The Digital Marketing Tools Independent Grocers Need to Drive E-Commerce

Email and social media are key to omnichannel success
Jeff Anders
Co-Founder and CEO, Grocerist
Jeff Anders Grocerist
Grocery E-Commerce Main Image
The secret to launching an e-commerce site that brings net-new customers and revenue is digital marketing.

Independent grocers have typically viewed e-commerce as a necessary evil. Considered a cost center for most, it’s something they felt they had to do – not something they wanted to do. To make it easier, many outsourced e-commerce entirely to a marketplace such as Instacart – but this also made it less likely that e-commerce would ever be profitable for them.

There’s now growing recognition among grocers that, like in-store operations, e-commerce needs to – and can – be profitable. They’re getting themselves into a growth mindset, concluding that to do e-commerce right, they have to take control, and weave it more tightly with their in-store experience.

[Read more: "The Next Evolution of E-Commerce"]

So, they finally create, or pay to create, an e-commerce site and launch it with great fanfare and then … no one uses it. 

Turns out that if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. The secret to launching an e-commerce site that brings net-new customers and revenue is digital marketing.

Digital Tools 

Omnichannel marketing will be a defining measure of success for grocers in 2023 and beyond.

Digital isn’t just a sales channel though – it’s also a communications channel, and a highly efficient one with regard to cost, frequency and personalization. Also, the benefits of digital accrue mostly in stores. That’s because while online ordering provides convenience to some customers some of the time, in-store will continue to account for the bulk of grocery sales for the foreseeable future. 

To pull this strategy off, grocers need to leverage digital marketing tools – specifically, email and social media, which can be used to drive sales both online and in-store. 


Whereas 1%-2% of Facebook and Google ads may get clicked on, 20%-40%-plus of marketing emails can get opened. Further, unlike social media ads, sending emails is free. 

Email marketing tools make it easy for grocers to, for instance, send out a weekly digital circular. Workflows and triggers make it possible to engage customers in many different ways, such as when a customer fills their online cart but doesn’t check out, or thanking a customer for their repeat business after their third order placement. What’s more, all of this can be set up to run automatically, without the grocer having to do anything at all.

Grocers can also leverage email to present customers with ideas based on past purchases. This kind of personalization drives sales and also allows retailers to forge better connections with customers, who feel that they know and understand their needs. 

Grocers can grow their email database over time by offering incentives to subscribe. One way is to launch a contest that’s open only to subscribers. Promote the contest through in-store signage, cards at checkout, social media channels, and a popup message for website visitors. One grocer I know did this and in days added 200-plus new subscribers to its database, enabling them to email these customers with weekly specials that highlight higher-margin prepared food items, new products and more. 

It’s crucial to follow the laws around spam and privacy, which an agency or e-commerce provider can help you navigate. 

Social Media

Social media can help with branding, of course – retailers routinely use Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to share circulars, photos, in-store events, community involvement and the like. To really boost engagement, though, they’ll need to delve into paid posts that amplify their reach online. They give great bang for the buck, and are powerful for both new customer acquisition and for reaching people who may already be in-store customers but haven’t provided their email address previously. 

The people whom grocers want to reach are on social media, many of them multiple times a day. Retailers can target subsets of the audience with great specificity, including by ZIP code, interests and shopping behavior. For example, a grocer could run Facebook ads between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays promoting prepared meals, with the message, “Have you planned dinner yet?” to boost sales of prepared foods.

These paid posts provide valuable metrics to grocers: They can see which offers are most effective, and also use them for retargeting (serving up ads to people online who have seen the grocer’s previous ads or previously visited its site).

The best time for a grocer to develop a digital marketing strategy is before it launches its e-commerce presence, so the grocer is optimizing sales across channels from day one. The second-best time, however, is today, to make the most of existing e-commerce investments and ensure that the grocer is attracting net-new revenue and customers to its site. 

About the Author

Jeff Anders, Founder and CEO, Grocerist

Jeff Anders ([email protected]) is the co-founder and CEO of Grocerist, a Toronto-based e-commerce technology and marketing solution that helps independent grocers take control of digital to drive growth in-store and online. Anders is a serial entrepreneur with ventures in software, film studios, and marketing and advertising. He previously worked at a global management consultancy and completed master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
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