Ecommerce. Online shopping. Etail. Whatever you choose to call the dramatic shift in shopping behavior affecting grocery, the consequence is the same: consumers are flocking to the internet to purchase groceries for curbside pickup or delivery to their doorsteps, and retailers who aren't giving them that option will soon be left behind.
How did eCommerce move from a "we'll get to that someday" wishlist item for independent retailers to a requirement for doing business without leaving dollars on the table? The simple answer is COVID-19 has changed what shoppers look for from a shopping experience. The more complex answer is this retail revolution was brewing in the background for some time.
Online shopping is far from a new trend. In fact, the percentage of shoppers who have made grocery purchases online more than twice a month has been growing steadily since 2017, and was expected to continue to grow more rapidly over the course of the next five years. But no one could have predicted the unprecedented acceleration seen during the pandemic.
According to a recent survey from Inmar, 57 percent of consumers say they had shopped for groceries online before the pandemic. Now that figure is closer to 80 percent, and retailers who jumped onboard early with eCommerce are reaping the rewards. A CNBC analysis of Walmart's earnings revealed their eCommerce sales rose 74 percent in the first quarter of 2020, with much of that attributed to grocery sales. And the same analysis reported Kroger's eCommerce use rose 92 percent in that same timeframe.
The opportunity is ours to lose
So what does the acceleration of eCommerce mean for IGA independents?
"If we all agree that the pandemic is likely only going to get worse before it gets better—and the events of the last month certainly point to that—then we also have to agree that we need to move on eCommerce right now," says IGA CEO John Ross. "As the virus continues to move into smaller communities across the country, shoppers' need for eCommerce is only going to increase. If you don't have it, they'll start shopping somewhere that does, even if it goes against their desires to support local businesses. It's that simple."
Moreover, Ross stresses that shoppers' desire for eCommerce isn't a fad that will fade away with the development of a Coronavirus vaccine. "Now that shoppers have a taste of the convenience of online shopping, they're going to want to keep doing it," he says. "No matter what happens with COVID-19, long term shoppers are speaking with their dollars that online efficiency and local quality is what they crave."
The good news is it's not too late to take advantage of the eCommerce opportunity. "You can launch now, catch up, and grow fast," Ross says. "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."
So how does an independent retailer already stretched to the max during a pandemic take on starting an eCommerce program? That's where IGA can help.
Finding the right program
IGA retailers have stepped up to serve their customers and communities during the pandemic in so many ways. They've sourced products and perishables from farms and restaurants when the supply chain had holes. They have waved delivery fees to shoppers who can't leave the house, donated food to senior centers, handed out free lunches to kids who were impacted by school closures, and pivoted fundraising plans to ensure local families needs' are met, to name a few. According to Ross, delivering a more convenient, easier, and safer way to shop through eCommerce is the next step for giving shoppers what they need during the pandemic and beyond.
"Translating our in-store experience to an online experience is an extension of our commitment to outstanding customer service," he says. "Giving shoppers the option of shopping online doesn't lessen the impact of our service. It amplifies it."
According to IGA's Sarah Rivers, senior manager of program development, the goal of bringing that distinctive IGA shopping experience online has guided the selection of partner and program development from the beginning. "We started when the pandemic took hold in February, and we really had to resist moving too fast," she says. "We knew the urgency, but we also knew we wanted more from our program than the average provider would offer."
IGA set up an eCommerce Advisory Committee comprised of six retailers (two of which are National Retailer Advisory Board members) and five IGA Corporate staff members. Together, they decided the IGA eCommerce solution would need to provide:
- Competitive eCommerce platform pricing for retailers using IGA’s scale to negotiate the best deal
- Flexibility of content, to include National Digital Ad offers and custom curated content from IGA Corporate (think recipes, blogs, and shopper education, and national brand campaigns from our Red Oval partners), as well as from the individual retailer (store branding, store items, store pricing)
- And of course, the ability to onboard and get retailers up and running quickly
After the lengthy but thorough RFP process involving eight of the industry's top eCommerce providers, IGA determined that longtime IGA Red Oval partner Freshop had the best program for IGA retailers' needs. “The new platform puts retailers online quickly, easily, and affordably. We designed a best-in-class website that retailers can just jump in on and go,” says Ross, adding, “It’s our best, fastest path to get retailers there.” Just as important, Freshop understood IGA's goal of providing a more robust online shopping experience that better mirrors the personalized, local experience found in IGA stores.
