Retailers need to do a better job delivering groceries

Photo: RetailWire
Oct 26, 2017

Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

New research by the Retail Feedback Group reveals that shoppers are skittish about home delivery of frozen and refrigerated foods.

Survey respondents were asked to rate on a five-point scale the following statement: “The items I received met my standards for quality and freshness.”

Some 26 percent of those surveyed rated frozen foods between one and four. Multiple responses on a list of segments were allowed. Here are percentages for other refrigerated departments and categories: dairy, 24 percent; meat, 24 percent; fresh deli, 20 percent; fresh prepared foods, 17 percent; and seafood, 13 percent. Produce came out the worst, with 39 percent of shoppers ranking it between one and four.

Brian Numainville, a principal at RFG and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, notes that while frozen and refrigerated foods were not studied in depth in the research, “The issue of a lower scoring quality rating might be centered around the cold chain and ensuring that the product stays stored at the proper temperature during the delivery and/or pickup process.”

The study also found that while online grocery’s strengths include making the most efficient use of time and convenience, in-store shopping’s strengths include better selection and products that best meet standards for quality and freshness. Stores also hold an advantage when it comes to making customers feel more valued, providing better customer service and showing they know and care about food while providing more value for the money spent.

Doug Madenberg, RFG principal, states, “While our research shows that in-store shopping currently holds a stronger position relative to online grocery shopping in quality and freshness, selection, service and value elements, brick and mortar retailers can’t afford to be complacent as online ordering could strive to reshape these areas in the future and negate some of these advantages.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do you think consumers give low quality product ratings for fresh groceries delivered to their homes? Will online grocers ultimately be able to match the product quality standards and other advantages that consumers perceive by shopping in stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Ultimately, this is about ensuring expectations are met in the online shopping arena — an area that is improving but where much more work is needed."
"No one should be saying that the store is dead, and this is the prime example of an advantage that a physical store has over online shopping. "
"Not everything in grocery needs to be accessible via digital and that’s OK."

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "Retailers need to do a better job delivering groceries"

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Dick Seesel

If my experience (recounted on earlier posts) is any guide, too many shoppers have tried online grocery delivery with inconsistent results. It doesn’t inspire confidence when your delivery is two hours late and 33 percent short — and you’re on hold for 45 minutes trying to resolve the problem or cancel the order. (I’m talking about you, Safeway.)

There is no way for conventional grocers to grow their mature business without figuring out how to execute better. The customer has been trained to expect on-time delivery of complete orders in every other category, and Amazon is going to put pressure on its competitors as it expands the Whole Foods footprint.

Tony Orlando

As you know, I have been talking about this for a few years. I realize that 99 percent of the contributors believe online-everything is the way to go, and that is fine. For me, there is no substitute for a well-run store that does custom cut meats and a great deli/prepared foods department. Amazon can never deliver what the great independents can prepare, and there’s no way can it get close to the prices we can offer. However Amazon is one of the very few that can deliver it at the right temperature, and it is why Amazon purchased Whole Foods, which gives them instant credibility in perishables although their prices are still very high.

Two Guys And A Pickup Truck don’t do it, and maybe Amazon could partner up with some top notch independents that can provide their rural customers with the meats and other perishables for a fee. That would be a win-win for both businesses and the customers that demand it at a fare price.

Neil Saunders

Anyone who has visited a grocery store knows the answer to this. Shoppers are selective when it comes to fresh; they like to squeeze, test and even smell produce so that they get an optimal product that’s not bruised, is the correct ripeness, looks good and so on. There is a perception that when someone else picks the produce for you, they simply throw in the first item they lay their hands on.

Some UK grocers have remedied this by allowing shoppers to specify their own standards for produce selection, while others like Waitrose have advertised that pickers for online orders shop the same way as a normal consumer by testing and assessing produce before adding it to the basket.

Ultimately, this is about ensuring expectations are met in the online shopping arena — an area that is improving but where much more work is needed.

