Spark

Food delivery services are growing, but customers still want to squeeze the produce

Time was, you'd drive to a sprawling grocery store and fill up your car with food for a few weeks. But in dense urban centres with few cars, grocery delivery is becoming more popular. Retail marketing expert Patricia Vekich Waldron explains what's at stake (steak?) when it comes to getting foodstuffs to your doorstep.

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From shoes to electronics to office supplies, it seems everything is available at the click of a mouse. There is one holdout, though, at least in North America: groceries.

Although grocery delivery has been around for years, it's only begun to take off as a viable alternative to the traditional way of getting in a car and going to the store.

As more and more people are living in dense downtown cores — without cars — the market for online grocery shopping is growing.

Online grocery shopping is already very popular in Asia and parts of Europe, said Patricia Vekich Waldron, a marketing expert who studies retail trends.

Patricia Vekich Waldron (@PVWaldron/Twitter)

There are, however, several challenges unique to online grocery shopping, she told Spark host Nora Young.

Because much food is perishable, delivery time is of the essence, Waldron said. So some grocery stores are taking the intermediary "click and collect" step of allowing customers to order online and then come to the store to pick up their order in person.

A number of stores have contracted a delivery service, but that also means they lose direct contact with the customer. And if the delivery service makes a mistake, it's the store that people will complain to, she said.

And lastly, groceries — especially fresh produce items — tend to be things that people want to examine in person before they decide whether or not to buy them, Waldron explained. So customers have to trust whoever is packing their groceries to make appropriate substitutions if a particular vegetable isn't available.

"It gives grocers an additional challenge if something is on your list — say if I'm going to make something and I need Roma tomatoes, and maybe the Roma tomatoes don't look good."

Waldron notes how online ordering gives grocers valuable information about their customers that's harder to get from in-store shopping. That information can be used to streamline offerings for their offer customers.

"The consumer orders from you, so you know what they want, as opposed to in the store [where] you have no idea what they want," Waldron said. "So it can give [grocers] a lot of insight into what consumers are really looking for."

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