The vast majority of UK consumers who bought online for the first time during the pandemic will continue to buy online, revealed the research from digital marketing agency MullenLowe Profero. Almost a quarter of respondents said they had grown more confident shopping online during the pandemic and had further discovered new brands while doing so.
The online shopping sector has seen five years of growth in just 12 months and the shift is here to stay, believe many commentators.
But the report also revealed concerns among shoppers about the amount of packaging used when shopping online. Over 40% said they worried about the environmental impact of delivery, with 50% of 16-44-year-olds saying there were increasingly aware of their consumption levels of packaging. Just under half agreed that getting items delivered during the pandemic made them more aware of just how much they buy.
Rowan Kisby, strategy director at MullenLowe Profero, told FoodNavigator she believed there are opportunities for food brands to capitalise on the concerns about the use of packaging among online grocery shoppers.
While the likes of Ocado and Sainsbury’s now offer green delivery slots to make online grocery shopping as environmentally-friendly as possible, she said an exciting innovation area lay in how to extend re-use and refill culture into ecommerce. Many supermarkets now allow, for example, shoppers to fill their own containers at the store in an effort to reduce plastic waste. Start-ups are attempting to bring the concept of zero waste shopping online. Online sustainable grocer Good Club, the brainchild of ex-Farmdrop CEO Ben Patten, launched a zero-waste delivery service in January claiming to be the first retailer to collect all the reusable packaging from shoppers' homes the next day.
"There's an interesting challenge for incumbent brands to look at how they can start to roll out that type of offering and technology at scale because I think it's going to be of more and more interest to consumers given what we're seeing in the data,” said Kisby.
Consumers want more options to buy ethical and local products online
MullenLowe Profero’s report also discovered a desire among online shoppers to buy from small/independent, local and ethical businesses. However, the research found that discoverability and range were key barriers to action for those interested in ethical alternatives. Kisby told us that brands need to make the online experience more distinctive for shoppers to better tap quickly changing consumer demands.
“One of the things we typically see in a lot of categories is that consumers say that brand experiences are very similar to one another,” she said, adding there is therefore “some really fascinating opportunities for brands to make themselves more distinctive, particularly those brands that speak to audiences who express this propensity for more ethical and environmental behaviour.”
Too many digital experiences in the grocery category, she observed, replicate the aisle structure of the store, which can ignore the individual preferences of buyers.
Removing items from a consumer’s online buying experience that you know they are never going to buy will better allow brands to tap consumer preferences towards, for example, local or free-from products, said Kisby.
“One of the things we are challenging brands to do is to be more distinctive in their experiences given they're likely one of the main points of contact with the brand. The more you buy online the less you're in store. So, the digital experience has to now do a bigger job.
She added being more distinctive will make the experience ‘a bit more human’ for online grocery shoppers. “These are brands that are lucky in that they do tend to have quite a longstanding relationship with their customers. It's not a brand you buy once every 12 months. Supermarkets are brands we go to every week. So being able to be more personal and more human and understand what you personally shop for is a fascinating opportunity.”