Art Suriano

I see shopping online and receiving the home delivery of groceries as a tremendous convenience and my wife and I have used it many times. However, it is not the same as shopping in-store for yourself. The items that one would hand-pick like fruit, vegetables and meat are often disappointing. Also there have been many times when things were missing, or we received something we did not order. The system is far from perfect. Better quality control is needed before the groceries leave the store or warehouse to make sure there are no issues with the order and that the quality of food items is acceptable. I think what we are seeing is a great idea that was quickly rolled out but before working out all the details. The other loss for the grocer when ordering online is impulse buying, and that will cost the supermarket business sales. Solve that problem and you’ll have a huge win.

Jon Polin

Logistics on frozen and refrigerated products are a matter of technology, and the world of grocery e-commerce is getting better and better in these areas. When it comes to produce, consider this: A consumer who shops for avocados for her household does so maybe once a week for a few weeks a year, but the guy working in the grocery produce section may handle avocados all day every day for weeks or months at a time. A case can be made that the grocery should pick better produce for a consumer than the consumer can pick for herself. In short, we are close to the day when delivered groceries are as good as, or better than, the quality a consumer can get in the store.

J. Peter Deeb

The day that ALL produce and meats are of the same high quality is the day I will order them online. I was at my local upscale supermarket today shopping for produce (theirs is the best in town) and I had to pick through lettuce, tomatoes and bananas to get the freshest, highest quality from the selection! I worked in retail for several years cutting meat and ordering and handling produce and the pressure to reduce shrink and personal preference for size and ripeness means not all cuts or items are the same. If there was no time to stop at the store then I can see people accepting what is sent. Having said that, a box of Cheerios is the same no matter who picks it and I am all in for delivery of dry grocery staples.

Ryan Mathews

It’s simple: consumers use a separate — and higher — standard for deliveries than they impose on themselves. If they leave the ice cream in the trunk when they run into Starbucks on the way home for a quick double, triple, caramelized, pumpkin spice, organic Jamaican blend, 108.67 degree, soy latte and it gets soft, they forgive themselves, toss it in the freezer when they get home and curse the weather. If an external cold chain doesn’t deliver that same ice cream in a rock hard block, they are up in arms. So given this double standard for quality, the answer to the second question is probably no. But that said, that probably won’t be a deal breaker, it just means convenience-minded consumers will have something else to kvetch about.

Ben Ball

There’s a two part solution to this, but I’m not sure when it will become practical economically.

The first part will be to utilize VR technology to allow online shoppers to select an item — not a category — an ITEM. I want THAT apple. That apple is digitally reserved into your cart.

Part two is fool-proof delivery to prevent bruising, guarantee temperature control, etc. Amazon is close on that one with services like Key.’s Fridge isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it seems now either. We have been ordering German meats, pretzels, etc. from a place in Wisconsin for years and have never had either product quality or delivery problems. It can be done.

But the technology won’t be the expensive part. Heck, it won’t even be the hard part. That part will be getting the human element that has to physically put the right apple into the right delivery basket in pristine fashion to do its job.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

To back out the lens a bit, the low satisfaction of consumers may relate to a growing anger and lack of trust about food at large. The senses are an assessment gateway but when indicators of quality are masked, then uncertainty, confusion and frustration become simply “dissatisfaction” on the consumer experience scorecard. The frustration with food is agitated by poor disclosure of ingredients, preservatives, recalls and changes in the recommended human health diet. As October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of a spiritual Reformation (Martin Luther and the 95 Theses), a reformation in food would be welcomed by consumers.

Seth Nagle

Not everything in grocery needs to be accessible via digital and that’s OK.

The problem trying to select fresh anything for someone else is preferences, from slightly green bananas to soft avocados.

I’ve seen a hybrid model forming where the consumer is utilizing click and collect for their center store items and then runs inside and grabs their fresh produce and meats and so far this appears to be the best model.

