November 9, 2022

How Hybrid Shopping is Changing the Grocery Store Experience

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What is Hybrid Grocery Shopping?

Hybrid grocery shopping is the act of using a variety of shopping platforms to make purchases. For example, it is common for today’s consumers to shop through an app like Instacart and order grocery delivery one week, and the next week decide to shop in-store.

It can also include viewing items online before heading to the store to make a purchase. Hybrid shopping is the act of using a variety of techniques throughout the shopping experience, including services like delivery, in-store pick-up, or curbside pick-up.

In an August 2022 article on Progressive Grocer, a recent Pepsi Co. e-commerce study highlighted that “Self-described hybrid shoppers bought between 25% and 50% of their groceries online, mostly driven by convenience, safety and an interest in stocking up. Four out of 10 online shoppers say they will embrace a hybrid model over the next four to six months, up from two in 10 who reported that expected behavior last year.”

person looking at grocer bill total on their phone

What is a hybrid store?

A hybrid store is one that offers customers options for both online and in-store shopping. While there are not designated “hybrid” stores, most retailers offer a variety of options for shoppers—making them “hybrid,” and this has changed how retailers plan and prepare the shopping experience for consumers.

Hybrid Shopping Is Changing How Grocers Prepare for Customers

As more shoppers continue to shift to a hybrid model of shopping, grocers continue to change how they deliver services and meet changing expectations.

In an interview with Grocery Dive, Heather Garlich, senior vice president of communications, marketing and consumer and community affairs for FMI trade group notes “The rise of hybrid retail has shifted consumer expectations for both online and in-store shopping.”

Consumer preferences continue to shift, driving retailers to continue to make changes. While convenience and safety are still top of mind, other preferences have emerged as well. Things like sustainability and affordability are a bigger part of the decision-making process, in addition to seeking out more personalized services and better experiences.

The challenge here is that shoppers expect these things across platforms. The growing popularity of hybrid shopping has grocery retailers rethinking strategies and adjusting how they offer services so they can meet these expectations.

Personalization and Exceptional Experiences can be categorized as the overarching initiatives grocers continue to improve upon to keep up with hybrid shopping trends.

Grocers Have to Focus on Personalization

According to Emily Frankel, PepsiCo’s SVP, and head of e-commerce marketing “meeting customers where they are” and understanding that they show up in various places is the start to making the hybrid experience work.

Frankel goes on to point out “This encourages us to think about personalization – how can we get better about how we are tailoring things?”

Personalized experiences have been a growing trend for consumers across the retail industry since before the pandemic.

For grocers this means finding ways to cater to things like dietary preferences/restrictions, sustainable items, and budget friendliness as well as making sure items are on the shelf.

The emphasis on more personal experiences can happen in a variety of ways but one important metric that grocers rely on is customer data.

According to Peter Schultz, director of business development at Pactera Edge, the data must be transparent, real-time, and collected in platforms that track POS systems, inventory, and connect to marketing efforts. Transparency is key because all departments working for the grocer need to be involved in using the information to create a more personal experience for the shopper—both in-store and online.

Schultz goes on to point out:

“Intelligence includes actionable and predictive insights (instead of historic data crunching) that helps Marketing optimize. With predictive intelligence, marketing can provide consumers with next best offers and recommendations before they realize they need them.”

For the online experience this collected information assists AI to make recommendations to customers based on dietary needs and preferences, or if an item is out of stock, the platform can suggest similar items.

This creates a more personalized experience for the shopper as the data and AI work together to learn individual needs and wants.

In-store the focus on personalization looks like stocked shelves, products that reflect changing tastes, and even the inclusion of technology like AI nutritionists (these can recommend products that meet a customer's dietary restrictions and where the items are located in the store).

Hybrid shopping has escalated the need to be able to meet personalization requests because shoppers have access to so many options and platforms. If a grocer isn’t providing online and in-store options that meet consumers preferences, it is easy for them to go elsewhere.

Grocers Have to Focus on Exceptional Experience

While creating a positive in-store experience has always been a focus for retailers, as the “experience economy” and hybrid shopping grow in popularity the total experience is increasingly important.

Hybrid shopping options have elevated pressure to make the in-store experience exceptional to draw customers into the store; since retailers know that customers spend more when in the store.

According to a report from Go Spot Check “Item availability, finding wanted items, store cleanliness, cashier courtesy, and checkout speed are all critical factors in making or breaking the shopping experience.”

Store Cleanliness

Cleanliness is a crucial factor in creating an “exceptional experience” as shoppers begin examining cleanliness as soon as they walk in a store.

A clean store helps to create a safe and healthy atmosphere and for today’s health-conscious shopper this point continues to grow in importance.

Autonomous cleaning equipment, like Cobi 18 by ICE Cobotics, is an effective way to get both the cleaning done and free up staff to focus on other high-priority tasks, while also creating a positive perception of clean.

While the cobot (collaborative robot) cleans the floors staff can focus on customer needs as well as cleaning other high-priority areas.

In addition, bringing on autonomous solutions can elevate the atmosphere of the store; shoppers will be impressed by the innovation and technology and may even feel reaffirmed about a store's cleanliness.

Providing a clean and healthy environment is one way to make sure shoppers have an enjoyable experience.

cobi 18 in grocery store

Seamless Interactions

Hybrid shopping has provided grocery retailers with new ways to interact with customers. This is great for consumers as it provides them with more options, and for grocers, they now have more opportunities to gain repeat shoppers.

For grocers this means designating staff to focus on customers in the store as well as those shopping online.

For example, many stores provide curbside pick-up when shopping through the app. For this they must have an employee to shop for the customer’s goods as well as deliver the products to the customer’s car.

Frustration points can occur if an item is out of stock but shows up as available through the app. When the customer gets to the store to pick up their items, they may leave with less than expected.

For grocery retailers, this means in addition to designated staff to handle this experience, the inventory management platforms need to be highly sophisticated and operate in real-time.

The less friction a customer faces during the journey the more likely they are to be a repeat customer.

Convenience

Convenience is key. As part of the total shopping experience, the easier and simpler it is, the more likely customers will return repeatedly.

According to Form, the creator of task management platforms for retailers, “as shoppers expect more convenience, a recent shift in customer preferences is a desire for grocery stores to become more of a “one-stop-shop,” with 27% of shoppers saying the offering of non-food products would incentivize them to shop at a particular store.”

For grocers, understanding shoppers' unique preferences and shopping habits can help them offer and suggest the right items to the right person.

In some cases, shoppers prefer online shopping because it provides a way for them to manage their budget better. They can see the total before making the purchase.

In other cases, consumers prefer to go into the store so they can see and examine the items before purchasing. Either way, the entire journey needs to be convenient for today’s shopper.

Conclusion

In addition to store cleanliness, seamless interactions, and convenience, today’s shoppers expect to have an actual “experience,” when shopping. Because of this, grocers are continuing to transform their stores.

Many grocers already have coffee shops or elevated bakery and deli areas that cater to making the instore experience more than just a shopping trip.

We can expect to see grocers expand and elevate these partnerships as they continue to keep up with changing shopper expectations.

ICE Cobotics is a cleaning equipment and technology company specializing in autonomous cleaning equipment. If you’re ready to add innovative technology to your store experience, or if you’d like to learn more about our robotics solutions, our automation experts are ready to get you started.

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