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Tips For Keeping Up with Online Demand

July 22, 2020
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Online grocery orders have surged in recent months due to Coronavirus lockdowns. As more people take advantage of online ordering, supermarkets must reinforce their staff and infrastructure to keep up with demand.

Digital grocery sales are projected to grow 40% in 2020, with no sign of stopping. U.S. online grocery sales are expected to more than double over the next five years, from $50 billion in 2020 to $118 billion in 2025. Data also shows that many of the sales are from first-time buyers.

“We are seeing grocery adoption that should have taken 5 years, or what we expected to take 5 years, happen in the last 5 weeks,” said Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran in an interview.

Unfortunately, this sudden influx in sales has resulted in long delivery times, low inventory, limited customer service, high pricing and shipping rates, and overloaded websites.

Retailers must act to provide a positive and consistent customer experience, or else lose potential revenue. Here are three ways supermarkets can keep up with online demand and improve the customer experience.

1. Make web updates
Unprecedented demand for online orders has put stress on grocery store websites. Left unresolved, this can result in long session durations, lost orders and wasted resources.

Four out of five surveyed Americans said they experienced issues or delays when they tried to order groceries online. With many orders coming from first-time buyers, it’s important to create a positive experience to keep their loyalty.

Experts recommend scaling up your web server or autoscaling your servers to accommodate increased demand. Another solution is to implement a content delivery network to reduce the strain of loading images and product pages off the server.

Lastly, use a virtual waiting room. This allows you to control the rate that new visitors visit your website. It also prevents your website from crashing.

2. Hire help
With grocery workers deemed essential employees, your store cannot have enough help to serve customers. If you cannot hire full-time workers, consider temporary employees with a potential for full-time when you can afford to do so.

Major retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon and Instacart are using new hires to serve as drivers, cashiers, stockers, personal shoppers, fillers and pickers in distribution and fulfillment centers.

Traditional grocery stores require people to manually pick items off of shelves to complete online orders. As demand soars, you need to hire more people. Additional personnel can also serve as a support service for online customers.

While it may seem difficult to recruit and train new team members, their onboarding is an investment in the future of grocery shopping.

3. Prioritize Communication
Every new system is bound to have hiccups. Your job is to mitigate the turbulence. Proactively communicate with customers to help them know what to expect with online ordering, like delayed delivery time.

This can be done through email newsletters, website pop-up messages, online chat support, or email follow-ups for first-time customers. Your online experience needs to compensate for the lack of personal connection that a customer would have in-store.

Sending out customer experience surveys to buyers is a great way to find out what went well and what needs improvement in your web ordering interface. Remember, your online customer faces different issues than in-store shoppers.

For example, when a consumer places an order online, it is up to a grocery store picker to choose the correct item. When a product is out of stock, the picker must choose an alternative. Offer hassle-free returns for all shoppers, especially while inventory is in flux.

Adapting to the next generation of grocery shopping will take time. Web updates, additional personnel and effective communication will serve your customer into the future. But more change will need to be done, like updating your outdated supply chain infrastructure, or building fully automated micro-fulfillment centers. Grocery stores that remain nimble and proactive will ride the wave of online demand and be better suited for future growth.

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