With online shopping growing quickly within the independent retail space, I recently attended state grocers association conventions for both the Missouri and Alabama Grocers to join panels discussing the opportunity. Below were some of the most prominent questions and my insight for retailers on them.
What were your company’s objectives and/or process in finding an e-commerce provider?
For AWG, we’ve been looking at online shopping programs for almost four years. When we started, it was really about helping retailers wade through the influx of providers into the space. We research each company, hear what their features are, and determine whether we believe there is an opportunity to scale both up and down for one-store operators and multi-store operators. Our main goal is to learn how the programs work and how we can get retailers up to speed quickly based on our experience. We also have paid close attention to what retailers are requesting when it comes to a provider. We have four partner provider solutions because we have all different kinds of retailers who want different attributes in an online provider.
What are some of the things you have learned in the developmental phase of the program that you can pass along to attendees?
Launching an online shopping program isn’t easy. There are a variety of players involved and the store has to actively be engaged in helping the process along. Data is key. Many retailers haven’t necessarily needed to maintain a clean product file historically, but online shopping demands a more intimate knowledge of the file and what it contains. Traditionally, retailers could be pretty contained with their data as it was only impacting their own systems, but with online shopping everything from product files to pricing files to payment information needs to travel among different systems. Integrating all of these is sometimes difficult, but keeping them updated is just as important. Product images are also an opportunity for everyone. AWG had to shoot around 800 images of private-label items to round out our product image files. Manufacturers are trying to catch up on their images. Small specialty, regional, and local product providers have been the hardest images to track down, but no one has it all. The archives are being continuously updated and will continue to be as new products and packaging makes its way into the product sphere.
What are some of the key insights/experiences you faced during the roll out phase?
This isn’t an “If you build it, they will come” program. Consumers have to be told you have the program and then taught how to use it. Trial codes are important, but so are instructions and customer service while they are working through the program. Marketing is essential as well, yet many of the consumers you’re trying to reach might not be receiving your typical marketing messages. Consider different forms of marketing to get the word out, especially those that align with where the online shopper is likely spending their time: online. Online advertising through display providers or social advertising will drive consumers directly to the program, making it easy for them to poke around and explore your new feature.
The other questions addressed on the panel dealt mainly with the logistics of the program such as pick up windows, convenience fees, radius for delivery if it is offered, and whether online orders are supplanting in-store business. In almost all of those areas, retailers vary depending on what works best for their store. There are not necessarily “right” answers to those questions, they take trial and error to understand what makes the most sense.
One thing to remember when launching online shopping is consumers are generally excited you are trying to meet their needs. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as you work through the opportunities, as long as you are open with them an accommodating when things go wrong. Count on something going wrong, but be ready to employ your tried-and-true customer service practices to keep customers coming back again.