In the midst of the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, many businesses found themselves having to adapt to the new normal. In a bid to slow infection rates, many countries ordered non-essential workers to stay at home. Only “essential” employees such as those working health, food and transportation services were allowed to continue their work. Authorities also issued social distancing and handwashing guidelines in a bid to stymie the virus’ spread. The highly contagious nature of the virus, caused concern among individuals. This concern was heightened around places that typically attracted large crowds such as grocery stores. Businesses were left to wonder how to deliver a safe shopping environment where people can still purchase the items they needed. Thus, many grocery stores, in an effort to keep their sales from plummeting, resorted to exploring a grocery delivery service.
However, challenges abound when it comes to offering a grocery delivery service to customers. These challenges are the reason why grocery delivery was still somewhat of a fledgling industry before the pandemic. Low profit margins, unpredictable consumer habits and unpolished delivery systems, to name a few, are why many companies have been hesitant to venture into the grocery delivery space. However, the pandemic has reduced any such hesitancy and now grocery delivery is far more widespread than it used to be.
Over a year into the pandemic, customer demand is fueling growth in the grocery delivery sector. What was once an afterthought has now blossomed into an essential service. Data from an online survey conducted by grocery consultant Brick Meets Click (BMC) alongside grocery e-commerce platform Mercatus USA Inc shows that 45.6 million U.S. consumers shopped online for groceries in June 2020, up from 43.0 million the previous month. However, even more illuminating is the fact that online grocery shopping on the whole jumped a massive 300% in the early part of the pandemic, according to another survey conducted by FMI-The Food Industry Association. The explosion in the grocery delivery sector during the pandemic has changed how many retailers views the sector.
However, achieving this level of growth wasn’t easy and changes didn’t materialize overnight. In fact, many retailers were dragged kicking and screaming into this new normal, and for good reason. For one, owners of brick-and-mortar supermarkets had to see grocery delivery as a benefit to both their businesses and their customers, and not just as a threat to their survival when other online enterprises dabbled in it. Secondly, grocery delivery didn’t eliminate the retailer’s other responsibilities. There was still a brick and mortar store to run. Shelves still needed to be stocked, floors needed to be cleaned and customers still needed to be helped.
Lastly, the transformation of the grocery shopping experience took most of the work out of the hands of consumers and placed it on the backs of retailers. For these changes to come to fruition, the supermarket industry had to make a number of critical adjustments.
In order to meet rising demand, business owners had to take quick action to keep customers satisfied. This meant expanding their fleet of delivery vehicles and hiring extra employees to help handle the online fulfillment. Businesses also had to fine-tune their ecommerce formats and introduce flexible delivery times for their customers since orders that contained perishables couldn’t be left on a porch.
In spite of all these adjustments, demand for grocery delivery shows no signs of slowing. Almost a quarter of stores offering online delivery reported offering many more SKUs online to keep up with customer demand and expectations. Grocery owners have noticed that shoppers have dug in deep into the idea of groceries delivered, observing that shoppers often make large orders while also making far fewer visits to brick-and-mortar grocery stores.
Online grocery shopping and delivery is still an evolving practice and as a result, there are still many kinks that need to be ironed out. However, customers are happy to avoid both lines and exposure to infected customers. And so, they are willing to forgive grocery stores of their inefficiencies. While grocery delivery may still exist in its nascent stages, the pandemic might just have been enough to make it stick around for a long time to come.
Guest Writer – Hemant Kumar Gupta