Aug 28, 2020
Work hard to retain online customers
Brian Moyer

The COVID-19 crisis has forced many markets to create or enhance online ordering systems and businesses with these platforms which has led to a huge increase in online orders. This means, many of your customers have not shopped in-person at your market before. Therefore, we want to make sure they keep coming back and that our market remains as one of their regular shopping venues.

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Brian Moyer

Remember the basics. Your customers, whether online or in your market, still want to know about any specials or sale items, new products, what gives a product value and how to use it. Perhaps, include a separate page or section on your site can highlight specials or new products. You may also consider including the origin or source of products as well as recipes for their use in the product descriptions of all or a section of unique items. A short video of what is in-season showing your fields or using a seasonal product in a new way may also spark customer attention and keep then engaged with your products and business even if they not physically in-store.

Of course, all of this takes management so is there someone on your team who has a talent for this? Tasks to consider for the smooth operation of an online store include order management, inventory management, customer communications and marketing via social media, email listserv or other advertising such as radio or targeted online ads.

Your online store is not just another marketing channel. You should view your online store as adding another business to your existing business and be sure to track its costs just as closely as you track the management of the system itself. Right now, even the grocery retail industry doesn’t know what its full costs are when it comes to meeting the needs of their online customers, but retailers are trying to fill a need it is necessary to have a strategy for longterm profitability.

To keep your existing and new customers engaged with your online store consider their interactions with your market during curbside pick up or delivery. Are you confirming what the customer ordered? What is your process for correcting mistakes or order errors? Consider sending a confirmation number to the customer. Invite the customer to bring their order along to verify that they are receiving their desired items. Know how to find and monitor your online error rate and make it a goal to continually reduce it with your staff.

Consider efficiencies you may add to your picking and packing procedures when fulfilling orders. We all know there is a cost to filling our market shelves with products. Employees receive products, place them on shelves or create displays. In most cases, we are also paying employees to pull those products to fill online orders. If you have the capacity, consider creating a dedicated fulfillment space where employees can fill orders before products go out to the sales floor of the market. The cost of getting products to the shelves and then picked into an online order bag to be set aside for curbside pick up or delivery leaves little room to cover fulfillment costs.

Think about engaging with your customers across all demographics as everyone adjusts to your online ordering platform. How will you accommodate older customers who are not comfortable with ordering online? Some customers may look online at the offerings but would rather call you to place an order. Do you have staff available to take these orders, is the fulfillment timeline different and will the customer have a mechanism to confirm their order with you after they hang up the phone?

Ultimately, we are still looking to solve problems for our customers and not create any. What happens if an item comes up as out of stock? Do you have suggested alternatives for them? Perhaps you can text suggested product alternatives to the customer while the order is being fulfilled for them to make a live choice. Your online customer should have the same enjoyable shopping experience as your in-store customer.

Marketing will be different for your online store than your brick and mortar market. We need some methods of keeping our online customers engaged. Recipes for featured products, videos of cooking demos and sharing the store of your farm and market all work. We need to creatively find ways to keep those online customers engaged and coming back the same as we do with our in-store customers. Interactive online quizzes and surveys provide both an engagement tool for your customers but also work to collect information about what their preferences are so you can continue to adapt to their changing shopping habits in the future.

In an article in “Grocery Drive,” Hillary Reeves, who is vice president of marketing at Chicory, wrote, “Online grocery does not need to be convenient, fun or filled with robots. Perhaps those could be means to an end, but what online grocery has to do is fulfill basic needs. Therefore, it has to be reliable, quick, affordable and flexible.”

Brian Moyer Moyer works for Penn State Extension in Lehigh County.

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