Why We Will Finally Buy Groceries Online

[image via Prevention.com]

When’s the last time you busted out a dictionary to look up a word? Or unfurled a map to look for directions? Or looked through the newspaper’s classified ads for anything?
We use the internet to make our lives easier in a million different ways, but we’re still not buying groceries online.

It’s the most universally detested of all household errands.
The parking space feels like it’s in the next county, the checkout line edges forward in tortuous slow motion, and we finish up with bag-splitting trips from car to kitchen; yet we’d sooner chance a shoe size crapshoot on Zappo’s than order groceries online.

On the cusp of success.
It should be a slam-dunk—online grocery shopping is a convenient time-saver, light on the environment, less physically taxing, and prices stack up competitively against supermarkets. But after a false start in the 1980’s and another go-round a decade ago, sales are sputtering along at less than 2% of the U.S. food market. We’re now seeing the third coming, and this one’s going to stick.
Here’s why:

•There’s none of the earlier, paranoia-fueled resistance to online transactions; by now, we’ve all bought something online, and for many of us, online shopping is second nature.
•The new, recession-habituated shopper is disciplined and strategic. For years, we’ve researched and price-compared high ticket items like electronics; now, we may not be ordering our groceries over the internet, but 62% of shoppers say they search for deals online for at least half of their shopping trips, according to a survey commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
•The retailers are ready this time around. Food handling has improved, as have the technology tools available to advance the service and grow transaction size.
•The biggest and savviest players have jumped in, armed with existing distribution centers, retail know-how, and the deep pockets to sustain them through the high-value marketing campaigns and discounting necessary to build market share.

Walmart, already the nation’s largest grocer, is testing its home delivery service Walmart To Go. The retail behemoth is well-known for its mastery of consumer data and pricing strategies, as well as its stingy business practices, all of which serve it well in the grocery sector with its razor-thin profit margins.
Amazon has been tinkering with Amazon Fresh for four years in its native Seattle; once perfected, the service will go national. Unrivaled in expertise and insights into the interconnectedness of lifestyles and consumer buying patterns, Amazon is expected to be a major force in the grocery sector.

You still can’t squeeze the tomatoes or check the expiration date on the sour cream. But once you’ve experienced the time savings and the ease of (often free) delivery, you might never set foot in another supermarket.

The Shopper Marketing series from the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the industry’s road map to the future.


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