For brands that are still struggling to develop a workable delivery program, curbside pickup has been a welcome option.
64% of the stores in my study are offering curbside service now — a number just slightly higher than the home delivery figure. I saw that in multiple cases, brands that weren’t yet set up to do delivery were at least able to create this fulfillment alternative, but we’d need to see this figure at 100% to ensure no one has to walk into a grocery store and risk infection.
When I asked grocery store staff if their location
required all employees and shoppers to wear masks, 83% said yes and 17% said no. This was the most important question in my survey, given the state of the pandemic in the United States, and I want to share what I learned beyond the numbers.
In the cities/states where grocery store workers reported no masking requirements, they invariably told me they “lacked the authority to enforce mask-wearing”. Lack of government policy has left the people in these communities helpless to protect themselves.
Reviews sometimes told a different story for the 83% of grocery stores where employees told me masks are required. Despite a stated mask-requirement policy, reviewers report instances of encountering unmasked staff and patrons at some locations and express distress over this, sometimes stating they won’t return to these venues. This means that the actual enforcement of PPE-wearing is actually less than 83%.
On a purely human level, I sensed that my question about masking made some employees anxious, as if they feared a negative response from me when they told me that masks were required. I can only imagine the experiences some of these staff members have had trying to cope with customers refusing to protect themselves and others from contagion. The exchanges I had with staff further cemented my understanding of the need for clear, national policy to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate COVID-19 so that everyone in our local communities is safeguarded.
My friend and colleague Mike Blumenthal has done the best job in the local SEO industry documenting
consumer demand for masking as evinced in reviews, and also, how to get political rant reviews from anti-maskers removed from your GMB listings, should the store you’re marketing receive them. Out of my deep concern for grocery store workers and communities, it’s my strong hope that national leadership will result in 100% participation in grocery industry masking requirements in 2021.
Full contactless fulfillment
0% of the grocery store brands in my study have switched to contactless-only fulfillment, but this methodology may become essential in overcoming the public health emergency. When grocery stores can operate as warehouses where food is stored for curbside pickup and delivery, instead of any in-store shopping, workers and customers can substantially reduce contact.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged in America, markets like
Oneota Community Food Coop in Decorah, Iowa switched to pick-up-only for a time, and may need to do so again. Meanwhile, my neighbor is receiving her complete grocery delivery every week from Imperfect Foods, which launched in San Francisco in 2015 and has experienced phenomenal expansion in the past few years on its mission to deliver economical foods in a convenient manner. This comes on the heels of the meal kit delivery bubble, encompassing Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Purple Carrot, and many other options. Even convenience stores like 7-11 are making a strong effort to go contactless.
In April of 2020,
40 million Americans placed online grocery orders. Rapid adaptation is absolutely possible, and until COVID-19 can be placed in the country’s rearview mirror, a national effort may be essential to recast grocery brands as curators of food delivery rather than places to shop in person. Local search marketers should fully participate in grocery store client ideation on how to shape public perception that supports safety for all.
Satisfaction, reputation, and rankings
Delivery, curbside service, and strict masking policies may not seem to have a direct connection to local search rankings, but in the larger scheme of things, they do. Customers reward businesses they love with positive reviews. When a customer is extremely satisfied with how a business like a grocery store takes care of them,
studies show this motivates them to award reviews as a thank-you.
The more you demonstrate to customers and communities that the grocery store you’re marketing cares for them, the more you’ll grow your corpus of positive reviews with high star ratings. This, then, will support the local pack ranking goals you’re hoping to meet for maximum online visibility. And your reputation will have become the sort that generates high conversions.
79% of shoppers say contactless pickup is very important to them — whatever you can do to deliver satisfaction to the consumer majority is a very smart move.
What I’ve learned about agility from grocers and their marketers
“There shouldn’t be a brand between you and your customer. You shouldn’t be introducing them to somebody else and nobody should own your information.” — Brian Moyer, CEO,
It’s not overstating the case to say that the grocery industry is undergoing a revolution. Annual online grocery sales in the US increased from
$1.2 billion in August of 2019 to $7.2 billion in June of 2020.
