Online grocery’s time to shine

Posted on Oct. 26, 2020  /  Insights  /  

By Kelli Kilgore – VMLY&R Senior Connections Manager, Discoverability

Those in the ecommerce industry knew it was only a matter of time before the world moved to more online shopping. What they didn’t realize was that a global pandemic, in the form of COVID-19, would be the catalyst that launched us all headlong into an ecommerce boom. According to McKinsey & Company, online sales grew by 25% in a two-week period in March 2020, led by grocery purchases, and that behavior doesn’t seem to be waning. In fact, 56% of consumers plan to continue buying online and/or buying online and picking up in store even after the pandemic is over.

With consumers choosing to skip the risk of standard grocery store shopping, and some states issuing mandatory quarantines, online grocery continues to surge due to the pandemic. This presents a unique opportunity for CPG brands to beef up their digital shelf presence and find new and interesting ways to market their brands to consumers. Enter search engine optimized (SEO) content.

SEO has been a big piece of the ecommerce puzzle for quite some time. However, the shift brought about by the pandemic has rendered it critical to virtual shopping success. Here is a look at some ways SEO has helped transform online grocery shopping.

In-home dining versus dining out

Seemingly overnight, consumers were forced to forego dining out. Savvy marketers realized this was a prime opportunity to push their ready-to-cook or heat-and-serve meals. Product detail page content on retailer sites, such as Amazon, needed to be optimized with keywords relevant to the current state of the world; focusing on search terms like “eating in,” “restaurant style” and “easy prep meals.” Landing pages were curated to focus on the many eat-at-home options available, and ad spend was increased to target those looking for alternatives to everyday foods that might be out of stock.

Product-specific recipes and tips

CPG grocery brands saw a dramatic increase in people searching for recipes and tips for cooking at home during the pandemic. This created an opportunity to push brand-specific recipes and related educational and inspirational content across grocery retailer sites. From product detail pages to brand stores and from brand websites to Pinterest, recipes were trending virtually everywhere. The ability to cross-sell products and brands increased, and product usage occasions and pairings that had become stale pre-pandemic were new again.

Emergency preparedness with shelf stable goods

Perhaps one of the most dramatic increases in the grocery category was the rise of shelf-stable foods. According to the Washington Post, shelf-stable foods contributed to increases of 10–30% in year-over-year grocery bills during the first months of the pandemic for the average American household. With the rush to prepare for weeks or months at home, anything and everything that was shelf-stable was fair game for shoppers. As grocery store shelves grew shockingly bare and shelter-in-place orders became a reality, ordering shelf-stable grocery items online increased. While this led to supply chain and logistical nightmares, SEO experts knew it was their time to shine. Brands that planned ahead or that were able to quickly capitalize on this trend by updating their product detail pages, websites and brand stores across retailers, quickly rose to the top of search result pages. Content optimized with keywords, such as “canned,” “shelf stable,” and “emergency food supply” saw success during this chaotic time.

As we all navigate a post-pandemic world, whenever that might happen, we should understand that ecommerce, specifically online grocery, will never be the same. It grew at record speed and shows no signs of slowing down. While this is a welcome sight to those of us in the industry, it is important that we not get complacent. As SEO experts, content developers and ecommerce professionals, we need to be prepared to pivot our thinking and our tactics at a moment’s notice, and when possible, plan ahead for events like these. No matter what happens going forward, the genie is out of the bottle, and online grocery is here to stay. That means ecommerce marketers must continue to push the envelope with new and creative ways to excite consumers about their products while staying a step ahead of the trend.

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