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Engaging the Digital Shopper

From unique content to technical upgrades, retailers are finding new ways to earn more e-commerce dollars
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Kroger Pickup
The Kroger Co. is among the grocers investing in infrastructure and loyalty to create a better experience for online shoppers.

E-commerce is a booming segment for food retailers, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that digital shoppers are in it for the long haul. Online grocery sales are expected to surpass 20% of the overall U.S. grocery retail market by 2026, according to a study from Mercatus/Incisiv. What’s more, the Adobe Digital Price Index has found that grocery shoppers even remain relatively undeterred by high e-commerce grocery prices, spending $64.6 billion in August alone. 

Whether through ads, influencers or short-form videos on social media, back-end upgrades that make the buying process more seamless, or myriad other tactics, investing in ways to engage the digital shopper has never been more paramount for retailers.

[Read more: "How Do Retailers Feel About Their Digital Operations?"]

Forward-Facing Tactics

While some of today’s digital shoppers are simply looking for an easy way to place an order and be on their way, many others use social media platforms, food blogs or recipe sites to find inspiration for meals. A recent survey from New York-based digital shopper marketing platform Chicory found that nearly half of respondents said they’re likely or very likely to make a grocery purchase directly from a food site that gives them meal-planning inspiration, which underscores the significance of off-site content and other such resources. 

Minneapolis-based Target Corp., for example, became the first mass retailer to make its products available through Instagram Checkout in 2020, and the platform’s e-commerce solutions and influencer capabilities have grown exponentially since then. Embracing the often youth-oriented world of TikTok, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market used a trending audio clip to promote its popular Berry Chantilly Cake, and Sprouts Farmers Market went viral on the social platform when a user praised the Phoenix-based grocer’s $5 deli sandwiches.

“If brands and retailers aren’t yet leveraging off-site content to acquire new customers, they need to start,” says Yuni Sameshima, Chicory’s founder and CEO. “Today, winning at the shelf requires meeting consumers in moments of inspiration, well before they hit the retailer’s store or site.” 

Other media channels, both third-party and owned, are being used by grocers to bring unique, often shoppable content to online consumers. The Fresh Market is seeing success with its San Mateo, Calif.-based partner Firework, which has brought its full suite of live-commerce and short-form shoppable video capabilities to The Fresh Market’s owned media channels. 

According to Kevin Miller, chief marketing officer at the Greensboro, N.C.-based grocer: “With Firework, we’ve finally been able to replicate those premium customer experiences in the digital sphere — and based on the response from our customers, it has been a resounding success. What we’ve been able to accomplish with Firework in such a short period of time has been nothing short of transformative.”

While Walmart does engage with third-party platforms, the company is also focusing on its own real estate by bringing a bevy of upgrades to its website and app to help enhance the customer experience. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is aiming to make e-commerce shopping easier, more engaging and more personalized while also setting itself up for future online success.

Walmart has refreshed its registry site experience to make the gift registry process simpler, and is also working with New York-based visual outfitting and styling solution Stylitics to show clothing customers how to style outfits or what accessories to add. Additionally, new online filters will let shoppers view only EBT- or SNAP-eligible items, with EBT-eligible products easily identifiable through clear badging. 

“Our goal is to create a seamless site and app experience that makes it easier for customers to find value and savings, whether they’re shopping for familiar weekly essentials or something new and different,” wrote Tom Ward, EVP and chief e-commerce officer for Walmart U.S., in a recent company blog post. “More robust content on item pages – videos, images and more – ensures when a customer lands on a product they’re interested in, they have all the information they need to feel confident purchasing it.”

Continued Ward: “Not only are these enhancements making the e-commerce experience even easier and more convenient for our customers right now, but also, they are creating a strong foundation for us to build upon as we accelerate the site experience in the future.”

walmart digital
Walmart's latest research is helping the retailer and its suppliers better understand what today's e-commerce consumers want.

Investing in Data, Loyalty and Infrastructure

While these forward-facing tactics are important as a means of directly capturing a shopper’s attention, focusing on the back end to help beef up the overall online shopping experience can be just as critical. A new initiative from Walmart Luminate, the retailer’s suite of data products, is using qualitative research and data to explain “the why behind the buy,” and turning it into actionable e-commerce insights that can help the retailer and its merchants make the shopping experience even better for customers. 

Research, customer surveys and testing are important parts of the process, according to Linda Lomelino, senior director of product management at Walmart Data Ventures, and the company is making sure that its merchants and suppliers deeply understand the drivers behind customer perceptions, opinions and attitudes. 

“I could run a video survey or a quantitative survey to try to understand the life of a young mother with kids under the age of 5,” Lomelino explains. “As a result of that, I may learn a lot about their experiences and be able to identify opportunities to build out new products and services that meet some of the needs of that customer.”

Getting a better handle on what customers want to see on its e-commerce website can give Walmart and its suppliers a leg up on creating a unique and personalized experience. “A lot of the data that we’re presenting is giving them a really deep and broad perspective not only on the customer, but also the operational aspects, and that is allowing them to think very differently about retail going forward and really anchoring it in the customer,” Lomelino says.

For The Kroger Co., part of engaging the digital shopper has meant investing in its membership program and the very infrastructure that makes online grocery shopping possible. While the Cincinnati-based grocer experienced a 6% drop in digital sales earlier this year, it was able to recapture its e-commerce crowd in the second quarter, thanks to its solid omnichannel strategy. Kroger’s digital sales grew 8% over that period and delivery solutions were up 34%, attributable in part to its national rollout of the Boost membership program. 

“Early in the second quarter, we introduced our Boost membership nationwide, and it’s already showing promising results, including an increase in overall household spend among members,” explained CEO Rodney McMullen during a September investor’s call discussing the company’s Q2 results. “We remain focused on adding new members and are encouraged that enrollment is in line with our internal expectations and projections.”

The grocer is also making continued investments in its Ocado-powered customer fulfillment centers (CFCs), and now has 18 total CFCs and spoke facilities across the country. According to McMullen, demand also remains strong in Kroger’s pickup business, and the company was able to increase capacity and shorten wait times to help improve customer experience while also investing in technology and process efficiencies to help improve the bottom line. 

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