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Key steps in developing a grocery eCommerce strategy

A grocery eCommerce strategy that is customer-centric and accepted across the organization is essential to build a successful eCommerce experience. This is the second in a series of 4 blogs, based on our new eBook, The Modern Grocer’s Guide to Winning at eCommerce. Each blog shares key insights from the guide that will help grocers develop a compelling and profitable eCommerce experience that they own and can control.

When you’re launching a new grocery eCommerce solution, the very first step—and the most crucial—is to develop your eCommerce strategy. 

In a Digital Grocer podcast from earlier this year, Ed Wong, EVP and Chief Digital Officer of Smart & Final, aptly summarized the importance of having a strategic framework when he said, “It will help provide that kind of guiding light in terms of how to differentiate when competing options are available.” 

Everything you do going forward in the project, from the development of your eCommerce site to launch and beyond, will come back to this strategy. For example, you’ll use it to:

  • Identify the right eCommerce provider for your business. One who has successfully worked with other companies with goals and strategies similar to yours.
  • Make decisions about which features and technologies will best serve your customers’ needs.
  • Decide how to allocate your budget so you get the biggest payoff on your technology investment.
  • Monitor any short-term changes that you need to address post-launch.
  • Take the next steps towards longer-term success.

In short, your eCommerce strategy will help you set your goals, guiding each and every step along the way.

How to create a customer-centric strategy

Not all strategies are created equal. An imperative feature of your grocery eCommerce strategy is customer-centricity. In the words of Zac Wilson, Manager of eCommerce at Raley’s, “You have to center everything around your customer, your clientele and the areas in which you operate.”

How do you do this? By asking the right questions. These questions should take into account who your customers are and how you are already serving them successfully. 

You can get a complete list of the questions that will help you frame a strategy based on both your business goals and your shoppers’ needs in our eBook, The Modern Grocer’s Guide to Winning at eCommerce.  

The rising importance of grocery eCommerce

Just as important as developing a customer-centric strategy is getting buy-in from all levels of your organization. This ensures that you are able to work as a coordinated whole, united in your commitment to expanding into the eCommerce space.

We know that leaders in digital grocery have long recognized the importance of eCommerce for success and longevity in the industry, even before the massive surge in adoption brought on by COVID-19. Ron Bonacci, VP of Advertising and Marketing at Weis Markets, summarized the situation in a Digital Grocer interview in January 2020: “the reality is in the grocery industry, if you’re not in eCommerce … you may perish.”

The shift in consumer behavior due to COVID-19 certainly fast-tracked the urgency of getting into the grocery eCommerce game. The pandemic has caused a steady and significant rise in the number and size of orders as well as overall online sales. As grocers have ramped up their capacity to handle the “astronomical growth in demand” and accommodate shoppers’ desired fulfillment methods and time slots, these numbers have only continued their upward climb. 

As you can see in the survey results shown below, monthly online sales in June 2020 were six times higher than August 2019, while the number of orders was five times higher and the number of customers grew threefold. 

Brick Meets Click - Mercatus June 2020 Scorecard
Source: Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Survey, June Scorecard, fielded June 24-25, 2020.

The message is clear: shoppers’ desire for online grocery services has been growing steadily over the years, but the pandemic has transformed these services into an essential and lasting need for shoppers.

Sharing the strategy

As you share your strategy with all levels of the organization, you’ll need to gather key information and insights across your business, from systems and workflows to data collection and the shopper journey.

You’ll also begin to formulate a plan for resource allocation. This includes both the financial resources you’ll budget for the enterprise, and personnel allocation. Considerations include:

  • What skillsets do you have internally?
  • Who will play an active role in the project?
  • What other roles do these personnel hold that might prevent them from taking on additional responsibilities?
  • What external expertise and support is needed?

These will help provide an important starting point as you take the next step: identifying an eCommerce provider to help you transform your strategy into your new grocery eCommerce experience. (We’ll explore this in greater depth in the next blog in this series.) 

Start building your strategy now! Download the guide for access key insights on how to build the right eCommerce strategy for your grocery retail business.

The Modern Grocer’s Guide to Winning at eCommerce
Download eBook

Looking to learn more about how you can get back in charge of your eCommerce? Read the first blog in this series: Are delivery-provider marketplaces good for grocery retailers?


Mark Fairhurst
Mark develops the overall marketing strategy for Mercatus and leads the team responsible for market development, branding, and demand generation.
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