How to Cater to the New Hybrid Shopping Behavior

Consumer buying habits have changed; retailer selling habits have to as well

Shopping is forever changed as today’s hybrid consumers move back and forth seamlessly between real-world and ecommerce channels.

For example, consider modern grocery shopping. According to Vericast’s “2022 CPG + Grocery TrendWatch” report, more than 30% of people have been going online for groceries more since the pandemic. And when you look at affluent shoppers—those with a household income over $100,000—that figure jumps to 39%.

A good deal of this change has been accelerated by the ubiquity of smartphones and a surge in mobile commerce. People turn to brand apps to research, shop and complete transactions on their phones from anywhere, at any time. The Vericast report notes that this is especially true for key segments of younger consumers, including Gen Z (28% of whom said they’re shopping more on smartphones) and millennial parents (also 28%).  

At the same time, Gen Z and millennial parents are also embracing shopping behaviors such as subscription services and social media purchases. They see these as easy and convenient ways to shop, especially for busy consumers.

Online vs. in-store: It’s complicated

Online shopping became a necessity during the pandemic—for both consumers and retailers. And why not? It’s efficient, easy and convenient. However, despite the convenience of online shopping, most respondents to the Vericast survey indicated a preference for the overall experience of shopping in-store (51%).

The advantage of in-store shopping is that it gives consumers a chance to discover new products, find what they need and even make impulse purchases. People also find it easier to use coupons and access discounts in the store than online.

It’s important to note, however, that the Vericast data suggests that there is significant generational and segment differences in these preferences:

  • Gen Zers rated in-store and online shopping nearly the same when it comes to convenience (42% and 40%, respectively), and also for finding the items they need (36%).
  • Affluent shoppers reported that online beats in-store on price (36%) and finding the items they need (37%), and even more so for saving time (64%).
  • Baby boomers said they appreciated the ease of using coupons and taking advantage of discounts offered by in-store shopping (72%).
  • For grocery shopping in particular, millennial parents (63%) said that they enjoy the online shopping experience, more so than most other consumer segments.

Although the survey found that in-store shopping accounts for most purchases, there are a few observations worth noting for online shopping:

  • Millennial parents reported that they made 23% of their packaged food and beverage purchases online, more than most other groups.
  • Consumers made almost a quarter (23%) of their beauty/personal care product purchases online; this figure increased to 32% for affluent shoppers.
  • Pet food/pet care had the highest percentage of purchases made online. Affluent consumers made 37% of their purchases in this category online, and baby boomers made 32%.

Delight shoppers wherever they are

So, what can marketers do with this information to ensure they appeal to consumers’ preferred shopping experience, be it online or offline? 

First, improve the online shopping experience. Retailers think they’re providing a better experience than they are. For example, 77% of grocers say they meet consumer needs for an enjoyable online shopping experience. But only 51% of the Vericast survey respondents agreed. Review your online shopping procedure from first click all the way through purchase. But don’t stop there. Ensure the experience excels post final click to delivery, including order status updates and return procedures.

Second, help shoppers plan their shopping. People are busy. They want shopping—especially shopping for essential products—to be a breeze. According to the Vericast survey, grocery retailers are not on the same page as consumers when it comes to shopping planning tools (like printed circulars sent to the home or interactive digital versions of the same). This is an opportunity for retailers to step up their efforts help shoppers who are keen on having an efficient shopping experience, whether online or in the store.

Third, prepare for the future of shopping. Technology continues to evolve to meet consumer needs. So should the technology retailers use to facilitate and enhance the buying experience. It’s critical to know what your target segment(s) value in a shopping experience and be aware of technology trends that make it possible for you to deliver it.

Matthew Tilley is executive director of marketing for Vericast and leads content marketing for the company. He has more than 20 years of experience in digital advertising and consumer promotions to develop, communicate, and distribute ideas to make modern marketers more effective.