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Today retailers need to meet consumers at every touchpoint – from stores to online platforms

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For their online operations, retailers can focus on non-perishables while using the store to focus more on such products that people want to see, touch and choose themselves

New Delhi: Grocery shopping is a planned, habitual behaviour. Indian consumers shop for food, especially fresh produce, at local kiranas (mom-and-pop stores) and in supermarkets, which remains the norm despite the pandemic.

According to the latest Mintel research on grocery shopping trends, more than five in 10 Indians, out of 3,000 Indian internet users aged 18+ polled for this study, prefer to buy fresh/perishable products from a store rather than online. A common theme here is that consumers want to view and select these products in person before purchasing them.

At the same time, 79% of consumers agree that online grocery shopping is more convenient than in-store shopping. The pandemic has prompted consumers to confine to their homes during lockdowns for months and many of them are still wary of visiting crowded bazaars and physical stores. Hence, fitting e-commerce into consumers’ lives in a way that adds value presents opportunities for a complementary and hybrid grocery shopping experience is becoming crucial for retailers.

Non-perishables and bulk items dominate online shopping carts

Non-perishable food categories (e.g., staples) are better positioned to succeed online. The disparity in non-perishable compared to frozen foods indicates consumer concerns about freshness and quality throughout the shipping process.

Retailers with brick-and-mortar and online operations can leverage e-commerce as a complementary tool. The latter can focus on non-perishables while using the former when shopping for the products people want to see, touch and choose themselves.

Another reason consumers prefer to shop online is the ease with which they can order heavy/bulky items like beverages and packaged/canned food. According to the same Mintel research, five in 10 Indian male consumers buy packaged/canned food online, according to the buying pattern revealed during the last three months prior to January 2022.

Non-drink brands can complement this shopping behaviour by recommending foods that pair well with the purchased beverage. Pop-up recommendations like ‘you can also buy’ or ‘consumers also bought’ can encourage shoppers to look at non-perishable food categories.

Furthermore, this highlights how the beverage category could be the one that multichannel operators try to shift online to create other opportunities in-store with that shelf space.

Experiment with a hybrid model 

The pandemic has compelled some retailers to experiment with hybrid shopping methods that give customers control over the items they choose while also providing the convenience of a quick shopping trip. As a result, personal shoppers, curbside pick-up, and drive thru lanes are becoming more prevalent.

In the US, for example, customers can add Starbucks items to their online orders from big-box store Target and have them delivered curbside. Customers can do this in the same app and signal when they are on their way to ensure freshly brewed coffee.

In India, ordering groceries by telephone is still common in neighbourhood and kirana stores. Over a third of Indians during the pandemic switched to lower-cost alternatives for grocery shopping. It will be beneficial to see larger retailers assist shoppers (especially the older demographic) in gaining access to remote ordering without using a computer.

Meet consumers at every touch point

Not all categories are created equal regarding in-store versus online grocery shopping. Access to a broader range of products is one of the biggest strengths of online shopping for nearly half of Indians. In comparison, 76% still find in-store grocery shopping more enjoyable compared to online.

To adapt to these shopping behaviours, retailers should consider in-store shopping as customers’ primary point of contact, and online shopping can serve as a complement. A hybrid model that supports offline experiences with online tools (or vice-versa) would ensure that brands are present at every touchpoint.

The Mintel Trend Who Needs Humans reveals the increasing use of technology in retail. Therefore, capitalising on e-commerce to enhance traditional grocery shopping habits will also require investment in technology and assimilation as innovations arrive. This way, retailers enable consumers to use both channels seamlessly based on their evolving needs.

The writer is Senior Lifestyle Research Analyst, Mintel Reports India