Roy White

No one should be saying that the store is dead, and this is the prime example of an advantage that a physical store has over online shopping. However, the relationship of brick-and-mortar to digital selling as it unfolds over the next few years is going to mean huge changes in how the store looks and is designed, how it functions and what it provides the shopper. How consumers regard the relative performance of physical stores and online selling in providing freshness and quality in frozen and refrigerated foods is a huge point of difference. In the future, will technology overcome the issues now voiced about the freshness of delivered food products? Very likely. But at the same time, will brick-and-mortar stores reshape their offerings and go-to-market strategy to benefit from the competitive advantage they currently have in attitudes? The answer to that question is up for grabs.

John Karolefski

Most consumers will remain skittish about having frozen and refrigerated food, as well as fruits and vegetables, delivered to the home. That is why grocers should heavily promote curb-side pick up for groceries ordered online.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Success depends upon getting the right product to the right consumer with the desired quality at a reasonable price. So far getting this goal is not consistently achieved. Until it is, delivering groceries will not happen.

Adrian Weidmann

The rapid acceptance and popularity of delivery, “click & collect” (BOPIS), immediate consumption in the broader foodservice sector along with the blurring lines (nee nonexistent — after the Amazon/Whole Foods acquisition) between retail, grocery and retail is driving new business models and services. In addition to food quality, accuracy, and timely delivery issue that NEED to be executed precisely, you’ll see that the package design and technology will change and evolve to meet the requirements of this trend.

Ralph Jacobson

The grocery product category still seems to be the final frontier for eCommerce. Although online food stores have been around for 30 years (Peapod), widespread adoption has simply not happened. Cost, quality, convenience of delivery and other challenges continue to hinder progress. Overcoming these obstacles needs to be the primary focus of those enterprises with genuine intentions of a successful strategy.

Craig Sundstrom

After having looked at the actual survey results (or part of them, anyway), I came away with a much different read. If you look at the combined 4 + 5 scores — which to me is more logical than looking at “5” alone and lumping 1-4 together — it seems that everyone does quite well.

But back to produce specifically: it’s hardly a surprise that is the category with quality issues, since produce itself is far from standardized. “Solving” it is a cost issue: can purveyors pay people to hand select fruits and veggies in a cost-effective manner? Obviously that depends heavily on what point they set their prices at.

James Tenser

Let’s be honest with ourselves: There’s a great deal the grocery industry does not yet know about the subtleties of grocery order fulfillment. We know the principles alright — hit the time windows; control temperature of chilled and frozen items; minimize missing or substituted items; select quality perishables — but we have few actual best practices.

It’s either astounding or predictable that the art of the virtual grocery store has not progressed further after more than two decades of industry experience. Astounding because 20 years? Really? Predictable because supermarkets are incredibly conservative in their business practices and there really has not been much true competitive impetus from digital until about two years ago.

It’s quite ironic how the new emphasis on in-store order fulfillment of digital orders has intensified the critical role of skilled, motivated store associates. It’s not about the app, folks. It’s about fundamental operational best practices that may be enabled by tech, but must be performed by humans.

Jett McCandless

I think the fluctuations in product quality makes people wonder if they really got the “best” item. If you order a new phone, you basically know what you’re getting, and if there’s a defect you can simply exchange it. When ordering food, however, one bunch of cilantro is going to vary in quality from the next. People assume that, because they didn’t pick it out themselves, there was probably a better option.

Brian Numainville

Just to sharpen the focus a bit here, as the author of the study, the research clearly shows on a wide variety of touch points in the online grocery shopping experience, that Amazon outscores supermarkets on nearly every measure (with one exception where there is parity between Walmart, Amazon and supermarkets). Supermarkets simply have to do better or they will remain uncompetitive in online grocery shopping. As Dick said in the first post, “there is no way for conventional grocers to grow their mature business without figuring out how to execute better.” When it comes to online grocery shopping this is absolutely true. And as Amazon’s scores in our research show, their experience in online grocery shopping is already outperforming supermarkets, even before leveraging Whole Foods. Even Walmart outscores supermarkets in four areas.

"Ultimately, this is about ensuring expectations are met in the online shopping arena — an area that is improving but where much more work is needed."
"No one should be saying that the store is dead, and this is the prime example of an advantage that a physical store has over online shopping. "
"Not everything in grocery needs to be accessible via digital and that’s OK."

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