Selling groceries online requires the use of specialist e-commerce software. This blog explores why "off-the shelf" e-commerce systems won't work
Online grocery software: Three steps to creating and optimizing an online store
Due to the global pandemic, there has been an urgent and frantic shift in demand for online shopping in the grocery sector, spiking an interest in online grocery software.
No grocery business could have been expected to comprehensively prepare for such an unprecedented event as the global pandemic, but now that they find themselves facing enormous demand to deliver an efficient and easy-to-use online service, it is vital that they move quickly.
How, then, can businesses that sell food and drink get online quickly and effectively if they do not already have an e-commerce operation in place? And how can those who are already online optimize their operations in order to deliver reliability and efficiency in a time of crisis?
There are three stages to consider in developing online grocery capabilities - all of which determine the right online grocery software. These include:
- Immediate actions for offline businesses that need to get online quickly.
- Optimization for businesses that already have an e-commerce operation but need to streamline and improve it to cope with increased demand.
- Enhancements six to 12 months in the future to ensure long-term e-commerce success.
Stage 1: Choosing the right online grocery software to set-up your store quickly
Getting online grocery capabilities quickly means balancing speed and effectiveness. It is no good setting up an online shop tomorrow if it is unable to deal with customer requests effectively. And in the grocery sector, there are some specific challenges to address.
Challenges to address with online grocery software
Sell by weight
First, grocery businesses need to have a specialist approach for products which are sold by weight. Consider, for example, loose fruit or vegetables, or fresh cuts from the delicatessen. Businesses selling such items need to enable customers to order by weight, which means they also need to be able to charge by weight. This means that their online grocery software needs special capabilities to handle different units of measurement across pricing, ordering and billing, and these must apply throughout the entire end-to-end e-commerce process, from ordering, to picking, to invoicing. On top of this, in most countries there is a legal requirement for e-commerce businesses to provide base prices, making the product data model even more sophisticated.
Availability and replacement
Second, grocery businesses need to consider their approach to product availability and replacement – particularly at these times of unusually high demand. Perfect demand planning, ensuring that they can always deliver precisely the products ordered by customers, is impossible. But so too are extensive buffers when it comes to perishable groceries. As such, businesses need to deal with substitutes in a way which both ensures customer satisfaction, and integrates seamlessly with the wider supply chain.
Third, and in part because of these two challenges, grocery businesses need a way of handling payments when the exact invoice amount at the time of ordering is not clear. This may include distinguishing between a payment reservation and a payment capture, or using payment methods which only become effective after delivery, such as a mobile terminal. This, however, requires a credit check.
The best way of navigating these challenges while also getting an online store setup quickly is to take a ‘headless commerce’ approach to your online grocery software. This means separating the front end of the e-commerce platform from the back-end – that is, separating the presentation layer which customers navigate from the functional layer comprising elements like the shopping basket, the payment processing and order fulfillment. It is far more agile and flexible than traditional approaches to e-commerce, and enables businesses which are new to digital operations to take an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach to setting up a new website.
Stage 2: How to improve online grocery delivery efficiency
Once businesses have an online grocery store in place, it is vital that they work on optimizing their logistics in order to cope in a time of unprecedented demand.
Once again, there are particular challenges for grocery businesses compared to other retail sectors.
Delivering perishable goods
First, they need to consider the logistics of delivering perishable groceries and chilled products, which mean that local delivery is preferable to central warehouses. This also helps with packaging waste, which is a growing concern amongst environmentally-conscious consumers.
Second, online grocery providers need to offer faster delivery than, say, furniture retailers. The e-commerce software and entire pick-pack-ship process must support same-day or at least next-day delivery – within a desired delivery window, of course. For local retailers as opposed to national chains, this is actually a great opportunity. They can use a single local store or group of stores as the locus of the operation, retaining control over assortment and prices, and delivering with their own vehicles locally, which acts as additional advertising. Such grocers create trust for the end customer about the origin of the food and the competence of the retailer.
However, picking in-store brings two further challenges: avoiding disturbing local customers; and ensuring efficiency. The right online grocery software guides the grocer’s staff through the shelves in the shortest and fastest way possible. Wave picking, whereby all groceries for all orders are collected at once, is the most efficient picking method unless a grocer has just a handful of online orders per day. The order picker processes all orders in an order cycle at once in a defined route through the aisles. If multiple picking zones are defined, pickers can pick in parallel.
Provided a headless commerce approach has been chosen, then it is very fast and straightforward to integrate such software into the existing e-commerce site – it is simply a case of adding a new module or application.
Stage 3: How to personalize the online grocery experience
Once those core tenets of a successful online grocery operation are in place – the e-commerce site itself, and the enhanced logistics to support effective pick-pack-ship processes – then online grocery businesses can think about further enhancements, such as personalization, additional digital touch-points and brand building.
Customers can be particularly sensitive to brands when it comes to purchasing food, especially fresh groceries. They want to know where it came from and who handled it – they want to trust the business in question, particularly in times of wider uncertainty. And trust in a business is built on a strong brand.
Typically, brand building exercises, online personalization and the addition of new touch-points such as mobile shopping or social media channels involve bringing additional agencies in to augment the core e-commerce website. They might be specialists in design, or particular social media, or e-commerce analytics. These can all have a dramatic impact on the performance and reputation of online grocery businesses – but there is also no doubt that in a time of crisis, they are nice-to-haves.
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