Getting Consumers Back Into The Grocery Store

Digital grocery shopping has become the norm for many consumers during the pandemic, but the question remains: What will the grocery industry look like in, say, two years, once contagion concerns are no longer top of mind for most shoppers? Will consumers return to purchasing almost exclusively in-store? Will eCommerce be the new normal, or will hybrid shopping forms emerge to combine the ease and safety of buying online with the immersive experience of in-store exploration?

Payment solutions provider ACI Worldwide teamed up with PYMNTS researchers to answer these questions in the Omnichannel Grocery Report, which details how the broader shift toward digital commerce has changed the way consumers shop, pay for and acquire their groceries. The report also shows the ways grocers need to adjust their digital offerings to meet consumers’ omnichannel preferences. After all, without leveraging digital purchasing channels, grocers may not last long in the post-pandemic future.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Debbie Guerra, executive vice president of merchant payments and payments intelligence solutions at ACI Worldwide, offered her perspective on the omnichannel future of the grocery industry. As Guerra told PYMNTS: “Let’s get real — grocery shopping has gone digital, and it has really accelerated … as a result of the pandemic … I think we’re going to see consumer journeys across omnichannel shopping experiences continue in the future.”

The report found that 65 million customers would be willing to switch to a different grocer for easier access to touch-free payment options at the point of sale. “But you need to go beyond that,” said Guerra, pointing toward mobile wallets and QR code-based payment technologies, as well as click-and-collect and buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) models, as key ways that “grocers can ensure that they can very rapidly adapt their systems” to consumers’ evolving needs. The report found that contactless credit and debit cards are the most in-demand technologies — but digital wallets, cards on file and QR codes also appeal to a large share of today’s fully digital consumers, who, Guerra explains, “are tethered to their mobile devices.”

Hybrid Shopping: The Pandemic Future Of Groceries

The report found that even consumers who have switched to buying some of their groceries online are interested in using touchless payment options at the brick-and-mortar point of sale, suggesting an enduring interest in in-store shopping. In fact, 79 percent of consumers still grocery shop in physical stores, making brick-and-mortar shopping by far the most popular way for consumers to buy their groceries.

“And that doesn’t surprise me,” said Guerra. “Most of us as consumers have grown up very accustomed to our own preferences in how we select our grocery items. And that in-store experience has really been ingrained.”

Consumers especially tend toward brick-and-mortar shopping when it comes to perishable items, the report found, with about eight in 10 shoppers preferring to buy produce, fresh meat and dairy in-store.

However, an increasing number of grocery shoppers are consistently turning to eCommerce for dry goods and non-food items. Over 21 percent of all consumers who buy non-food grocery items such as shampoo, first-aid items and cleaning products do so online, while well over 14 percent who buy packaged food products do so online. “I do believe that the hybrid models that have appeared during the pandemic are going to endure,” said Guerra, adding that the safety and convenience of eCommerce and the sense of immediacy and discovery of in-store shopping “have to work in concert.”

How Smaller Grocers Can Hold Their Own Against Grocery Giants

The report revealed that 38.6 percent of all consumers prefer grocery shopping with large national chains. Walmart is the preferred merchant for 27.8 percent of all consumers, and the next most popular chains are Target and Costco.

“But we have seen that there is a very real opportunity for the single operators or the small grocers to take advantage of the ability to get online to be relevant to their consumer base,” Guerra added. Twenty-eight percent of consumers continue to shop at small, local grocery stores, and 14 percent buy from the convenience stores down the street.

To maintain and grow their base, Guerra suggests that these grocers make sure their online presence and payment technologies are up to date. After all, the report found that about a quarter of online grocery shoppers are buying from grocers of all sizes. To meet consumers’ expectations for safe, convenient, frictionless shopping experiences, these grocers need to “have viable delivery opportunities” and to “go full spectrum in terms of supporting their loyal customers.”

Ultimately, Guerra predicts, a grocer’s ability to navigate the industry’s multichannel future comes down to how that grocer builds relationships with its consumer base. “There’s an opportunity for grocers in the future … to reinforce that relationship with their customers, and to really look at building loyalty and the desire to have an omnichannel experience, whether it’s mobile-based, online or in-person.”