Last week, IGA CEO John Ross issued his predictions for the grocery industry in 2021 and beyond, noting that consumers will continue many of their COVID-19 shopping behaviors and preferences, like shopping online, cooking at home, seeking meal solutions from grocers, and desiring clean stores. But with more Americans continuing to feel the economic impact of COVID-19, they will need to seek out better deals, even if that means shopping further from home. To avoid losing the shoppers gained during the early days of the pandemic, independent retailers must stay at the top of their game and start reinvesting in their stores.
“Who we are and what we do is more important to shoppers than ever before, and we've been given the gift of increased sales because of it," says Ross. "Now, it's up to us to earn and keep those sales by reinvesting in new programs, services, and ways to tell your local story.”
To do that, Ross says retailers must take advantage of IGA’s programs designed to bring in business and earn shopper loyalty, like IGA’s new eCommerce platform, the National Digital Ad, IGA Exclusive Brand private label products, Family Meals Made Easy! meal solutions program, and the IGA Décor program. These programs elevate independents, giving them a competitive advantage to meet shoppers where they are—online—and give them the deals they need, the clean stores they want, and the lure of local they desire.
They’re shopping online
When the pandemic started, “online grocery shifted from convenience to essential infrastructure overnight,” says a survey on 2021 consumer trends published by The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital, with half of grocery shoppers saying they prefer shopping online.
Starting online ordering can seem like a daunting task for an independent retailer to take on, especially when you consider all the other challenges retailers have been juggling since the pandemic hit nearly a year ago. But as IGA CEO John Ross says, "The pandemic is only going to get worse before it gets better—the events of the last few weeks certainly point to that. So if you haven’t already, you need to move on eCommerce right now. If you don't have it, customers will start shopping somewhere that does, even if it goes against their desires to support local businesses. It's that simple."
IGA’s eCommerce program can be up and running in less than 30 days, thanks to the partnership with Freshop, who has launched more than 3,000 eCommerce stores and has developed processes and integrations with most POS systems, back offices, and integrators. "IGA has done the heavy lifting on design and programming with Freshop," Freshop CEO Brian Moyer says.
IGA retailers who have added the eCommerce program have quickly seen results. At Lake Region IGA in Hawley, Pennsylvania, former shoppers returned thanks to the eCommerce program. "We've gained customers that we would not have in store through online shopping," says Irene Cooper, project manager at Lake Region IGA. Ptacek's IGA in Prescott, Wisconsin, started slow, with one to two orders coming in a day when they launched the program, but now see 95-100 orders a day at about $100 per order. Adams Hometown Markets, with seven stores in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts, has seen a huge increase in the average basket size for eCommerce shoppers. "Our regular baskets are either quadruple or quintuple—we're thrilled with the basket size," says Russ Greenlaw, vice president of sales and operations at Adams Hometown Markets.
With average eCommerce baskets running above $90, according to Ross, and the low cost of the IGA eCommerce program at just $100 per week, there’s no reason to delay investing in eCommerce any longer. "Jump in. Connect with your shoppers digitally,” Ross says. “IGA is here to help. You can launch now, catch up, and grow fast, but wait too much longer and you will miss out. Shoppers who create their first transaction with a retailer are seven times harder to switch by the time they have done their fifth transaction."
They’re searching for deals and discounts
COVID has wreaked havoc on the economy and therefore shoppers’ wallets, leading 80 percent of them to actively seek out grocery deals, according to a November 2020 Inmar Intelligence survey. 92 percent of shoppers surveyed think grocers should do more to bring consumers savings, with 59 percent of them saying they will shop more frequently at stores that provide coupons or promotions.
While independent retailers often struggle to compete with national chains on many large Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brand offers, IGA's relationship with the Red Oval Family of favorite national brands and IGA's National Digital Ad are helping IGA retailers level the playing field. “By leveraging our large number of independent members, we have been able to collectively appeal to big brands for national promotions that compete with those large grocery chains,” Ross says. Through IGA’s National Digital Ad, retailers can easily share those national offers in addition to their local offers with existing and new shoppers. And shoppers are responding to those offers, spending an average of nearly six minutes on the digital circular.
“It’s eye appealing and puts our national digital items out there on the top of the ad and our local items right below it in nice, beautiful, crisp pictures," says Martin’s Market Fresh Store Manager Kris Reinhart, who has been testing the National Digital Ad since the summer of 2020 in the Cashmere, Washington store.
And thanks to the fully integrated local distribution system built into IGA’s National Digital Ad, retailers can reach more potential customers in their areas and share their local offerings directly with them. “IGA has developed a national program with hyper-local content,” says Adam Zimmerman of Design House, the third-party vendor that designed the National Digital Ad's new platform. “This means that your store can reach a larger, more targeted audience in the medium they prefer—their phone.”
To ensure every IGA retailer can take advantage of this technology, IGA is buying digital ads that target the locations of IGA stores so that these national offers are seen by local shoppers—all at no cost to the stores, the ad groups, or the wholesalers. On top of that, stores who actively participate in the ad by including their local weekly ad content with an additional digital media buy gain even more exposure. In November 2020 alone, the 38 stores participating with the additional media buy had nearly 2.5 million impressions and nearly 37,000 circular views, according to Sarah Rivers, IGA's senior manager of program development. "That’s not even including our national media buy for the stores that aren’t doing their local content!" she adds.