As a local SEO, I can’t think of another industry I can learn more from about adaptation, ingenuity, and resilience. I’ve been following food industry news, and was especially engaged by
a webinar I tuned into hosted by digital grocery software provider, Freshop. I’ll summarize seven key takeaways here:
1) If you can develop an in-house delivery program, do it, because it’s the only way to maintain ownership of the full customer experience with your brand. It also makes financial sense in the long run, as I covered previously here in my column on
Third Party vs. In-house delivery: A Guide to Informed Choice. In the Freshop webinar, Brian Moyer reminded attendees that Blockbuster once had the opportunity to buy Netflix, but passed on the chance. Now is the time for grocery stores to protect themselves from giving their trade away to the Instacarts and Doordashes on the scene.
2) Whatever software you use to digitize your grocery inventory, it should be strong on POS integration, inventory management, and analytics. I was impressed with the short demo I saw of Freshop’s analytics dashboard coverage of pick times and slot fulfillment for delivery management, profitability across time, tracking of both non-transactional and transactional behaviors, and integration of Google Analytics for measuring conversion rates.
3) Take a page from meal kit services and offer them yourself. Create breakfast kits, supper kits, dessert kits, holiday meal kits, etc. Make it easy for customers to think in terms of meals and get everything they need in a couple of clicks.
4) Consider leveraging digital ads on your grocery store website from brands you already carry. This can create an additional revenue stream.
5) Create online shoppable circulars. Remember that I saw “deals” and “sales” showing up as GMB place topics? Many customers who used to take cues from print circulars can learn to transfer this habit to clickable digital circulars.
6) Carefully evaluate the community support options of the digital shopping software you choose. Most grocery stores aren’t direct competitors and can help one another out. A great example I saw was how one grocer shared the letter he wrote to apply for taking SNAP payments. He was happy to let other grocers copy this form letter to use for their own applications.
7) Celebrate the fact that online commerce has removed historic barriers to customers locating store inventory in a complex floor plan. With a search box, any customer can find any product in any aisle. As difficult as things are right now, this is one silver lining of genuine value to grocers and their marketers.
The dominant characteristics of Google’s top ranked grocery stores in the 50 US capitals are:
Being located in the city specified in the search
Accomplishing GMB landing page PA in the 40 range
Not relying on spamming GMB business titles
Using “grocery store” as their primary category
Winning a 4+ star rating
Being heavily reviewed and having received a review in the last week
Receiving leads in the form of Q&A
Offering delivery and curbside shopping options
The key areas of GMB opportunity that are not yet being utilized by this group to protect dominant visibility are:
Customer service in the form of review responses
Lead management in the form of answers to Q&A
PR in the form of Google Posts
The grocery industry is undergoing a period of significant challenge and opportunity encompassing:
The challenge of digitizing inventory
The challenge of managing the full consumer experience with delivery and curbside service to avoid being cut out by third parties and to greatly increase safety
The opportunity of selling to customers in new ways by fulfilling new needs
The opportunity of building permanent loyalty by creating memorable experiences of care and satisfaction during the pandemic that will inform post-pandemic relationships
I want to close with a thank-you note to my favorite, great-hearted neighborhood grocer — a family-owned country store in a rural area. You found me ice during a power shutoff in the midst of a fire, you found me bath tissue during the shortage, and locally-distilled hand sanitizer to keep my family safe. You set up curbside pickup to protect me, and when my car was out of service, your family offered to bring groceries to my home, even though you don’t yet have the staff for a full delivery service.
My grateful loyalty is yours.
As a local search marketer, I may look at data, I may share numbers, but really what I’m thinking about is people. People feeding the nation, deserved of every protection and safeguard ingenuity can devise to get us through these hard times together. If you’re running or marketing a grocery store and have local SEO questions, please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to provide helpful answers to support your success. Thank you for all that you’re doing!
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