Report: Omnichannel grocery shoppers are here to stay

New Cartology playbook shows the dynamic between in-store and online that exists in modern grocery shopping behaviours facing FMCG marketers

Jodie Koning
Jodie Koning

The fluidity of grocery shopping between in-store and online channels is something modern FMCG marketers can expect to face permanently thanks to the digital acceleration and consumer expectations brought about by Covid-19.

That’s one of the headline findings from the new Cartology Customer Playbook, released this week and pitched as a post-pandemic guide to today’s grocery shopper for Australian FMCG marketers. The playbook was produced with insights consultancy, The Lab, and combines qualitative and quantitative research on Australian grocery shoppers. This includes a survey across more than 1000 consumers nationally, focus groups, ethnographic research as well as first-party data gathered from Woolworths Group.

According to the base survey of more than 1000 consumers, more than three quarters of Australians changed the way they shopped during the pandemic. The most notable change is the surge in online shopping, with half stating they’d shopped for groceries online for the first time. This is supported by a 53 per cent rise in online sales at Woolworths over the past year.

One-third of consumers also shopped faster (33 per cent), as well as at quieter times (32 per cent). Of those 1.36 million Australians who made an online grocery purchase online for the first time, 28 per cent expect their online shopping frequency to remain higher than before the pandemic.

Off the back of this, Cartology’s playbook found three in 10 consumers are now ‘omnichannel’ shoppers, sourcing groceries online as well as in-store at least once per month. By contrast, only 4 per cent of consumers shop online only, while the remaining 66 per cent are in-store only.

As to who omnichannel shoppers are, Cartology’s data shows they’re more often men than women (57 per cent versus 43 per cent), largely situated in metro locations (79 per cent), and between 18 and 34 years of age (58 per cent). Online-only shoppers tend to be more often female and from the 35 to 54-year-old age bracket.

Cartology head of marketing and insights, Jodie Koning, told CMO the size of the omnichannel shopping audience shows it’s here to stay. Omnichannel shoppers were also found to be significantly more open to discovering new products online (78 per cent), and more than eight in 10 are confident in their ability to shop online (81 per cent).

“It was interesting to see how much more open these omnichannel shoppers are to things like inspiration and brand messaging,” she said.

Yet even with the surge in online, 89 per cent of grocery sales are still being made in-store and 74 per cent of consumers cite in-store purchasing as their preferred way to shop. Koning said she was personally surprised at just how passionately focus group participants talked about the in-store experience.

“Because of what has been happening, that need to touch, feel, be connected, smell the fruit and all of those things has become top of mind for customers,” she commented.

The two-way digital and in-store exchange

For Cartology and the playbook’s authors, the collection of data points illustrates just how dynamic and two-way the relationship between online and in-store shopping is today.

One outcome described by the playbook is the phenomenon ‘ROBIS’, or research online, buy-instore. According to Woolworths data, 61 per cent of online customers research online then buy in-store within four days.

“Traditional paths to purchase have merged and heightened consumer expectations are fuelling the need for a frictionless, seamless and consistent online and offline customer journey and experience,” the report authors stated. “This means shopping has become a ‘choose your own adventure’ across in-store, online, pick-up and direct-to-boot. Digital literacy has also rapidly advanced customers’ expectations of brands. Customers crave convenience and are looking to be able to transact across multiple categories and retailers at once.

“The explosion of ecommerce has cemented omnichannel as the way forward. It’s no longer about in-store versus online, it’s about meeting customers how and where they choose to shop.”

But again, even with this push on efficiency and functionality, the playbook noted 38 per cent of consumers are keen to hear from and discover new brands.

“We heard a lot from consumers that the functional shop needs to remain online, but at the same time, don’t make that experience any less enjoyable because we can now discover things more than we ever have,” Koning said. “As consumers, we have been cooking at home a lot, have a renewed interest in food and are open to new brands. The message here is brands, don’t get in my way, but also I want to hear from you, and for you to inspire me.”

The playbook shows those who like discovering new products are more likely to use a list (61%) and are much more likely to buy items not on their list (71%). Lists are also gaining digital sophistication, with shoppers increasingly using technologies such as fitness and meal planning apps and saved lists online or in-app.

In addition, 28 per cent of items purchased by modern grocery shoppers were found to be driven by push factors, such as promotions or special offers. Discovery again plays a significant role, impacting 26 per cent of purchases in-store and 36 per cent online.

Hand-in-hand with discovery is growing desire for trusted and sustainable brands. Koning noted clients are investing a lot of money into being more sustainable and seeking ways to tell their story. She pointed to some brands in the digital space engaging in bespoke branded shops, giving them an online canvas to tell their story.

“There are new ways in the ecommerce space where you can tell that story,” she said. “In-store, we have created a new sustainability pillar that enables brands to start to bring this to life in-store. There’s a lot more we can do in that space.”

More widely, Koning said the state of Australia’s retail media market is evolving alongside changing buyer behaviours and desires. Cartology is the media division and agency within Woolworths Group.

“The shopping journey is no longer linear, but circuitous, with multiple touchpoints - from apps to in-store demonstrations. Customers expect brands to be visible across the evolved omnichannel path to purchase in new and unexpected ways,” she said.

Koning also cited several clients getting better and more openly connecting the dots between their trade and brand piece.

“It’s easy for marketers to just think about in-store or ecommerce, and big ecommerce teams have been built to solve those problems. But actually you have to think about it more holistically. That comes down to getting that constant inspiration and exposure right, regardless of whether a customer is in-store or online,” she added. “Those are the things we’re leaning in to help our clients with.

“The notion we’re all working towards is sales overnight, customers over time. Sales overnight is something we’re very good at, it’s the customers over time many of us are thinking about more deeply.”  

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