Coronavirus has disrupted how we buy food. How brands and retailers can keep customers coming back

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted food shopping and retailers are scrambling to improve their online and in-store models.

The author(s)

  • Kate MacArthur Deputy editor, What the Future
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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted food shopping and retailers are scrambling to improve their online and in-store models. But varied shopping behaviors, confusing app designs, and inconsistent retail models and safety measures, show that retailers have work to do, according to new Ipsos research. The research also reveals how brands can improve their customer experiences to capture and retain more shoppers across channels.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, 6% of people say they’ve tried new food delivery apps and 6% have tried grocery delivery apps that they had never used before, per the Ipsos Coronavirus Consumer Tracker survey. Survey respondents also report doing more pre-order and pickup of groceries (15%) and home delivery of groceries (15%) due to the COVID-19 crisis. "Right now, shoppers are considering online grocery services due to the pandemic, so retailers have an opportunity to convert customers to digital,” says Yana Beranek, an Ipsos senior vice president-UX. “As a new offering, there aren’t yet clearly defined design patterns for how grocery apps should work, and it can be confusing. Since users have a lot of choices, ultimately, they will often choose the shopping app that is quick, intuitive and easy.”

There’s room for improvement. Of people who say they have tried online grocery services, half say they work to a degree, but they’re still not satisfied with them. Another 8% say they can’t figure out how to use them.

Ipsos user experience research shows a strong correlation between the user’s experience of a retailer’s app and their intent to use it in the future. In the study, Ipsos had users test the grocery delivery apps for Instacart, Kroger and Whole Foods. Overall, grocery apps scored lower for UX than apparel apps. Among the challenges are differences in usability and relevance, especially in grocery. Digital apps often have data collection gates for people to pass through before they can start shopping. “The benefit of the data collection needs to outweigh the hassle to get a first-time user to come back,” says Beranek. 

Although nearly half of shoppers say they’re avoiding shopping in physical stores, grocers are one exception. Online ordering doesn't even break the top 10 reasons for where people choose to shop most for food, according to a late June wave of the Ipsos Coronavirus Consumer Tracker survey. Only 14% of respondents overall selected e-commerce services as being critical in choosing a retailer. This was even true for younger consumers. “This means that while online grocery services are growing and important, the store is still where the action is,” says Wendy Wallner, an Ipsos senior vice president and retail client officer.

Another challenge is there is little agreement on the priorities for choosing where people shop for groceries. Each survey respondent selected four criteria on average as “very important,” and none of these options pulled a majority over 40%. “This means there’s no silver bullet for grocers or food  providers in capturing their share of sales for this dynamic market,” says Wallner. “As brands invest in digital enhancements, they can’t ignore the store. And within the store, they have to get a number of things right to appeal to all shoppers.”

One example of how this kind of specificity drives people’s shopping strategies came though the ongoing Ipsos America In Flux ethnography study. For Jerron, a 48-year-old financial consultant in Washington, one item on his grocery list is a certain brand of bread for his son who has autism and he can only find it at one store. This makes this aspect of his grocery shopping hyper-specific and immutable.

On top of that, grocers have to contend with in-store pandemic safety measures. And 62% of shoppers would stop shopping at a retailer not taking health and safety seriously, according to the Ipsos Consumer Health & Safety Index. While safety compliance was spotty among many stores, Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joes were the top three-performing retailers in the study.

For retailers and brands to satisfy all of these needs requires a multichannel user experience approach to make shopping intuitive, quick, easy and safe. By doing so, they can improve their chances of winning over shoppers for the longer term.

The author(s)

  • Kate MacArthur Deputy editor, What the Future

Consumer & Shopper