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The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the market landscape for many industries. But for the socially dependent verticals tied to food and beverage brands, the shift has been unparalleled.
While early crisis stages saw supply chain disruptions, many companies found their footing in the middle of last year. Food and beverage brands, however, faced the swift closure of large-volume buyers such as restaurant chains coupled with capacity reductions, and consumer reticence for in-person grocery shopping produced a second-order effect: dwindling demand.
Online shopping offered an operational alternative. As noted by the Salsify Consumer Research Report 2021, 40% of consumers leveraged online shopping to find familiar products. And this behavior is expected to continue in a post-COVID world, with 43% of shoppers saying they expect to buy even more online rather than returning to pre-pandemic purchasing.
For food and beverage brands, sustained success in the online-first market means standing out from the crowd with an omnichannel approach that creates interconnected customer touchpoints to deliver a cohesive consumer experience.
But what does this look like in practice — and how do brands get omnichannel commerce operations off the ground? Let’s dive in.
Much like the omnichannel experience itself, the effects of pandemic pressure on food and beverage brands differ depending on where consumers live — and how they shop.
In the United States, for example, online grocery store sales rose 125% in 2020 and researchers say this trend will likely continue post-pandemic, according to IngredientsNetwork.com. As noted by Supermarket News, this represents a $58 billion growth opportunity for food and beverage retailers this year.
In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, Statista reports that monthly internet food sales value peaked at almost 150% of pre-pandemic levels in January and continue to significantly exceed baseline volumes.
According to Reply, online grocery delivery services reached 612% and 1,312% above average in early 2020 for France and Italy, respectively, and while overall sales volume dropped later in the year, digital ordering remains a significant market force.
The Middle East has also seen a substantial uptick in online commerce options for food and beverage consumers. As Food Navigator Asia points out, Saudi Arabian supermarket giant BinDawood Holding saw 200% growth in ecommerce sales, while Euromonitor reports that food and drink ecommerce sales in the UAE rose by 259% last year. And in Abu Dhabi, the Agthia Group shifted operations from mall and hotel distribution to its own ecommerce platforms. Supported by more than 100 delivery trucks for home deliveries, the move generated a 100% boost in online sales, according to the National News.
Consumers want a seamless shopping experience. From purchase to pickup or delivery, customer support to order tracking, buyers aren’t interested in jumping through hoops to get the information they need.
According to Chain Store Age, 85% of customers prefer a blend of physical and digital channels when interacting with brands. The problem? Only 13% of those asked say companies are meeting these expectations.
For food and beverage brands, the pivot to omnichannel commerce priority creates both challenge and opportunity: If they can deliver a seamless experience, they can earn customer loyalty in a nascent online market. If they can’t, they risk losing long-term relationships to other, more agile competitors.
Consider a business-to-consumer (B2C) looking to track purchases made online that haven’t arrived. If they need to wade through multiple channels — such as phone, email, and social media — and restate their issue each time, their patience is quickly exhausted.
If consumer data is carried over from channel to channel, meanwhile, brands can create a unified experience that meets consumers wherever, whenever, and however they prefer to shop.
Opting into omnichannel offers multiple benefits including improved customer loyalty, enhanced personalization, and better customer data — which in turn boosts brand visibility as consumers call out superior service and response.
But how do food and beverage brands make the move?
Here, four steps are critical.
As noted above, the digital food and beverage market differs depending on your geographic location. Understanding geographic variations helps zero in on digital market priorities.
Customers may also have different channel preferences depending on their market. For example, recent data from We Are Social shows that while consumers in the United Kingdom and the United States spend approximately two hours each day using social media, customers in the UAE spend an hour more per day on social sites.
Even the best omnichannel implementation won’t drive success without the right metrics. For food and beverage brands, this means defining what matters most — this might be new customer conversions, total order volumes or global brand reach — then collecting and analyzing relevant data to determine if online efforts are working as intended.
Effective omnichannel implementation starts with centralization. Equipped with commerce experience management solutions capable of creating a single source of truth for all ecommerce efforts, it’s possible for brands to deliver consistent, connected channel experiences that capture consumer interest.
To succeed in a post-pandemic world, food and beverage brands must navigate the omnichannel shift by aligning business best practices with evolving user expectations to deliver seamless, end-to-end customer experiences — anywhere, anytime.
Download our consumer report to learn more about changes in consumer behavior and how you can adjust your business to meet these new demands.
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