They're trying private label... and loving it
When many states’ stay-at-home orders started this March, retailer private brand sales skyrocketed between 70-80 percent, according to Catalina Insights data presented in a My Private Brand webinar. The same data shows that 42 million new shoppers bought retailers’ private brands at the beginning of the pandemic, and at least 31 percent of new private label shoppers have purchased the same label in subsequent visits.
“We believe huge numbers of shoppers bought private label simply because it was in stock when there were shortages, or because a sudden job loss caused financial insecurity in the household" says Ross. "But they’ve since discovered it’s a great product. That creates a huge opportunity for not just increased sales during the pandemic, but long term conversion of shoppers and sustained sales after the pandemic ends."
Retailers can capture these crucial sales by making private label a key point in their selling strategy. "There's no shortage of private label lines that can help increase sales, and IGA has one of the best," says Ross. Because it’s one of the oldest and most trusted private label lines in the country, Ross says it's a great solution to give shoppers the value the need and the quality they crave. With IGA Exclusive Brand's new look and marketing behind it, including signage and its inclusion in the Family Meals Made Easy! program, retailers now have new resources to get the Exclusive Brand line in front of shoppers to emphasize quality and value.
They need meal solutions
“Shoppers are on a budget and desperate for meal solutions, according to our data,” says IGA Marketing Specialist Megan Drazer. With many shoppers growing tired of cooking and their go-to recipes, they’re searching for recipes that are easy to make and easy on the wallet.
IGA’s Family Meals Made Easy! campaign creates a meal solution destination in-store by providing shoppers with mealtime solutions that are quick, easy, nutritious, and tied to national savings.
Retailers can order the Family Meals Made Easy! POP kit and start building regular displays featuring IGA Exclusive Brand recipe ingredients. They can swap out recipe cards to correspond with the recipes featured in the National Digital Ad. The recipe card's dedicated QR code takes the shopper to the corresponding recipe on IGA.com, where they can sign up to get recipes delivered to their inbox.
And while IGA’s programs, like National Digital Ad 2.0, eCommerce, and IGA Social all update the content automatically for retailers, they don’t have to be signed up for any of these programs to use the content. “All of this content is available to everyone—even if you already have your own established eCommerce solution, this is content that we want you to use,” Drazer says. “It’s great content—don’t miss the opportunity to engage with your shoppers on and off-line to give them the meal solutions they need and create shopper loyalty."
They’re worried about safety and sanitation
One of the reasons independent retailers have fared well during the pandemic is that shoppers trust smaller, local stores over large, big box stores. From keeping carts sanitized to wiping down keypads, independents are showing their customers how they're keeping everyone safe.
As Ross said in his 2021 grocery industry predictions, "Research has shown for a long time that when shoppers see cracked floor tiles, dirty restrooms, or missing ceiling tiles, they assume the food is low quality, too. This new, health-paranoid mindset will intensify shopper fear for decades. Retailers need to learn how to see their stores through the shoppers’ eyes. If a store is known as local, fresh, and safe, it has a very bright future!"
The easiest, most effective and efficient way to communicate those qualities—local, fresh, and safe—is with IGA signage. The IGA design team has created signage to address every COVID-19 policy and procedure, including virus prevention signage alerting shoppers of store policies during COVID-19, like: sanitation measures the store and staff are implementing, recommendations to shop solo and social distance, notices to wear a mask and social distance, minimum safety standards, and more. And of course, ensure you and your team are enforcing mask, glove, hand washing, and other safety standards between staff, shoppers, and visitors like delivery teams. It only takes one unmasked person to distribute the deadly virus or, less severe, launch a public relations problem.
They want to shop local
In addition to trusting local retailers to keep their stores cleaner and more sanitary, shoppers want greater transparency in where their food comes from, making independents' local sourcing a great option for shoppers invested in their safety.
Retailers can help shoppers find local items with IGA’s Local Equals Fresh signage kit, identifying which produce or meat is cut and packaged on site, partnerships with local artisans or restaurants, etc. Add the store décor kit to deliver everything a store needs to implement a completely new look quickly, efficiently, and at a fraction of the cost of a store renovation.
"These kits create a clear message that identifies how your IGA is different—more local, more community focused, and more invested in the shopper—than any of the surrounding chain stores," says IGA Senior Brand Manager Joel Widmer. With one kit, retailers can welcome new shoppers to the store through crisp, clear signage and wayfinding while also communicating that the store is clean and invested in delivering a safe, shopper-focused, and local experience.
Stay tuned next week for a deeper dive into how the Local Equals Fresh signage and décor is increasing sales from IGA retailers.
IGA retailers and their associates have been at their best throughout this pandemic, which is no small feat. They have been given new shoppers who want to stay close and shop local, but they must continue to earn those shoppers as the U.S. enters a dark winter that is sure to test the most resilient retailers. As the toll of COVID reaches smaller communities and shoppers increasingly need to weigh their safety with the best deals, IGA retailers can help their communities by making the choice simple: shop safely and conveniently at the local IGA.
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