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Google and Bain & Co. are out with a new research study, entitled “Omnichannel Grocery is Open for Business – and Ready to Grow,” which predicts that “e-commerce penetration is expected to at least triple in the next decade,” though it won’t necessarily be an easy process.

Online shopping, the study says, “is not yet a consistently more convenient experience than in-store shopping in the consumer's mind – a gap that is limiting the broader adoption of online grocery shopping.  Grocers that can deliver higher levels of convenience through online grocery shopping and shape consumers' digital habits have a rare opportunity to edge out their competition.”

Consistency - or rather, lack of it - seems to be key. A related survey, the study says, “reveals that penetration hovers at a mere 3 percent.  According to the research, that's because while just 25 percent of consumers surveyed said they used an online grocery service in the last year, only 26 percent of those users, or 6 percent of all consumers, say they have been placing online orders more than once a month.”

Stephen Caine, a leader in Bain & Company's Retail practice, explains the disconnect this way: “Traditional grocers have decades of experience optimizing their physical stores to align with how shoppers think – training them to navigate store shelves to easily find what they are looking for, making it easy for them to make trade-offs between products, and providing inspiration when they want to try something new.  Online grocery shopping has not yet found a way to digitally replicate these cues simply and intuitively.”
KC's View:
That’s not to say it can’t happen … just that it hasn’t happened yet, because traditional retailers have not yet been able to create what Google and Bain call “an intuitive and frictionless shopping experience from start to finish.”

I do think that it is interesting the degree to which consumers - nine out of 10 surveyed - say that if they’re going to shop for groceries online, they’d tend to be more trusting of a traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer … a level of trust has been established, and those retailers can take advantage of it.

It also is curious to me how less than half those surveyed said that shopping for groceries online saved them time … which, I have to admit, is counter to my experience. I wonder if there is a perception issue here - we buy a number of packaged goods online (mostly from Amazon, many of them using its Subscribe & Save automatic replenishment program), but I still go to the store to buy fresh foods; those visits may be as frequent, though I think of them as being more targeted. (I also want to be careful not to cast my own experience as being typical. I don’t do “big shops” the way I did when we had little kids, but instead tend to go to the store almost every day to pick up some salmon, or some crab cakes, or fresh spinach for salad.) I still think I have more time to do other stuff … but I think of e-grocery more as improving the quality of my life, not the quantity of my time.

I do agree with the general conclusion - that retailers that want to be effective online have to figure out ways to be better at it. (The same goes for the in-store experience, by the way.) It may be that one of the things that retailers have to do is change the ways in which they define e-grocery’s advantages, in addition to making the experience more intuitive and frictionless.