Brick-and-mortar grocery stores need to work to improve their customers' online experiences, stop trying to imitate e-commerce sites such as Amazon and create an experience modeled on way people shop for groceries, finds research by e-commerce firm Fluid

April 25, 2014 () – Traditional brick-and-mortar grocery stores should work to improve their customers’ online experiences, according to research conducted by ecommerce service provider Fluid.

“Stop designing traditional ecommerce flows,” said Bridget Fahrland, VP of client strategy for Fluid, in a conference call hosted by Wells Fargo to discuss the company’s research. “It looks like [supermarkets] went out and looked at the top Internet retailers, like and Best Buy, and tried to imitate that, rather than trying to create an experience modeled on the way people shop for groceries.”

Food, she noted, needs be presented with strong imagery, informative descriptions and more social interaction with other shoppers, such as through product reviews.

FreshDirect was rated as having the best online user experience.In addition, supermarkets need to work on efforts to personalize the experience through things like product recommendations and list building.

“Safeway and AmazonFresh do this to some degree, but there is still room for improvement,” Fahrland said.

Fluid conducted research by shopping at several online grocers to evaluate how they serve their customers, and found that New York-based FreshDirect was rated to provide the best overall user experience. FreshDirect, an online-only grocer that delivers to the New York and Philadelphia metro areas, was rated as having a strong, grocery-centric presentation and high product quality. It was also the only online grocer tested that offered wine recommendations based on purchases, Fahrland pointed out.

FreshDirect beat out Google Shopping Express, which not surprisingly offered strong searching and sorting features, but was considered weak on grocery-centricity. The other sites tested, in order, were Safeway, AmazonFresh, Peapod, Walmart to Go, Harris Teeter, and Whole Shopper, the online offering from Whole Foods Market.

The study concluded that some of the traditional supermarkets — including Safeway and Harris Teeter — have what Fahrland described as an “outdated interface.”

“Safeway surprised us with a higher score than we may have anticipated them getting, although they do need a design overhaul,” Fahrland said.

She praised the Pleasanton, Calif.-based grocer’s omnichannel approach that integrates in-store, online and mobile, however.

“Their multichannel integration with the Club Card is, I think, one of the more powerful multichannel integrations that’s out there today,” she said. “Very few grocery retailers have mastered the integration of in-store and online order history.”

Other sites were hit-and-miss. Walmart to Go was true to its EDLP promise, but its search function was lacking — a search for apples turned up Asian pears as the top product selection, for example, Fahrland noted.

In addition, the company does not have a mobile-optimized site — something that she said will be key for online grocers to be successful.

AmazonFresh, meanwhile, did “a surprisingly poor job” of highlighting the quality of its products on the website, Fahrland noted.

Amazon does have a mobile app with scanning capabilities, which is a plus, and it also offers an option for unattended delivery using dry ice.

More room for improvement

One of the negatives Fahrland said Fluid’s research revealed about AmazonFresh, however, was its effort to cross-sell non-grocery products through Amazon Prime. “We’re not sure customers shopping for groceries are also in the mood to be shopping Amazon Prime. This shows that Amazon is in that typical Amazon mode, where they are trying to cross-sell you merchandise.”

Whole Shopper, she said, also delivered a weaker customer experience than she expected, given the chain’s reputation for providing a high-quality in-store experience.

“It seems more like an IT experience than what you would expect,” Fahrland said.

In addition, Harris Teeter’s online offering also feels a bit dated,” she said, although it does offer “a pretty good pickup experience.”

Peapod, the Chicago-based division of Ahold USA, likewise had a dated look, she said, but it did score well in selection, delivery and the mobile experience.

She noted that since cooking and food can be a “joyful experience” for many people, online grocery operators need to up their game in terms of the user experience.

“Bringing a little of that joy and passion to the user experience would be helpful,” Fahrland said.

Some smaller startup delivery companies are doing a better job at this than traditional grocery, she said, including — which offers meal delivery, but not groceries — and Relay Foods, which delivers food from local suppliers in certain Mid-Atlantic markets.

“Of all the sites we looked at, the startups had the best user experience and the most innovative features,” Fahrland said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily look at the 800-pound gorillas. Instead look at startups across the space to see what they are doing and how that might inform your design.”

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