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What Shoppers Want Now: EXCLUSIVE RESEARCH

Shopper behaviors are evolving rapidly and challenging grocers to understand an expanding range of influences shaping grocery’s future

Understanding Next-Gen Shopping Behaviors

How Insights Were Gathered

The key learnings contained in Progressive Grocer’s 2021 “The New Age of Elevated Expectations” study are based on 1,002 responses gathered July 20-26, 2021, from those ages 18 to 34, with primary or shared responsibility for food purchases. The responses were evenly split between Gen Z (ages 18-24) and Millennials (ages 25-34). The logic behind probing the views of these groups is that they are either entering or in their most formative years of household creation, a life stage which correlates closely with increased spending. Thus, understanding this group’s food-related shopping behaviors, eating preferences and key factors influencing spending is crucial to grocers’ future success.

Life used to be simpler for shoppers when it came to deciding where to buy groceries. If a store was clean and convenient, had helpful staff, and had good prices on quality products, that was a combination that satisfied most shoppers. It still does at a basic level, but the fundamental value proposition with which so many grocers found success has been joined by a wide range of other attributes that create new opportunities and challenges for grocers to connect with tomorrow’s shoppers.

This is due to expanded operational capabilities that retailers now execute against, and all of the complexities that entails, combined with new complexities related to fast-changing rules of what it means to be a good corporate citizen. As a result, shoppers have more reasons to like  or dislike a particular retailer, and they have more choices of retailers that now appeal to shoppers with narrowly defined attribute sets.

Welcome to “The New Age of Elevated Expectations,” a phrase which describes an intensifying new reality for retailers of food and consumables, and the title of an exclusive shopper journey study from Progressive Grocer. This unique research project was developed and executed by the Research Solutions division of EnsembleIQ, PG’s parent company, with support from Inmar Intelligence.

While this new age of elevated expectations is complex, the premise of the research is simple: to bring greater clarity to the behaviors and expectations of more than 75 million younger, digitally native shoppers poised to have a huge impact on the grocery industry as they enter their prime spending and consumption years. Accordingly, key areas explored include:

  • Key drivers of behavior, and shoppers’ expectations for seamless, safe and connected shopping experiences
  • Frictionless preferences in stores and online
  • Price and product ingredient transparency 
  • Product assortment and fulfillment expectations
  • Communication preferences and social media usage

Here’s what we learned about what shoppers want now.


The Basics Still Matter

Shopper expectations are increasing and becoming more expansive. That reality is facilitated by technology, changing demographics, unprecedented access to information and shifting views of the role of business. As shoppers continue to drive change at an accelerating pace through new types of behaviors and product preferences, retailers face new and unprecedented types of challenges. They must satisfy customers who have never been more demanding and will never be less demanding again. However, some of what they’re demanding falls into familiar areas.


At Home Is Still Hot, But Takeout and Delivery Loom Large

Shoppers have a lot of options to satisfy their hunger. Throughout the pandemic, grocers saw wild swings in behaviors among food at home, food away from home and everything in between. Younger shoppers also learned the value of at-home meal preparation, a behavior that appears to be sticky.


Tough Times Ahead for Stores?

Younger shoppers still enjoy the physical store experience and the sense of discovery that comes from exploring curated assortments of attractively merchandised and promoted products. A respectable 37% of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers even confess that shopping for food in stores is an activity that they look forward to. However, a troubling number of other shoppers expressed the opposite sentiment, which is particularly concerning if large numbers of shoppers entering their prime spending years decide to shun physical spaces.

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Payment Preferences Are Changing as a Frictionless Future Looms

Shoppers’ elevated expectations of retailers take many forms, but a key area relates to convenience and method of payment. Of note, cash remains the second most frequently used payment method among shoppers who are digital natives, but a large segment of young shoppers indicate that they expect a fully frictionless experience.

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How Younger Shoppers Stay Informed

Food retailers and foodservice operators vying for mindshare with younger shoppers should already know that mobile and social media are the way to go. However, there are some notable differences between where Gen Z and Millennials recall seeing information about grocers and restaurants, the social media platforms that dominate their usage, and their desired communication preferences.

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Acting on Information in the Age of Influence 

Information travels fast in the digital world, which requires vigilance on the part of retailers to be aware of conversation about their companies and to engage in dialog when appropriate. The consequences of failing to do so can be profoundly negative or potentially positive, according to responses from those surveyed.

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What They Care About Most

When younger shoppers are making decisions about where to buy food, be it a grocery store or a restaurant, a broad set of attributes factor into their decision-making. There are the obvious things, like convenience, price, quality and service levels, but in a hypothetical world where those things are all equal, other interesting variables come into play.


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