Among many benefits, Freshop’s program provides IGA retailers with these key attributes:
Put your store(s) online now
There’s no delay in getting your store online—the program can be up and running in less than 30 days. As Freshop CEO Brian Moyer explains, "Many independent retailers looking to get online face two challenges: getting their new site designed, and then getting their POS data to the site."
IGA's eCommerce solution powered by Freshop addresses those challenges. "IGA has done the heavy lifting on design and programming with Freshop," Moyer says. He notes that after launching more than 3,000 eCommerce stores, Freshop has developed processes and integrations with most POS systems, back offices, and integrators, meaning most IGA retailers' current POS systems already work with Freshop, making the transition even easier.
Deliver an easy-to-use website for shoppers and retailers alike
The Freshop program delivers the simple, powerful, and customized online shopping experience consumers want. The websites have a responsive design, which means they look good on any device; they're optimized for search engines to increase traffic to your online store; and they're ADA-friendly.
The solution makes it easy for shoppers to find what they're looking for.
- Online product catalog is easy to search
- Interactive circular allows customers to shop directly from your weekly digital ad
- Easy use of digital coupons, loyalty program, and SNAP online integration
The site is also makes it possible for retailers to tailor the experience they deliver with multiple fulfillment types—including click and collect, delivery, and direct-to-home shipping—and intuitive technology that makes back-end site management simple.
Content: the biggest differentiator
“An independent differentiates in the marketplace not because they have more stuff, and not because they’re priced better, but because their service and quality are better and they’re a part of the community," says Ross. And that's where this eCommerce platform really shines. With access to IGA's wealth of content, shoppers aren't just visiting an online store—they're gaining knowledge and helpful information, too.
“It’s a lot more fun and more interesting to shop a retailer that is giving you information and confidence about the choices you make," Ross says. “Our core expertise is product information, recipes, and nutritional and food inspirational articles, which shoppers really respond to. So we're using little content bursts as a way to draw attention to a product or explain to shoppers why that product is important."
The constantly updated content, from national brand campaigns to IGA store recipes, will both educate and inspire shoppers, giving them the information they need to make decisions as a consumer and ideas for add-ons that will enhance their at-home cooking.
Connect National Digital Ad offers with eCommerce platform
IGA’s eCommerce solution syncs not only your local ad, but also your National Digital Ad, a feature that Freshop CEO Brian Moyer says is a big plus for IGA retailers.
“That national-level content from CPGs is a huge draw for shoppers," Freshop CEO Brian Moyer says. "When you incorporate those offers into an easy-to-use and extremely dynamic eCommerce platform, you're going to see even greater results.” Stay tuned to The IGA Minute for more information coming soon on how your National Digital Ad and a new IGA media buy will drive new and existing shoppers from your area to your site.
Retailers can also easily upgrade to Red Oval partner Inmar’s technology for the advanced loyalty offerings and leverage content from over 550 national offers to continuously engage value-seeking shoppers online. Advanced loyalty solutions include:
- Points programs
- Loyalty clubs
- Advanced customer segmentation
- Basket level analytics
Keep costs low
With cost being a major roadblock for many independent retailers in securing an eCommerce platform, creating a program that offers more for less was one of IGA's primary goals, Ross says.
"One of the biggest concerns we hear from retailers about eCommerce is they're afraid it will cost too much to get started and even more to maintain," he says. "We've taken that off the table." With IGA's eCommerce solution, retailers won’t be charged a percentage of the eCommerce sales or a per order fee, and the program costs just $100 per week.
And while it's true that having an employee shop for a customer rather than the customer shopping on their own is more expensive for the retailer, recent metrics on eCommerce show there's a significant profit to be made despite that added cost, Ross says.
"Average eCommerce basket amounts are running above $90, and the mix of products often includes higher margin items," he says. "Plus, we have seen that shoppers are perfectly willing to pay for others to shop for them. A pick-and-pack fee of $5 hasn’t slowed eCommerce sales and has actually improved margin on eCommerce sales over traditional ones for many of our retailers. The lesson here is clear: Jump in. Connect with your shoppers digitally. IGA is here to help."
With retailers' hesitation concerns addressed through this program, there's no reason to wait another month or for the pandemic to slow before getting your store online. Join successful independent retailers across the world in this simple step toward the future of grocery and your business.
Several wholesalers also offer their own eCommerce solutions, so check with yours to see what is available to you.
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