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Businesses in every industry are feeling the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. But grocery became the focus of attention, being an essential service to the community resulting in difficult challenges.

Anxious shoppers are flocking to grocery stores in droves to panic-buy food and supplies, leaving grocers with empty shelves and supply issues. Many grocers are struggling to keep up with these unexpected challenges and continue supplying their customers with essential goods. But the pandemic is also changing how consumers shop for groceries, and the shift could be long-term.

Here’s more information about how COVID-19 is impacting the grocery industry, how resilient grocers are adapting via solutions like omnichannel order management, and what trends might continue even when the pandemic is over.

Grocery stores and COVID-19

For consumers around the world, COVID-19 has changed everything. Grocery shopping has become a matter of survival. Even consumers in first-world countries who have never lacked for anything are facing shortages of meat, milk, bread, or eggs at their local grocery store.

Panic buying isn’t the only issue customers are facing. Social distancing guidelines can make grocery shopping a chore. Shoppers must wait outside, waiting in line to wash their hands, as some stores limit the in-store occupancy. They have to be mindful of their fellow shoppers in aisles. Then, many choose to disinfect their groceries when they get home. Even with all these precautions, shoppers are still putting their health at risk, and what used to be a simple weekly errand is now a major ordeal.

How is COVID-19 impacting the grocery industry

How grocery stores are coping

Many grocery stores have begun focusing on ecommerce to give customers access to the products they need. BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), curbside pickup, and home delivery are the main options grocers are rolling out. In an effort to better protect both customers and employees, some grocers have even closed their stores completely —they’re now selling exclusively online, with customers only visiting the store parking lot to safely pick up their orders.

According to a survey presented by Digital Commerce, one-third of shoppers have bought food online over the past week—and of that number, 41 percent were doing so for the first time. Statistics cited by CNN back this up: just 4 percent of U.S. grocery sales last year took place online. Although online shopping is becoming more and more popular, most consumers still prefer shopping in-store when it comes to groceries. But COVID-19 might change that forever.

Best-in-class grocers are using the tools that enable faster and more efficient operations. During the crisis, one key element is communication. Grocers constantly need to keep the order information updated. For some of those shoppers, it’s a first. Using unified customer experience, they can seamlessly browse the website, then switch to the mobile app, benefitting from a smooth buying journey. In these difficult times, at the store level, inventory fluctuates quickly, but thanks to a proper order fulfillment system, employees can pick and prepare customers’ orders without trouble. Furthermore, prices and assortments are managed dynamically, providing extra flexibility.

These statistics represent both a big challenge and a major opportunity for grocers. It’s absolutely essential for grocery stores to adapt to the surge in online purchases and dollar value per order. Grocers need to utilize distributed order management (DOM) to optimize fulfillment and quickly get customers the products they need.

Post-COVID industry changes

COVID-19 isn’t going to last forever. But even when the pandemic is resolved, consumer habits formed during this time are likely to persist. Customers who normally shop in-store are now getting the chance to try the online store and become familiar with the technology. After the coronavirus outbreak, peaks in online traffic will flatten — but many customers are now used to the convenience of ordering their groceries online.

What does this mean for you? Grocery stores need to take this opportunity to craft a future-proof approach. It’s essential to think about how to best serve customers both in stores and online with the latest ecommerce technologies. Now might be the time to implement a store fulfillment solution that rises up to today’s challenges.

If you offer an enjoyable online experience and streamline order fulfillment operations, you are more likely to see sustainable success. Allow your customers to use the mobile app or the website to select their food and other products, and to choose whether to pick up the package in-store or have it delivered.

You should invest in ways to fulfill orders more effectivily in order to meet your customer promise for delivery and pickup. Your customers will realize they can trust you. When the pandemic ends, they’ll come back to you because you would have shown your ability to deliver a valuable service, even in crisis. These positive experiences will build lasting loyalty and engagement.

Learn more about COVID-19 and the grocery industry

Want to learn more about order management for grocery and taking a headless approach, why this is so effective, and whether you should update your existing commerce platform? Download our ebook The Grocer's Ultimate Guide to Growth: How an omnichannel commerce platform creates unique grocery experiences?

You’re also welcome to contact us at any time. Our experts are available to answer any questions you have and to help you pull through these stressful times.