The IGD’s, now annual, Digital & Online Summit took place in London from October 10 to 11th this year, and once again attempted to diagnose the health of the online grocery business in the UK and Europe. It was interesting to see many of the supplier and retailer presentations this year had moved on from the ‘beautiful basics’ to more advanced approaches to eCommerce. And the consensus was that evolution and change will continue to be the key marker for the sector in the coming years.

Clavis Insight was there, as usual, meeting customers and contributing to the discussions. Some of the highlights for me this year included Unilever’s Keith Higgins presentation on the shopper journey, Simon Miles from Coca-Cola, talking about global trends, and Diageo’s Alex Snook who delved into the challenges and opportunities in B2B eCommerce.

Online Shopper Journey

Many of the topics mirrored those already aired at the 2017 Clavis Insight eCommerce Accelerator Summit a month earlier. It’s good to know we are all heading in the same direction.

The Unilever presentation on the morning of the first day set a high bar for those following. We know from many years working with the FMCG giant that it has always been ahead of the industry curve in terms of eCommerce. Keith Higgins, Global SVP eCommerce at Unilever, spoke about the need for brands and retailers to fully understand the end-to-end shopper journey, which is altered by the growth in eCommerce. The changes significantly effects how manufacturers both create, and fulfil consumer demand.

Unilever is also behind the development of the emerging standard for ‘mobile hero images’ and Higgins provided an update. Unilever had announced that the global standards body GS1 would be taking over responsibility for hero image specification at last month’s Clavis Summit. At IGD Higgins emphasised the wider point about brands needing to create winning content for eRetailers, as they are such ‘a critical touchpoint’ in the shopper journey.

Shoppers, and the shopper journey, were also a key theme of Wednesday’s first presentation from Khiloni Westphely, and Indy Saha of management consulting outfit McKinsey. They unveiled the results of their research into food shoppers across Europe. The study identifies four types of shoppers – Artists, Optimisers, Experimenters and Scramblers – and McKinsey has analysed how the online grocery channel needs to adapt to cater for each.

Using the Best of B2C to Deliver for B2B

Switching from B2C grocery eCommerce, which was the main focus of the event, Diageo’s Alex Snook provided an enlightening overview of the drinks company’s efforts in the B2B arena, which she said accounts for half of its P&L. Again, according to Snook, success was dependent on having the right offers, backed-up with the right content in the right places. She added that the B2B channel could learn a lot from what works in B2C – after all most B2B buyers are also B2C shoppers, and as such have come to expect B2C eCommerce standards in the B2B arena. Content and messaging needs to be personalised for the trade, but delivered with the polish of a consumer-like experience she said.

Online Grocery Global Perspective

Brands and retailers, of all shapes and sizes, need broaden their viewpoint if the UK market is to maintain a leading position in grocery eCommerce, a crown that is already slipping, according to Simon Miles, Global Customer Director, at Coca-Cola. Miles said the UK has already been surpassed by markets such as China, Japan and Korea, and because of the rapid pace of change in the eCommerce space, it is more important than ever to be outward looking, and to consider eCommerce in a global context. "All the things we’re thinking about – somebody else is already having a go at it. So you have to be outward looking, aware of what’s going on in the world,” he said.

Horses for Courses

There is still plenty of work to do to make grocery eCommerce as successful as it can be. Miles, like at least three other presenters at the IGD event referred to a quote, usually attributed to Henry Ford – "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses" – to point to shortcomings still prevalent in online retailers. In his view online grocery shopping had "fallen into that trap of providing that faster horse" rather than a completely new way of shopping.

by Danny Silverman

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