Social-Distance Shopping Made Easy via Location Data
With restaurants shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, home cooking is the new normal and grocery shopping is more essential and challenging than ever. Thanks to cramped aisles and long checkout lines, it can be difficult to maintain appropriate distance from others inside a grocery store. Customers are also struggling to find products, often leaving the store missing items they needed.
As a result, many shoppers are turning to online ordering, home delivery and curbside pickup as safer alternatives. Online orders for groceries were already steadily growing before the COVID-19 crisis, but from March 1 to March 25, the number of people who reported an online grocery order skyrocketed by 183%. Also, in just one month, customers opting for curbside pickup rose 62%.
The need for these options will eventually wane once social-distancing measures are lifted, but for many customers, the introduction of e-commerce options will turn into a permanent preference. Individual reasoning for this will range from health and safety considerations to convenience, but the fact remains that what was once seen as a luxury service will become more commonplace.
To navigate the immediate need and long-lasting change in customer behavior, grocers urgently need to develop mobile and web applications that will allow them to own their customers’ data and, ultimately, have better control over the consumer relationship.
While difficult to engineer, location-based features are especially important for delivering the most impactful customer experiences. Well-built apps heightened by location can provide customers with detailed timing for pickups and deliveries, accurate lists of what’s in stock at specific store locations, and personalized discounts and promotions — all considerations that will be important to consumers as they adjust to a new reality.
Third-party apps offer quick solutions, but limit control
Because of the rapid shift to social distancing, most grocers had to act fast to enable remote ordering capabilities. Many local grocery stores, and even chains like Costco, have partnered with third-party services like Instacart to help customers navigate online shopping. In fact, Instacart saw a 218% increase in downloads over a one-month period, indicating the necessity of, and desire for, these services.
Third-party services have provided quick fixes, but when customers and store executives turn to these options, it limits the control a grocery store has over app aesthetics, functions, accessibility, customer satisfaction and location-based customization.
These services aren’t always clear when items are out of stock, and they’re having a difficult time keeping up with demand for delivery slots while protecting their workers. They’re also often limited to delivery and don’t give customers all the options available to them in a certain region, such as pickup from a different store location. Furthermore, turning to external apps means giving a middleman a cut of any profits the store makes. Over-reliance on third-party services simply won’t be sustainable in the long run.
Invest in the future by solving the location puzzle
Some experts predict that the number of people who regularly grocery shop online after the pandemic will rise from 3% to a double-digit percentage.
If the trend is here to stay, grocers should have their own apps at the ready that handle online ordering, curbside pickup and home delivery. Some operators, like Whole Foods Market, Stop & Shop, and The Kroger Co., have already developed successful mobile and web options, while other grocers are starting to follow suit.
Building apps for a store or chain can take considerable investments in time, work and resources, and integrating reliable location data infrastructure is tricky. From identifying store locations and creating geofences around them to building an accurate delivery tracker, the most crucial components of the app can be the most challenging and expensive to build. But the investment is worth it. After all, web and mobile applications provide grocers with several advantages that can positively impact the shopping experience and the grocery’s business:
- Access to important data: Developing a mobile or web app gives grocers more insight into who’s buying what and when. With the data collected by the app, store managers would be able to anticipate shopping patterns and reorder and restock accurately. Location data would give insight into density and wait times, helping stores to control the volume of visitors and orders.
- Customization across features: When a grocer has its own app, the company has total freedom and customization power over the app’s features. Using location data, the in-app experience can vary slightly depending on store or region, changing the aesthetics and messaging on a case-by-case basis.
- Stronger brand identity: A store or chain with its own app can maintain consistent brand messaging, aesthetics and services. Despite the specific location of a store, location data will allow customers to access familiar features while gaining visibility into that location’s offerings. This will ultimately build loyalty with customers, as they are more likely to receive a consistent experience across platforms, locations and within the store itself.
- Location capabilities: With more control over an app’s infrastructure, grocers can rely on location data technology to customize the app experience from store to store. Location data can unlock functions like promotions for specific store locations and more accurate wait times for delivery, pickup, or entering and navigating the store. Location capabilities would allow customers to monitor their order while it’s on the road for delivery. Furthermore, location data can help the store navigate contactless curbside pickup by letting employees know when a customer is pulling up to the store. That way, the order can be delivered on time and straight to the shopper’s car, improving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Looking forward, grocery experiences will fundamentally change
As social-distancing measures continue and the pandemic rolls on, customer and employee safety is on the line. Grocers are adjusting to current challenges in real time by leaning on third-party services, but they should consider the lasting impacts of extended social distancing and prepare for a new method of grocery shopping.
Given the uncertainty and frequent changes the country is making day to day, grocers must consider the most effective ways to build their apps. With the right web and mobile applications enabled with location functionality, grocers will be able to adapt to the current situation, prepare for long-term changes in the way that consumers get groceries, and provide peace of mind and ease of access to their customers.