CX remains at the heart of unlocking the UK online grocery market, says Spryker

By Alexander Graf, co-founder & co-CEO of Berlin-based marketplace expert Spryker and author of the bestselling book, The E-Commerce Book

Graf: key battleground for grocery shopping will take place online

When it comes to online grocery shopping in the UK, the revolution is already underway. Recent Spryker research revealed that 60% of UK consumers are already doing some food shopping online. Furthermore, within two years, one in four Brits sees themselves buying most of their groceries online.

The days of loading up the car on the weekend to do the big weekly shop or struggling home on the bus laden with carrier bags are, for many of us, a thing of the past. Online grocery shopping is quick, convenient, and something we will do more and more over the coming years.

As in other countries, though, the UK has a number of different providers offering such services – traditional supermarkets, specialist delivery firms, grocery start-ups, and more, all competing for consumer attention. What’s the best way to provide an experience that keeps customers returning?

The UK – an online grocery trendsetter

Online grocery shopping has been a growing trend for several years, and the UK is known for its focus on innovation in this area. In recent decades, both supermarkets and customers have proven willing to try and adopt new concepts far earlier than in comparable economies such as France and Germany. Loyalty card schemes, cashback at supermarket tills, and self-service check-outs all appeared in the UK first and remain more widely used.

As our research showed, UK consumers are also leading the way when it comes to buying food online, compared with other countries. In Germany, for example, just one-third of consumers buy any food online at all, and even in the US – the land of Silicon Valley, Amazon, and an order-in mentality – only half get some of their groceries on the internet. 

All the online grocery trends that the UK has willingly embraced are likely to be followed in other countries, so market participants in those countries will watch the UK with interest. Staying ahead of developments is important for any commerce company, while UK-based food retailers will want to keep up with the exacting pace of change.

Consumer preferences

So just what is it that consumers want and expect from their online grocery providers? The UK has more supermarkets and smaller grocery retailers than most other markets. 30.8% of UK consumers live within just five minutes of one, and a further 45.7% live within 10 minutes.

It feels like a paradox. 82.5% of respondents say they enjoy supermarket shopping, but 60.8% are already doing at least some food shopping online. This is explained by the high proportion of delivery options in large urbanisations. If there were such options in more rural areas, they would likely be widely utilised.

For any grocery store that still places greater emphasis on its physical stores, then this is a growing problem. Online grocery shopping trends will not stop or even slow down, and it’s not difficult to imagine that in five years or so, most grocery shopping will be done online. This is especially true when you factor in the generational shift that sees far more younger people order groceries online than older demographics.

It would appear that physical stores are now mostly trading on products, not price. The research revealed that in-store supermarkets’ key strengths are now product-based. Almost half of consumers rated food selection, availability, and quality as better offline, with nearly half again stating that in-store providers are “much better” in all three criteria. Despite this, just 38.7% of respondents said the in-store customer experience was better than online, while only 37.2% said that about the overall shopping experience.

Improving online CX

While physical stores aren’t going to disappear overnight, it does become clear that the key battleground for grocery shopping will take place online. Providers must differentiate and offer their customers the very best experience possible. Notwithstanding the current cost-of-living crisis and subsequent focus on value, the three qualities our research respondents cited as most likely to make them shop online were easier user interfaces, larger product ranges and faster delivery.

Owning customer access is essential to improving CX, an advantage traditional supermarkets have over pure delivery services. Owning customer access presents an enormous opportunity for supermarkets to differentiate, focusing not only on what they sell but how they sell it. It’s also about providing exceptional customer service to stand apart.

Customers remember their experience when they buy from a particular store, so it’s time for customer service to get deeply personal. This means owning communication channels like WhatsApp and Messenger to ensure customers’ queries are resolved quickly. It’s about communicating new product lines or offering vouchers based on customers’ specific purchases. In short, it’s all about harnessing technology better.

Composable commerce and online grocery success

This entails adopting a composable approach to commerce, which means selecting best-of-breed solutions in order to ‘compose’ a highly customised tech stack. Doing so enables a supermarket (or indeed any commerce organisation) to choose the tech elements that best suit their requirements.

This flexibility is crucial in delivering a personalised CX and providing differentiation in a crowded online grocery market. With consumers accessing online stores from multiple channels, any grocery store not embracing an omnichannel strategy will struggle against those that do. As online grocery shopping becomes the norm, differentiation, and personalisation in CX becomes key – this is not possible without composable commerce.