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Instacart shopping

Shopping for your groceries online is not quite commonplace, but it is catching on. There are at least a couple of factors preventing it from going mainstream, though. Fresh food is one factor – most of us simply prefer to pick our own produce. And coupons are another – if the cost of convenience is having to pay full price, many of us just aren’t interested.

It stands to reason, then, that more coupons could prompt more of us to do our grocery shopping online.

That’s one of the findings in a new report that studies why more people are choosing to buy their groceries online – and why more people aren’t.

The grocery consulting firm Brick Meets Click surveyed 12,000 grocery shoppers, and found that 41% had some experience with buying groceries online. “The activity itself, if not yet widespread, has moved into the mainstream set of alternatives that consumers consider when they buy groceries,” the report found.

Roughly half of that 41% consider themselves to be “active users,” who have purchased groceries online in the past 90 days, and definitely plan to do so again in the next 90 days. The other half are occasional users, who need some convincing to make online grocery shopping more of a habit.

And coupons and promotions could help convince them.

Among shoppers who have occasionally, or never, bought groceries online, the number-one reason they prefer to shop in stores, is a desire to touch, smell, see and select their own fruits and vegetables. About 40% say it’s because they want to take advantage of in-store deals while shopping, and 20% say they tend to use a lot of coupons while grocery shopping.

And most online grocery services don’t let you use coupons. Online shopping may be convenient, but who wants to pay full price for their groceries? Not these shoppers.

“The incompatibility between coupon use and online shopping was certainly picked up by consumers in our survey,” Brick Meets Click founder Bill Bishop told Coupons in the News. “Occasional users clearly like getting a deal,” the report found, “and these consumers will probably respond to appeals that include special offers and coupons.”

Brick Meets Click’s findings echo those of other recent studies, which found that the lack of coupons and deals is holding back the rapid acceptance of online grocery shopping. In a survey by the retail research company Field Agent, which focused on Walmart’s online grocery service, 59% of respondents said the inability to use coupons would make them less likely to use the program. And in an A.T. Kearney survey, 71% said the ability to use coupons would make them more likely to try – and become regular users – of online grocery shopping services. “Our respondents say they want savings,” the report found.

But savings don’t necessarily have to come in the form of coupons. “From our experience, the consumers who are looking for special offers want to be able to save money regardless of how they do it,” Bishop said. “The main driver of buying behavior is the amount that will be saved, not the form of the offer.”

So instead of trying to incorporate offline savings methods like coupons into an online platform, the A.T. Kearney report urged online grocery providers to look for new and novel ways to provide savings. It encouraged the creation of “online-specific promotional mechanisms” to attract cost-conscious customers.

And some are taking their advice. Grocery delivery service Instacart recently added digital coupons to its website. But it also offers some unique manufacturer-funded promotional discounts, such as free delivery if you spend $10 on Red Bull, or $15 on DiGiorno frozen pizzas – no coupons required. Such promotions allow Instacart to attract customers who might be put off by delivery fees, while also allowing manufacturers to move more merchandise, and shoppers to get more for their money.

Shopping online and saving money might not be entirely incompatible after all, then. “Online grocery has arrived – it’s no longer a sideline,” the Brick Meets Click report concludes. So “brick and mortar retailers will need to develop strategies… to retain and even win new business.” Whether that involves coupons, unique promotions, or a combination of both, the ability to save money may help determine whether online grocery shopping remains a niche – or becomes the new normal.

Image source: Instacart

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