The impact of COVID-19 on online grocery shopping

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Today, as customers become more comfortable with it, online shopping is another area where customer experience can make or break a store and it offers room for disruptors in the market – so much so that even physical stores that have been around for decades should start worrying if their online customer experience isn’t up to par.

In the months since COVID-19 appeared on the scene, all kinds of lockdowns have been influencing our lives. These lockdowns, and the desire to minimize close interpersonal contact with strangers, have led to an enormous uptick in online grocery shopping.

I’ve personally experienced how grocery shopping has changed in the Netherlands. Before COVID-19, we already used to order our weekly groceries online and pick them up at the grocery store. This meant that we didn’t have to maneuver an unwieldy, fully packed cart through an even more packed grocery store on a Saturday. Instead, we would just stop by the store to find our groceries packed and ready to be collected. I would have opted to have them delivered back then as well, but unfortunately our favorite grocery store doesn’t deliver to our neighborhood.

I first noticed the impact of the increased use of this kind of shopping when it started to get difficult to find a time slot for pick up. Before COVID-19, the slots were plentiful and you could always get the one you wanted, very often just a week in advance. During COVID-19, it’s becoming quite a feat to find any open slot, not to mention one you want. These days, you have to check for slots every day.

Understandably, it is very difficult to increase the entire supply chain behind this way of delivering groceries, so I won’t complain about the limited number of slots. What I will complain about is the fact that I have not been able to identify the (algo) rhythm that frees up time slots that were previously “greyed out” and impossible to select. Nor have I encountered a store (I frequent multiple stores online) that offers any form of messaging for customers regarding available slots. A feature like that would create a huge uptick in the customer experience of online grocery ordering.

The second noticeable impact of the increased use on this kind of shopping reveals the difference in capability between different companies when it comes to enhancing their app/web shops. Some companies have very intuitive (even fuzzy) search functionalities and their recommendations are really useful. Others don’t even display the correct product – even when it’s spelled correctly. You have to search for it from some different angle through the products and categories supplied. Not much has changed during these past months for the latter companies. Today, as customers become more comfortable with online shopping, this is another area where customer experience can make or break a store and it offers room for disruptors in the market – so much so that even physical stores that have been around for decades should start worrying if their online customer experience isn’t up to par.

Both may, on their own, seem like fairly small issues, but they can make or break the digital customer experience and even result in the shuttering of the physical store. As I stated in a previous blog, in the experiences where you want to excel as a company, you might want to switch to microservices for your search and ecommerce solutions. Think about:

  • The choice between the different search vendors, either fully based on Elastic or for example injecting CDP (customer data platform) data or using AI to deliver better search results for your customers.
  • What flexibility the current trends in (micro) service-based ecommerce solutions offer in order to excel and stand out from the competition.

If you are struggling with  problems like these, I would be happy to discuss how Capgemini and I can help. Feel free to reach out via Linkedin or directly via email: remco.stolp@capgemini.com.

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