COVID-19 Forced The Grocery Industry To Pivot. Which Changes Are Likely To Stay? How Retail Is Preparing For A Post-COVID-19 World

grocery store shopper with maskIf you’re not exclusively relying on Shipt or Instacart, you’ve likely noticed the changing landscape of grocery stores. From one-way shopping lanes to online ordering and curbside pick-up, the grocery industry has pivoted into previously unseen terrain.

All of the changes seen across grocery stores are to mitigate the risk of the novel coronavirus. Some of these changes, though, are likely to outlast the pandemic. Here are the changes that are most likely to stay:

BOPIS

The buy-online-pickup-in-store option is sweeping across every imaginable industry. With BOPIS, stores can compete with the largest e-commerce brands, and consumers can benefit from a convenient shopping experience without having to wait for shipping. Since BOPIS transactions reduce the number of customers in the store, consumers and employees can benefit from a reduction in close-proximity contact, a critical part of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Will BOPIS outlast the virus? Data seem to suggest that it will. We know that customers love grocery shopping online. The image of a stressed-out person waiting in a congested check-out line at a grocery store has led to conflict and tension in books, movies, and television shows. Now, consumers just need to add products to their virtual carts and show up to the store when the order is ready. And nobody is going to undo that. In fact, a recent study indicated that 87% of consumers prefer to shop in stores with contact-free shopping experiences including BOPIS1

Dark Stores

As so many people are turning to online shopping, grocery stores are opening dark stores—fulfillment centers—dedicated to preparing online orders and making deliveries. Albertsons and Stop & Shop are testing micro-fulfillment centers in the back of traditional stores to check the strategy before opening dedicated dark stores.

In another example, Walmart recently opened a prototype store near Chicago that is solely dedicated to fulfilling and delivering online orders.

Dubbed the “Walmart Pickup Point”, this new store is primarily a grocery warehouse but with a twist. No customers are allowed inside. These “Pickup Points” will fulfill online orders for groceries, health and wellness items, and products used for daily life like diapers, household cleaners, pet supplies, and office supplies in a matter of minutes.

The customer places their order online and schedules a pick-up time. Inside the store, a specially trained Walmart Personal Shopper curates the order. When the customer arrives, the order is loaded into the customer’s vehicle.

More Frozen Foods

Customers are shopping online more than ever before, but they’re also shopping less frequently than usual. And while online shoppers still appreciate fresh foods, some perishable goods can’t last the intervals between which people shop. Hence, frozen produce and other frozen food purchases are increasing at unprecedented rates. In fact, according to a study commissioned by the American Frozen Food Institute, after seeing a 94% increase in mid-March 2020, overall frozen food sales are holding at an avg of 30%-35% in April 2020 versus a year ago. Further still, 70% of shoppers are buying more frozen foods than usual, and 68% are trying new brands and products2

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