- Although consumers are increasingly turning online to buy groceries, just one in 10 Americans buy fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish through e-commerce, market research company Mintel found.
- Overall, 69% of those surveyed said they are hesitant to buy an item they can’t see or touch, and three of four said they like to sample a product before buying, Mintel said. Nearly 80% are concerned about freshness, and 63% have safety concerns about items purchased online, the Mintel report says.
- To counteract consumer hesitation and improve sales, grocers should promote cost savings and provide in-depth product information to build trust and convey quality, the research suggests.
The reasons those surveyed turn to online grocery shopping reflect larger e-commerce trends. They are looking for good deals, they want to save time or they want to avoid the hassle of brick-and-mortar stores, Mintel said.
Still, consumers typically turn to friends and family when looking for recommendations about food, so retailers need to take extra steps to close sales, according to Food Navigator. That could include marketing meal kits, which give grocers a chance to explain fresh ingredients in detail and may convince buyers to try foods they might not otherwise order online. Grocers also could provide discounts or deals to those who refer friends or family to their site.
Some grocers are looking for fresh and innovative ways to help consumers “see and feel” items before buying online. Earlier this year, Walmart filed a patent on a system that would allow customers see the produce and other fresh items they're ordering in 3D. According to CB Insights, the images would create what the patent calls a "Fresh Online Experience." Customers then would be able to accept or reject items.
Other grocers and providers, such as Instacart and Shipt, have also improved their logistics and handling and are taking care to train employees on how to best select and handle produce. Managers at FreshDirect, the pure-play grocer that delivers in several Northeastern states and the Washington, D.C., area, rate their produce every morning on a scale of one to five stars, giving shoppers a supposedly no-frills look at the freshness of their strawberries, cherries and heads of broccoli.
A recent report from Field Agent finds that produce is a popular category for online grocery shoppers in both planned and unplanned purchases, suggesting the tide on consumer fears could be changing. Still, about a third of those Mintel surveyed said they don’t use online channels to buy new products.
Of course, how people react to surveys and how they make decisions in the e-checkout lane are not necessarily the same thing. And despite varying survey results about consumer comfort in buying fresh produce or meats online, certain themes seem to recur. Grocers can ease customer fears by encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations, supplying plentiful information about product freshness and quality, and offering bargains to encourage online purchases.
Just as consumers tend to figure out which brick-and-mortar stores they prefer based on word of mouth, pricing and product quality, so they are likely to use similar markers to determine which digital grocers they trust. Supermarkets would do well to go the extra mile to ease consumer concerns in order to gain their loyalty as digital disruption in the grocery industry continues.