Do Supermarkets Help Shoppers Find Healthy Groceries Online? How do Retailers Increase Online Impulse Buys? | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

Posted by: on Tuesday February 2, 2021

The digital grocery shopping environment is evolving. More shoppers are online seeking healthy foods. Concurrently, retailers are already using/developing new ways to increase online impulse buying and adopt voice-based technology for shoppers.

Online grocery shopping trends…

Before the pandemic, Nielsen and FMI market data predicted 70% of grocery shoppers would be online by 2024. A 2018 online survey of 1,000 adults identified 3 groups most likely to look at online nutrition information before buying: women, those under 45 and people of color. Age is the biggest factor for looking at nutrition info online. When shopping in-store 66% of shoppers say they look at nutrition info before purchasing as compared to 42% of online shoppers. The most popular food to buy online? Snacks. Although there are more states piloting online grocery shopping for SNAP recipients, there are barriers including how long the pilots take to implement and delivery fees/tips that can’t be paid by SNAP. According to a Spoon Guru survey, shoppers want grocers’ help identifying healthy foods: 57% of shoppers say food labeling isn’t clear and 15% say supermarkets aren’t helping them find healthy food.

The online grocery shopping food environment…

Is grocery shopping online good or bad for health? summarized digital grocery shopping research from a Public Health Nutrition review of 10 years of studies: 2007 – 2017  (keep in mind that these studies weren’t done in the current online grocery shopping environment): fewer impulse buys; online info, particularly the first page the shopper sees, can change choices; an alternative for those living in food deserts. Alternatively, many living in food deserts experience barriers when buying groceries online and consumers are leery about produce quality. Original research article. How online grocery stores support consumer nutrition information needs assessed the availability of Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient labels for 26 items and the ability to search products for specific attributes at 12 U.S. grocery websites (Amazon Prime Now and Walmart were included) during August/September 2018. Most foods (85%) had both kinds of nutrition info available if it was required by law. Most stores allowed shoppers to search by attribute but no stores allowed for shoppers to sort search. Listen to the 4-minute podcast. CSPI’s Scroll and Shop 45 pp January 2020 report found that more than half of foods and drinks promoted on home pages and search pages by 6 online grocery services (including Amazon Prime Now and Walmart) in the D.C. area are unhealthy choices. The report details each retailers best and worst practices. The report has recommendations for policymakers, retailers, the FTC and researchers. What information do consumers consider, and how do they look for it, when shopping for groceries online? used eye-tracking with 40 U.K. shoppers in 2012 to capture how shoppers navigate online grocery shopping info. One takeaway: pictures grab shoppers’ interest. About 35% of study participants never looked at online nutrition info. One suggestion: have nutrition info pop-up on the screen when the shopper hovers over a product. (9 pp PDF)

Some solutions…

Increasing online food shopping creates opportunities for nutrition professionals from an RDN’s perspective suggests educate shoppers about filters, offer live chats and include nutritionists in website development. New Whole Foods online tool assists online grocery shoppers with dietary restrictions by allowing shoppers to filter products by 13 dietary preferences (ingredient lists and Nutrition Facts labels will be available to shoppers). Why? Almost 1/3 of Whole Foods frequent shoppers have a dietary need. 

Online impulse buying…

How big food drives impulse buying online notes Nielsen data that shoppers are 5% more likely to impulse buy online than in the store. Personalization such as providing recipes or cooking videos when a shopper chooses a product creates an impulse to buy other products. Another strategy is to remove friction. One example of friction is shipping fees which often leads to shoppers abandoning a purchase. Digital grocery shopping is built on lists of what shoppers have bought before therefore getting a product on the list means moving an impulse buy to a planned one. Some manufacturers have described another way to create an impulse buy: when shoppers get a text message to pick up their groceries send another message suggesting a purchase to ‘throw in your bag.’ Click-and-collect lockers can provide locations for vending which can drive impulse buys. Retailers are looking at ways to boost shopper online impulse buys because they increase sales – 20% of in-store purchases are impulse buys. When asked in a survey, customers say these purchases ‘lifted their spirits.’ Grocers will need to make their online systems look like an in-store experience with clear images, ingredient information and easily identified attributes such as dietary preferences. The aforementioned January 2020 CSPI Scroll and Shop report identifies other ways that online grocers promote impulse buys such as displaying larger package sizes/snack items on the screen. More detailed examples of retailer strategies to promote unhealthy foods are in the report.

Voice-assisted technology…

What role will-voice-based assistants play in digital grocery shopping? To support shoppers’ desire for convenience and personalization, tools such as Alexa will need to help place orders, find products and perhaps make menu suggestions. And voices have an added benefit…they help to form a relationship with customers. Currently more than 60% of U.S. adults use voice-assisted technology although we lag behind other countries.

Takeaways…

Digital grocery shopping will continue to increase along with promotion of impulse buys. Many impulse buys will be unhealthy choices. Emerging technology such as voice assistants will increasingly distance grocery shoppers from in-store efforts to educate shoppers and drive impulse food purchases as they seek even more convenience and personalization. As nutrition educators we can adapt our teaching and outreach to inform the public. We can also work with policymakers, retailers and others to find ways to change digital grocery shopping so that finding the healthy choice is the frictionless choice.

Want to keep up with changes at grocery stores?…

In addition to general news sites, here are some dedicated places online to learn about the evolving grocery store environment, in-store and online.

    Topics: