which do because they’re the closest match – whether it be gluten, dairy or gelatine. Ultimately, this causes a lot of waste and is frustrating for customers.

A way to remedy this would be to allow customers to input their dietary requirements as part of a personalised shopping experience and then use them at the substitution stage too, so that better substitution decisions can be made.

Allow customers to control their swaps early enough to optimise pick and pack while delivering a positive experience

Swaps are one of the main points of friction when it comes to online grocery fulfilment. Often, swap logic seems fundamentally flawed with it only becoming obvious too soon before dispatch i.e., the items have already been picked, or too late i.e., after delivery.

Swaps need to be talked about earlier in the journey. For instance, when a customer adds a product, they’ve never ordered before, they could be prompted with a question like; “if this product is out of stock, would you rather it to be substituted to X or Y?”. This tactic can also increase the data points you hold about a customer which can then be used for segmentation and personalisation strategies.

A step beyond this solution would be a real-time exchange via social media, such as WhatsApp, between packer and shopper to decide on ideal swaps in any given scenario.

Understand your customers' behaviours to know when to push your own branded items

Online and offline customer journeys and shopping behaviours differ. This means, being too obvious in your attempts to sell your own branded produce online is likely to turn customers off. 

Sometimes customers are more than happy to pick an own branded item because of its quality or their personal preference. However, they’re unlikely to want to be convinced otherwise when selecting a non-branded item.

Consider allowing people to buy recipes kits, which they can then personalise with different products, including your own branded items.

If you add friction at the checkout with merchandising, make it meaningful to the customer

Online offers lack the subtlety of instore merchandising. Queues in stores are ample ground for merchandising because people are already waiting, so they're looking around. But adding a “before you check-out” screen online only adds friction where it isn’t necessary or naturally created.

Selling to customers when they already have £100s of pounds in their basket also runs the risk of cheapening the brand experience and making it feel less exclusive. Yes, there may be a drive to make online grocery shopping more profitable, but invasive merchandising isn’t the way to address this problem.

You could focus on smart cross-selling, i.e., proposing cheese for people who put wine in their baskets, dressing ingredients for salads or milk if they bought coffee, tea or cereals.

Create a relationship through discovery not transaction

Instore purchases feature moments of serendipitous discovery, whereas online offers can feel on the nose. Online grocery shopping is often about convenience and ensuring customers get items when they need them. However, considering how you might add moments of delight through curating experiences, in non-intrusive ways, can gently nudge people towards purchases.

Consider that instead of initiating the journey directly in the online aisles, you could inspire people through curated content in your newsletter or in increasing the relation between the recipes on your website and online shopping. A good example is Net A Porter's editorial content which is directly shoppable.

Let customers book multiple delivery slots to different addresses 

Many people order online for people other than themselves. This has been fostered in part by a sense of community since Covid-19, and out of sheer convenience or necessity for the families of vulnerable people who can’t as easily leave their homes or use technology with confidence.

Limiting people to one delivery slot per week to a single address removes a customer’s ability to make this choice, losing you revenue and damaging brand perception. Allow customers to select different addresses with ease and supercharge investment in logistics to allow for more frequent delivery slots.

Make sure produce is fresh and the right amount

If you want to be seen as a top-quality brand you need to back that up with produce that lasts, delivered in the right quantities. Increased demand and the strain of Brexit are not excuses. Today, people can more easily than ever vote with their clicks and shop elsewhere.

Avoid packing short shelf-life food and too much or too little of items when you swap produce. This will reduce waste and customer frustration. Moreover, seriously consider investing in local partnerships with growers and farmers to offer local produce that lasts.

Remember: Convenience alone won’t keep people shopping with you.

Allow customers to split the bill 

Many retailers only allow for a single mode of payment at the online checkout. By creating price splitting engines or partnering with technology providers like Splitwise you allow your customers who live in shared housing to easily split the cost of groceries without having to use other applications to manage this.

This allows you to gain valuable insights into your data models and better understand purchasing behaviour that doesn’t fit with what you consider to be the ‘norm’.

Deliver when you say

Punctuality is crucial, turning up too early or too late causes problems for customers. Whether they’re out before you arrive or can’t make dinner on time because you’re late it matters to them and it should matter to you.

If you are going to be late communicate with your customers about this, don’t leave them in the dark. Simple, clear and frequent communication can go a long way. This will improve your customers’ relationship with your brand and the likelihood of repeat purchases.

Let customers amend their orders appropriately

Order amendment reminders must be clear to prompt engagement, currently they’re too easily ignorable. Additionally, you need to consider when you close order amendments. For example, the middle of the day might be inconvenient for people working flexible hours from home. Consider trying to model reminders and closing times around people’s working days i.e., before work, during a typical lunchtime. Moreover, you could also consider reducing the time between amendment and delivery to give people the most possible time to make any changes.

Removing items from customers’ baskets which were in stock at the point of the original order on the basis of them adding to or amending their order post-purchase creates problems. Avoid this to reduce the amount of time and effort customers have to expend swapping out items.

Wrapping up

The problems listed here do not encapsulate every issue with online grocery shopping, nor are they ubiquitous across all vendors. However, despite increased adoption, it’s clear that online grocery experiences have a number of problems to be solved. Problems that if solved will help brands stand out from the crowd.

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