The online grocery arena is rapidly expanding with the trend expected to continue. By 2025, online food and beverage sales are expected to reach $143 billion. As more consumers move to a digital shopping experience, the way in which they shop is evolving, and grocers and brands must adapt their strategies to strengthen their relationship with customers and win them over at every touchpoint. In this post, we’ll be exploring the new digital-first grocery path to purchase that’s begun to emerge in the world of grocery in order to gain a deeper knowledge of how consumers are discovering, planning, and purchasing their meals at home. We’ll focus on:

  • Defining the key steps in the new digital journey: discovery, planning, and purchase
  • Exploring the variations in paths among consumers
  • Providing brands and grocers with best practices for creating consistent brand touchpoints with consumers throughout their digital food journey

Discovery: How Consumers are Finding Inspiration Online

Even though consumers have been slow to adopt online grocery shopping, the overall consumer journey has become an increasingly omnichannel experience. 70% of U.S. consumers shop both online and in brick-and-mortar stores, and almost 50% of shoppers use digital devices to do research online before going to the store—meaning the discovery phase is becoming even more digital. This step in the journey usually happens sporadically over a few days or longer, and although discovery can take many forms, in the digital world, consumers often turn to these places to find inspiration:

  • Off-platform: Social feeds, like Instagram and Pinterest, and online publisher sites are often used by consumers to discover new dishes and brands. With discovery organically built into these experiences using hashtags and recommended recipes, these channels are a valuable tool for brands to connect with consumers earlier on in their journeys.
  • On-platform: Digital recipe platforms allow grocers and brands even more control over the discovery experience. Since these platforms live directly on their websites, brands have the ability to shape the way they engage and connect with consumers who are searching for recipe inspiration.
  • Search: Search engines like Google represent a more intentional discovery. Consumers often take to search engines to find answers to their questions. If a consumer searches, “how to roast a chicken,” brands and grocers can not only answer their question but perhaps provide a delicious roasted chicken recipe or a product recommendation for seasoning to further strengthen their connection with the consumer and guide them along to the next step in their food journey.

By showing up for consumers on these digital platforms, brands and grocers have the opportunity to better connect these moments of inspiration to the rest of the consumer journey. Brands can provide further value to consumers in the discovery phase by:

  • Posting helpful and inspiring recipe content on their social channels to increase engagement with consumers on these platforms
  • Creating their own robust online recipe platforms that include nutritional guidance and shoppable ingredient lists
  • Providing personalized recipe and product recommendations based on consumer preferences

Planning: Relying on Digital Tools to Aid the Consumer Journey

Traditionally, planning meals meant pulling out a pad of paper and a pen to make a shopping list, but consumers are increasingly embracing digital tools to make their shopping experience easier. Similar to discovery, the planning phase is often drawn out over longer periods of time, meaning consumers are usually planning their meals throughout the week. To aid in the planning phase, consumers turn to tools that help them organize their lists and meals. These include:

  • Shopping list builders: According to FMI, 40% of consumers use a shopping list app to help them shop in-store, signaling that these tools serve an important role in the consumer’s digital journey. Shopping list builders make planning easier for consumers by allowing them to access their shopping list from any device, collaborate and share lists with other members of their household, and easily add items to their lists throughout the week.
  • Meal planning tools: 77% of U.S. consumers say they would rather eat a homemade meal than eat out for dinner, and meal planning is an important piece in helping them achieve this. Although the convenience of eating out sometimes wins, 51% of Millennials are interested in creating weekly meal plans. The biggest factors for doing so: cost-savings and a desire to eat healthier. Grocers and brands have the opportunity to encourage more home cooked meals (and larger basket sizes) by providing consumers with meal planning tools that make the planning process easier.

To help consumers in the planning phase, brands should focus on creating a more seamless planning experience by:

  • Providing consumers with a meal planning tool that helps them organize their recipes and provides customized meal plans based on their personal preferences and past purchases
  • Implementing digital shopping list builders and shoppable recipes that allow consumers to add items to their shopping list whenever and wherever they find inspiration

Purchase: The Many Paths to Purchase

Although consumers are using more digital tools to simplify their shopping experience, many still enjoy—and prefer—the in-store shopping experience, while others prefer an entirely digital one. It’s clear that the path from shopping cart to purchase looks quite different from one consumer to the next. Today, consumers purchase and receive their groceries in a variety of ways:

  • In-store: Even when shoppers are shopping in-store, they’re utilizing technology to enhance their experience. In fact, 88% of shoppers use smartphones while shopping, but interestingly, only 25% of shoppers use grocery store apps. With this in mind, grocers and brands have a clear opportunity to further connect with consumers digitally, even while they’re shopping in-store.
  • Online: When shopping for groceries online, the experience varies depending on the consumer. Many consumers start the purchase process from a retailer or delivery partner’s website, meaning brands have less of an opportunity for branded interactions. However, the process usually isn’t entirely digital with many online shoppers opting to receive their orders via pick up. The choices consumers make during this step largely depend on factors related to product availability, pricing and delivery fees, and delivery windows.

Since all options are on the table when it comes to the purchase phase, in order for brands to win over and retain customers, they have to be ready for whichever path to purchase the grocery consumer chooses. A few ways grocers and brands can make the purchase experience even better, whether in-store or online, include:

  • Augmenting the in-store experience with digital informational content that can be accessed on smartphones, like nutritional facts or product information that helps educate consumers while they shop
  • Providing digital coupons for shoppers to view on their phones and redeem while shopping in-store
  • Offering options for both grocery delivery and pick-up at the store so consumers feel they have the flexibility to choose which method is best for them

Want to learn more about how leading brands and grocers are navigating the new digital-first grocery path to purchase? Watch our webinar exploring how the consumer’s path to purchase has evolved and best practices for influencing consumers at each stage of their digital food journey.