Online Grocery Shopping

First Impressions Can Have a Lasting Impact

Online shopping, it’s nothing new. For many, Amazon packages have been a staple in their households for years. But for most, online grocery shopping is just beginning, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, consumers were hesitant to try grocery shopping online due to the inability to feel and touch the items or to roam the aisles looking for new dinner inspirations. Fast forward to today and consumers are more concerned about keeping themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. People are no longer roaming the aisles, they’re grabbing what they need and checking out as soon as possible. This new “normal” has even caused some consumers to avoid the store and dip their toe into online shopping (myself included).

In the beginning, there was a lot of speculation on if this would be the big break for online grocery shopping. Would COVID-19 finally be the point at which grocery shopping online takes off? Considering that many were practically being forced to order online, there were a lot of people thinking this could be the tipping point. After hearing experiences from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors I’m not sure that we can be so certain. To get a better understanding, I decided to give it a try myself.

To start, I came up with the list of items I needed to purchase. Nothing out of the ordinary, just some basic items for a taco night and some snacks for the week. Next, I had to figure out which store I’d be ordering from. In the area I live there were a few options, everything from your traditional grocery stores to big box retailers. I decided to try out one of the big box stores.

I went to the app and started to add the needed items to my cart. I add nearly all the items on my list to the cart, and then I get to the avocados. I can see they are in stock at the store, but for some unknown reason I am not able to add them to my cart for delivery or pick up. Instead of shopping at multiple stores online to get the items I need, I abandon the cart and turn to a traditional grocery store.

I start the whole process over again. But this time I’m finally able to find a store that allows me to add all my items to my cart, success! Then comes the decision, do I select curb side pick-up or delivery? Since I had been isolating, I figured it would be nice to get out of the apartment and drive to pick it up. I select curb side pick-up, only to be told it’s not available. There’s no option to pick-up at a different time/day, I’m just told it’s not available. So, I switch to delivery only to find out my cart doesn’t meet the minimum purchase requirement and even if it did, the next available delivery is a few days away.

At this point, the frustration is only rising. After spending a decent amount of time trying to purchase my items from two different sources, I find out it would be days before I receive the items. And based off conversations I’ve had, often you’re lucky if you get most of the items ordered.

It starts to make you wonder if online grocery shopping is really worth it. Based on the amount of time I spent trying to order online, I could have physically gone in the store and purchased the items in a shorter time. I may not have been able to get all my items, but I would not have needed to wait days to find out.

Sadly, it doesn’t sound like I’m alone in my experience. I’ve heard similar stories from those close to me and have seen similar complaints on social media across various states. While some seem to find success, there are far more that experience the frustration leading them to abandon online shopping and return to the stores.

For the stores, whether they’ve had online options available for years or they’re new to it all, it’s important to note that for many consumers this is their first experience with online grocery shopping. They have no comparison to how this may differ from the online shopping experience six months ago. And without a comparison, it leaves them to fill in the gaps on their own and make assumptions.

While some feel this could be the tipping point for online grocery shopping, I wouldn’t be so sure. For many consumers, this is their first impression and it likely will have a lasting impact on both their shopping behaviors and their impressions of the brand.

Instead of being reactive to the consumer assumptions, brands should be proactively connecting with and communicating to their consumers. By opening the line of communication, brands can protect the consumers they currently have and build trust with new ones.

To help understand the impact these first impressions are having and open the line of communication with consumers, ENGINE offers our Digital Hives and CARAVAN tools, allowing brands to be more proactive and less reactive.

Written by Lindsay Vanek, Senior Manager at ENGINE Insights.