Keeping Consumers Engaged Online Post-Pandemic

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Kate Garner

The world has changed in just about every imaginable way over the past year. One way that is particularly relevant to retailers and marketers is the dramatic shift to e-commerce.

It happened virtually overnight. Now, nearly 80% of Americans report having shopped online for groceries since the COVID-19 outbreak, double the pre-pandemic number, according to Inmar. To respond to that initial urgent demand, retailers accelerated digital investments with an abundance of new shopping experiences. But now it’s time to thoughtfully consider what happens next.

As vaccines roll out and we move into the second half of 2021, some consumers naturally will want to return to their pre-pandemic grocery shopping habits. Shopping in-store is sure to become a draw again: 25% of online shoppers say they find the digital experience less satisfying than visiting stores in person, according to Kantar. But there also will be a rich opportunity to improve and refine e-commerce to keep old and new consumers alike engaged. I see several ways retailers can ensure that this happens.

Focus on convenience: The need for convenience hasn’t changed, but during the pandemic, the reasons shifted. Pre-packaged, single-use foods have always been great for portability – but recently, they’ve had the added benefit of adapting to health and safety guidelines. In digital spaces, calling out the other additional solutions these individual portions offer will be an important way to connect with online shoppers.

As more people return to pre-pandemic schedules, they once again will be focused on anything that makes their days quicker and easier. Those same multi-packs and single portions will be go-to options for packing kids’ lunches. Whether they’re exercising at home or in gyms, consumers will still want fast hydration and snacks like nutrition bars. Surfacing selection that keeps convenience in mind will add a driver to the online shopping experience

Make meal planning more intuitive: Seven out of 10 consumers will continue to cook at home more than they did before COVID-19, so the online environment can streamline meal preparation and planning by curating the shopping “trip” with bundles of products designed to complete those occasions.

This is a place where online has the advantage; a physical store’s shelves and layouts are restrictions to organizing the shopping experience by meal. Online shopping provides greater opportunity to group products the way a shopper would use them over the course of a day.

We’ve seen the opportunity to build these meal occasions through our data science tools at PepsiCo, where we’ve been able to create predictive models for retailers to maintain household penetration. Based on the products they have already purchased, we can suggest shopping basket ideas to target and message shoppers with curated selections that are relevant to them.

Help create celebrations: Everyone has missed connecting with each other so much. I see 2021 being about finding joy and ways to be together. We’re hopefully going to be able to enjoy the simple acts of meeting friends and letting our kids play together again, so you’re going to see people wanting to entertain.

The big moments to think about are summer holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and any chances for consumers to reconnect outdoors. Reaching out to help them celebrate these times will be essential. Consider bundles, themes, reminders and party-planning checklists to make it easier to ensure people have everything they need.

What’s most exciting about this time in retail is that any debate on the importance of e-commerce is behind us. We can instead focus our energies on being highly effective in this space. Last year, the industry innovated at a lightning-fast pace to help people navigate the pandemic. Now, we can think strategically and open shoppers up to new experiences while also providing long-term solutions that can improve the retail environment for all of us.

About the Author: As senior vice president of PepsiCo’s Demand Accelerator, Kate Garner leads growth across the company’s North America foods and beverage business, including shopper analytics and insights, shopper marketing, category leadership and space transformation. Garner has overseen teams across a variety of functions over her nearly 18 years at PepsiCo, including marketing, sales, strategic insights and advanced analytics.