Delivering dinner (and email) in times of disruption: Scaling online grocery communications in the New Normal

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One of the most amazing pivots we’ve seen in recent weeks has been the lightning-speed turnaround in how people approach getting their food. Whether it’s from a box of groceries on the front porch or a bag from a local restaurant’s pick-up window, behavior is shifting quickly – and marketers need to adapt to keep up.

This rapid change means companies – especially those doing the crucial work of providing groceries –  must scale up their customer communications at the same warp speed to keep their audience informed and supported.

The online grocery delivery boom 

Online grocery services have experienced rapid growth recently. Internet Retailer’s RetailX consumer confidence index found on March 11 that 14.2% of UK shoppers were buying more groceries online

By March 25, that percentage had jumped to 25.8%, and shoppers using services like Waitrose and Ocado found themselves in virtual queues behind thousands of other shoppers as delivery times filled up. 


Scale up your grocery brand’s personalization quickly and easily. Get the ebook:
Digital In Fast Forward: Email Personalization Best Practices for Grocery Retailers

Similar problems have cropped up in the United States for online grocers and delivery services facing surges in demand. An Axios survey found 41% of consumers report shopping more for groceries online. Brands find themselves balancing the difficult pressures of providing essential services while scaling up capacity in a manner that keeps their customers and employees safe.

The challenge: Responding swiftly with up-to-date, trustworthy communications

This scramble to reinvent logistics services in order to keep customers stocked with their essentials doesn’t stop at the warehouse door. More than ever, companies need to communicate effectively with their customers as demand spikes or conditions change daily or even hourly.

Successful brands use communications strategies and technologies that they can scale up quickly, using sophisticated tactics like:

  • Built-in efficiencies, integrations and automations that cut the production time need to build, test and send out an important message
  • Dynamic content that automatically refreshes an email with current, localized information, especially on key issues like product inventory, store hours and openings or closings
  • Other features that provide so much value through content and delivery timing that customers will continue to rely on company email even after local restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to normal
4 simple tactics to scale up essential customer communications

Cut the workload, increase personalization (essential for location-heavy services like groceries and takeout) and build loyalty with these email marketing strategies for online grocery businesses that make it easier to put your customers’ needs and concerns first:

1. Real-time product recommendations: High-demand products can fly off shelves in minutes. Using live inventory data lets you swap an out-of-stock item with an in-stock replacement on the fly (who expected yeast to sell out?) even after you send your email. 

Real-time inventory integration updates message content based on when your customers open your messages. So, your email stays as fresh as today’s baked bread and reduces frustration for online and in-store customers alike.

2. Live delivery tracking: Here’s another great way that email can reduce uncertainty. Just by looking at the real-time tracker in their email messages, your customers can tell when their orders are being prepared, in transit or delivered. This is a great way to reduce strain on your call center and support team from customers wondering where their orders are. 

3. One template, many versions: A campaign that resonates in a big city on lockdown might not apply to a rural community where shoppers may have different circumstances. 

Use adaptive images, localization data and dynamic content to create nearly endless versions of a single message template with minimal effort. Instead of creating dozens of messages, you just add modules that change according to your automation rules. 

Because the content changes based on where customers open your messages, you don’t have to worry about targeting segments with the wrong content.

4. Embed a social feed: As fast and flexible as email is, sometimes it’s easier to get the word out on crucial updates and changes by posting on your social media. These days, many people turn to social channels first to engage with brands for updates and questions.

 When you embed a live feed of your social channels in your emails, you’ll make sure your customers always see the latest info. A properly embedded feed refreshes the moment your customer opens the message. So, you’ll know your emails will always feature the most up-to-date information, even after you send them. 

Short-term wins pave the way for future success

No one knows how long the current emergency will last or how we will recover. Focusing your email program now to put your customers and their concerns first, shows them you stand by your commitment to them and gives them even more reason to trust your brand and products when the storm has passed. Get more insights and inspiring examples in this ebook for grocery marketers: Digital In Fast Forward: Email Personalization Best Practices for Grocery Retailers.

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Michelena Howl is VP Client Success and Services for Liveclicker, providing email marketers real-time data driven solutions for their digital marketing needs. Michelena is a leader in the ecommerce project management landscape, with a diverse background ranging from producing celebrity entertainment at E! to Yale University classrooms, e-commerce analytics, site optimization and creative management.

Michelena Howl
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