How Online Grocery Retailers Can Create an In-Store Shopping Experience Online

The pandemic has inspired a lot of changes in consumer shopping behavior, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. In a nationally representative survey, one-third of American households reported that they shopped more for groceries online during the pandemic because of lockdowns and restrictions. What’s interesting is that 60% of these households plan to continue even after the pandemic. For grocery retailers, that’s a good reason to pay attention to this channel and invest resources in ways to replicate the in-store grocery shopping experience online. 

The challenge with online grocery shopping

In theory, online grocery shopping should be easier and more convenient than shopping in-store because shoppers can easily find the products they need, receive highly personalized recommendations, and check out faster. But the reality is different. Only 42% of first-time online grocery shoppers think it saves time, according to a survey by Google and Bain & Company of over 8,000 grocery shoppers across the U.S. 

Why the gap? First, when shopping in-store, shoppers already know the store layout and where to find the products that they need. Product placement cues, such as shelf signs and discount tags, are easy to spot as shoppers move through the aisles. Plus, it’s easier to compare products side by side when shopping in-store. Most of these experiences are difficult to replicate online. Websites are often difficult to navigate, provide limited or no search/filter options, and offer non-personalized product recommendations. This means shoppers spend more time hunting down products than they would in-store. And there goes the convenience.

But the online grocery market is expected to increase up to threefold in the coming years. As a grocery retailer, it’s important to take the channel seriously and find ways to improve the online shopping experience for your customers. Here are some strategies that you can implement today.

How to create a seamless online grocery shopping experience that mirrors the in-store experience

Ensure real-time sync between your online and physical store inventories

This is a given. Syncing your online and physical store inventory is the first step to delivering a seamless omnichannel shopping experience. The last thing you want is to have customers guessing which items are available in-store. When products sync in real time, your customers can shop with more confidence because they know the items on your website are available as indicated. 

Square Online integrates with Square Point of Sale, allowing you to automatically sync online and in-person orders, items, and inventory so you’re always up to date. This makes it easy to manage orders and inventory across multiple locations.

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Maintain consistent branding

According to the Google/Bain & Company survey, when consumers decide to shop for groceries online, they prefer to shop with retailers they already know. Almost all the respondents (96%) say they would first consider a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer for home delivery, and 85% confirmed they would select a store they already visit. 

The takeaway is that you need to court the goodwill and loyalty of your existing customers and be prepared to serve them online whenever they are ready. It’s crucial to ensure that your online store branding matches that of your offline store — which customers already know and trust. 

Improve your website layout and design

When it comes to eCommerce, website design matters. Research shows that 94% of users’ first impressions when interacting with a business online are design-related. This means your customers can make purchasing decisions based on the look and feel of your online store. 

It’s absolutely crucial to ensure that your online store is properly laid out and information is presented in a way that will be most helpful to users. Here are some ways you can do this.

Use a clear website navigation menu. Your website navigation is to your online store what store signs are to your physical store. Navigation links help customers find their way around your store. More than one-third (38%) of users look at a website’s page layout or navigational links when visiting a site for the first time. So, your navigation should be well-structured and helpful. Use the same top-level product categories that you use in-store so customers can quickly find what they need. 

Include a site search button. Search and filter options are crucial functionality for any eCommerce website. They make it easier for shoppers to quickly narrow down their search and find what they are looking for. 

According to Econsultancy, visitors who use site search are more likely to buy compared to those who use your standard navigation, meaning site search is a signal of intent from your visitors. In fact, site search can contribute up to 13.8% in revenue. Add a search button to your navigation menu and include filters in category pages. 

Highlight important items. Create featured/recommended product sections on your homepage and major category pages. These sections are your opportunity to replicate popular in-store placement practices like eye-level and entrance placements or shelf and display signs.

Square has professionally designed eCommerce website templates that allow you to highlight featured products, such as popular grocery items, so customers can quickly find what they need. The templates are responsive, so they look great on any device and your customers can shop on their phones or tablets.

Offer incentives to encourage frequent shopping

Customers admit that online grocery shopping gets easier the more they do it – 63% of online grocery shoppers who have shopped three times say it saves time, compared to the 42% reported for first-time shoppers. So your goal is to get customers to shop again. 

One way to do this is through personalization. Personalization is a big deal for consumers when they are shopping online. In fact, 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that provides a tailored experience, according to Epsilon. You can use this to your advantage.

Use past customer data and shopping history to provide tailored recommendations.This information comes in handy for loyalty programs and email marketing campaigns, allowing you to provide offers to unique customer segments.

You can also enroll customers in a loyalty program at checkout  and reward frequent shoppers from your point of sale or online store. 

Offer multiple delivery options

The Square Future of Commerce Report found that consumers want businesses to offer more delivery and payment options. For example, 64% of consumers want their items delivered to their door while 26% prefer to order online and pick up in-store. Some also want curbside pickup and same-day deliveries. The bottom line is that you need to create these options for customers. And the best way to do this is to choose an eCommerce platform that supports a variety of options, including in-house and on-demand delivery, as well as in-store and curbside pickup. This way, your customers can choose the order processing method that’s most convenient for them. 

Request customer feedback

Nothing beats direct customer feedback. And one of the best ways to get valuable feedback is to ask customers about their shopping experience immediately after purchase. You can do this by including a feedback form or request in their receipt or setting up automated email campaigns.You can offer promotional rewards or refunds to customers who provide feedback on their experience. 

Customers have high expectations when shopping online, especially for omnichannel businesses. They want to select items and checkout in as few clicks as possible. This means delivering a smooth grocery shopping experience for your customers, ensuring real-time inventory sync across your shop locations, and maintaining consistent branding. Use a website design and layout that makes shopping easy. Include search and filter functionality so customers can quickly find the items they need. Think through the entire shopping process, from item selection to checkout, and find ways to provide a frictionless shopping experience.