Optimizing omnichannel

It’s time to think strategically about an omnichannel solution that prioritizes both customer experience and loyalty

While COVID-19 isn’t yet in the tail lights, grocery retail has been the proving ground for much of the COVID-compliant measures that have become the standard for all retailers starting a path to recovery.

These days, it’s not uncommon to see Plexiglass dividers and distancing stickers in every indoor retail establishment and we know that all started at grocery. However—and not to diminish those efforts— the ubiquity of those measures is table stakes now when thinking of a future-proofed strategy.

As we look to the future of grocery retail and the so-called “new normal,” some forward-thinking grocers have made a leap into e-commerce. It makes sense, of course; why wouldn’t customers want their groceries to come to them? No one-way aisles, no masks, no hand sanitizer! If so, does that mean physical grocery stores will be a thing of the past? Well, that all depends on how one thinks of the sustainability of e-commerce vis-à-vis loyalty and experience.

In the midst of the heaviest lockdown measures, customers still showed up to stores despite the numerous e-commerce/food delivery options available. If we are being honest with ourselves, the isolation felt during the lockdown made going to the supermarket a social outlet that was just as important as getting groceries. Furthermore, customers chose to wait in line in the early days of COVID because they were not able to get timely delivery online. That, coupled with out-of-stocks or a disappointing online ordering experience, and store lineups remained long. Other shoppers went in the opposite direction, turning to e-commerce, often from non-grocery stores (i.e. restaurants selling their produce) to ensure they could get the goods they wanted without having to leave their homes.

But grocers with their finger on the pulse of loyalty and experience are the ones that are going to see continued success. Why? Because pureplay e-commerce is not sustainable long term.

Pureplay e-commerce, or simply listing products on a webpage where shoppers “check a box,” runs the risk of your shoppers treating your business as a commodity supplier of consumable goods, turning them into price shoppers rather than customers. The problem with e-commerce in this form is it does little to translate into loyalty retention, and misses out on impulse buying opportunities normally seen in brick-and-mortar because of a lack of applied merchandising principles and follow-up to differentiate one store’s shopping experience from a competitor.

What we’re really talking about here is an omnichannel system that takes the above into account; however, not all grocers are ready to take the full plunge without data on how best to execute. One strategy is to build pop-up stores as an intermediary measure to validate theories and steps forward for physical stores to enter the e-commerce world, or vice versa. This clears the “grey area” to help build and tell a more cohesive story on all channels that can uncover which touchpoints to make permanent and which to phase out.

What this means is retailers will need to think more strategically about their omnichannel solution and shed bifurcated thinking that looks at the store and e-commerce as separate entities. In the eyes of customers, these are seen as one, and retailers need to respond accordingly and manage their offer and proposition as one integrated, networked, go-to-market solution for customers. New shopping behaviours need to be studied and understood to determine the role of the store within the grocer’s customer base; consistency in customer-facing propositions and experiences across channels need to be aggressively maintained and effective bridges between the two need to be built; new touch points like BOPIS and curbside need to be properly conceived and integrated as new, permanent touch points in the customer’s path to purchase; physical stores need to become more “digitally sensitive,” and the importance of data collection and developing predictive algorithms to help retailers properly manage and extract maximum value and ROI of their investments will be imperative.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for deep strategic thinking to connect the dots between a store’s online and brick-and-mortar presence to manage a consistent experience on all channels, while also reinforcing core values that resonate with customers and reward their loyalty for choosing to shop at your store—pandemic or no pandemic.