Online orders of groceries increased fourfold for Walmart during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the same is true for San Antonio-based H-E-B. Each company said it was forced to innovate at the drop of a hat and scramble to meet a sudden uptick in demand.
That extra effort paid off according to a new study from Ipsos that used mystery shoppers to review the services of pickup and delivery services of Walmart, Sam’s Club, H-E-B, Aldi, Whole Foods and Target.
“With consumers still anxious about leaving their homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many are opting for more contactless shopping experiences. This inaugural report evaluates how retailers are shifting to a stronger e-commerce business model while offering consumers safe and healthy means of shopping,” the report states.
Ipsos found the strongest drivers of curbside and in-store pickup were having a designated pickup location, easy online account creation, providing contactless order pickup, and that orders were ready when promised.
“Use of BOPIS (Buy-online-pickup-in-store) and curbside pickup has increased for 78% of shoppers since COVID-19 began, and 69% expect to continue using it at the same or higher levels after the pandemic subsides,” said Carlos Aragon, vice president of U.S. Channel Performance at Ipsos. “As we continue to see the adoption and usage of these new digital offers rise and continue to stick, it is important that brands have the mechanism to ensure they deliver a seamless and safe customer experience for these new users.”
In grocery retail, Walmart performed the strongest across all measured attributes for BOPIS service. The report said Walmart “excelled” at posting visible signage that identified grocery pickup area, which was found in 86% of the stores visited. Walmart’s subsidiary Sam’s Club, had a near-perfect performance and most notably provided designated curbside parking at 100% of the locations audited.
Walmart continues to remodel stores with roughly 1,000 planned this next year and that includes dedicated drive lanes in the parking lot for customers to follow for their grocery pickup. The retail giant said recently it experienced unprecedented demand for pickup time slots early on in the pandemic and that required the retailer to add thousands of additional pick-up slots across its massive 4,000-plus store count. Walmart hired more than 400,000 new workers to meet the added demand as of mid-July.
Rival Target also performed “exceptionally well” in BOPIS, with the retailer having grocery orders ready when promised at 98% of visited locations. Target said it hired 9,000 in the midst of COVID-19 to help with the surge in demand for pickup.
When it came to grocery delivery, H-E-B rated at the top with 99% accuracy on delivery orders according to the Ipsos study. H-E-B Chief Digital Officer Jag Bath said recently COVID-19 increased demand for online orders and delivery. He said one area particularly hit hard were senior citizens because many did not have the know-how to order online. This prompted H-E-B to open up a dedicated phone line for the demographic to use to order groceries. He said the retailer eventually set up a learn-how-to-order site with very specific and easy to understand language. He said the shoppers gradually migrated to ordering online because of the tutorial site the company created. Bath said even when the pandemic threat has passed he believes this segment of the population will largely remain online customers for delivery.
Whole Foods ranked second for delivery metrics with a 95% accuracy rate. Whole Foods has announced free one-hour grocery pickup is now available at all of its 487 stores in the U.S. The minimum order is $35 or more.
Steve Caine, an analyst with Bain & Co., said Amazon is a bit late to the game and they are now catching up because express pickup has become the table stake for grocery retailers.
Ipsos also found discounter Aldi performed “well” across the board, and predominantly excelled at providing delivery notifications on 95% of orders. Aldi’s same-day delivery service is provided by Instacart.
Ipsos spotlighted areas where grocery and other retailers could improve to ensure a positive, end-to-end e-commerce experience for customers given the still “tremendous growth opportunity” in BOPIS, curbside and delivery. All customers polled said clear communication is key to pickup and delivery, yet more than a quarter of shoppers see room for improvement in communication, the study found. In pickup specifically, retailers need to offer dedicated curbside parking sites and put up prominent signage to make it easy for customers, Ipsos said. Among the mystery shopping trips, 27% of BOPIS locations were poorly marked or difficult to find. Order accuracy is paramount for delivery, but 9% of consumers surveyed said their order wasn’t accurate.