Online grocery shopping went to the moon from March to May, with PYMNTS’ Navigating COVID-19 series recording a 400 percent increase, equating to $6.6 billion in online spend.
That sudden shift is favoring the giants, at least up to this point. PYMNTS’ June 2020 How We Eat Tracker notes that, “Amazon, Target and Walmart were already well-positioned to adapt to this new digital reality, as they all had robust mobile and online ordering operations long before the pandemic hit. Smaller independent grocers have been forced to scramble to ramp up their digital services as the grocery market migrates online, however.”
Smaller, perhaps less well-capitalized grocery operators are responding to the big three big box grocers with digital initiatives of their own, as all players in the space seek shoppers wherever they’re comfortable transacting, be that in a physical store or via a smartphone app.
Sam’s Club and the Digital Surge
Of the more ambitious rollouts during the great grocery changeover is membership-based warehouse chain Sam’s Club, whose preexisting Scan & Go shopping app experienced a pandemic-fueled surge. Eddie Garcia, senior vice president and chief product officer at Sam’s Club, told PYMNTS, “We’ve seen a strong uptick in member adoption during the pandemic because it gives them the ability to pay for items right from their phones and skip the checkout line. It completely removes the friction and uncertainty of waiting in a checkout line right now.”
Sam’s Club even adapted the app for special use by seniors and other at-risk members over the course of the pandemic, giving them access to concierge services and contactless pickup. “We were able to build the associate-facing app that powers our concierge experience in just six days because we built it on top of our already existing Scan & Go platform,” Garcia told PYMNTS. “That’s the cool thing about technology — if you invest in building platforms the right way, you can accelerate innovation,” he said, adding that nearly 133,000 concierge transactions had been handled by early June.
It’s having the desired effect, with Sam’s Club reporting that eCommerce revenues rose 40 percent in Q1, a number sure to grow as curbside pickup comes to all stores in starting in June. Parent Walmart led online grocery sales in April, commanding half of online grocery sales.
‘Adapt, Pivot and Innovate’
Ready or not, like it or not, grocery shopping has permanently changed. That is now as evident to retail chains as it is to the droves of who are consumers driving the massive shift.
“During the pandemic, the way our members want to shop, how they want to check out and their expectations around safety and service is different than it’s ever been,” Garcia told PYMNTS. “Members are putting a lot of focus on having control over their shopping experiences, so we had to quickly react and provide them more choices to shop how they want.”
These innovations are all tested in the retailer’s Dallas, Texas-based Sam’s Club Now facility, which is expected to crank out cool new member shopping and rewards experiences. “I anticipate technology will continue to be important to our members because they are hyperfocused on speed and safety right now and I don’t think that will go away. Retail was already going through an evolution pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated change and pushed retailers to adapt, pivot and innovate,” Garcia told PYMNTS.