COVID-19 E-commerce Boom: How CPG Brands Can Win Over New Online Grocery Shoppers

It has been said that nothing is as painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change. At the same time, where some see difficult endings, others see new beginnings. While I’m not sure a single e-commerce executive could have predicted that a global health crisis would be the major turning point for online grocery, COVID-19 has created exactly that booming impact.

As more consumers go into lockdown across the world, digital connectivity has become an even more integral part of our daily lives. Even some of the most sacred routines, like roaming the grocery store aisles, have shifted online. In fact, grocery apps such as Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have been experiencing double and even triple the amount of average daily downloads than they did last month.

With this sudden shift, many consumers are ordering their groceries online for the very first time. Assuming they have a positive experience, most of these consumers will likely continue to shop for groceries online once the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided. This article will highlight five things that CPG brands can do to win over these first-time online grocery shoppers and keep them coming back for more.

Start with Empathy

The emotional intelligence of a business is not something that appears as a line item on financial statements. Even so, CPG brands need to exert extra efforts to appreciate what their customers may be going through right now. It is important during times of crisis to actively listen to your customers through available feedback loops, be flexible in your customer service procedures, and ensure customers that their needs will be put ahead of short-term corporate profits.

Consumers still need CPG products, but they may be more anxious, stressed and strained than normal when communicating with you through digital platforms such as social media and your website. This will be the defining moment for your CPG brand. Customers will be listening to your words and watching your actions closely during this time. Empathy might just be the medicine the world needs right now, and the reason new online grocery customers buy your brand.

Be a Brand Authority

With the disruption of daily life, consumers will be looking for new ways to recreate normalcy. They will want help in this process and will be leaning on brand authorities to provide answers to their questions (and search queries). It is imperative that your brand finds ways to position itself as valuable with consumers, even outside of its core competency. This is the perfect time for:

  • Food and beverage brands to provide immune-boosting recipes
  • Personal care brands to provide how-to’s for at-home facials
  • Home care brands to provide tips for deep cleaning your house
  • Nutritional supplement brands to provide ideas for at-home workouts

Additionally, it is important to focus your efforts where media consumption will be highest. According to eMarketer, social media networks will be a major beneficiary of the COVID-19 outbreak, as consumers will be scouring these apps for a variety of helpful information. With an increased amount of Coronavirus-related content available on social media, CPG brands should consider utilizing influencers to cut through the noise and reach interested consumers.

Explain, Explain and Explain More

Between grocery app downloads growing at a staggering pace and older individuals being one of the most at-risk groups for contracting the coronavirus, there is a perfect storm brewing in the industry. Fact is, there is going to be a flood of new online grocery shoppers that will be confused and maybe even a bit frustrated with the experience.

While you might not think it’s your brand’s “job” to educate consumers on how to use grocery apps, your customers will appreciate you providing them with helpful tips that speed up the learning curve. There is no better time than now to be a champion of your online retail partners. In addition to helping consumers learn how to use the apps, brands could also provide additional tips around fulfillment options, communicating with in-store grocery pickers, and return policies for items that are unsatisfactory.

Always Be in Stock

With supply chains under huge pressure due to COVID-19 panic buying, online grocery platforms have been struggling to keep high-demand products available on the digital shelf. They’ve also been dealing with website and app outages due to increased traffic, as well as longer-than-normal delivery times. The unease caused by supply uncertainty has compelled consumers to search for alternate online sources.

In the CPG industry, supply chains that rely heavily on physical retailers are difficult to perfect, especially during black swan events. That is why controlling at least one retail distribution point is extremely important for CPG brands. If you’re not already selling products on your direct-to-consumer website, there is no better time to jumpstart that project. You can’t win over new online grocery shoppers if your products are not in stock.

Win the Initial Purchase

Many grocery apps have “buy it again” features that surface previously purchased items for easy re-ordering. For example, the Instacart app has an entire “Re-order” section that helps you “save time by re-ordering your favorite products.” It’s therefore critical for brands to make it onto a shopper’s initial purchase list. Once a customer has bought your product from an app once, it’s much easier for them to buy it again…and again, and again, and again.

Brands therefore need to focus on optimizing their product listings for maximum search visibility. Even people who frequently shop online are unlikely to click past the first page of search results; new online grocery shoppers will probably be even less likely to do so.

When optimizing your product content for search, don’t assume Amazon search data is relevant across other grocery apps. Due to search suggest and other factors, consumer search behavior varies drastically across retailers, so it’s important to optimize your listings accordingly.

NOTE: Many grocery apps will suppress products from search results if they are out of stock. Therefore, a crucial part of search optimization is ensuring you have adequate available inventory.

It’s also important to optimize your product listings for conversions. New online grocery shoppers are likely going to be looking for specific products – the same ones they’re used to buying over and over again in stores. Your product listings should clearly communicate important product details, including pack size and count, so that customers can be 100% sure that they’re purchasing the right product. If the product a customer receives isn’t what they were expecting, they probably won’t order it again the next time – even if it’s on their “buy again” list.


While there are endless strategies and tactics that can be leveraged to win over new online grocery shoppers, it is best to keep it simple and authentic. During times of uncertainty, there is a fine line in business between being helpful and being opportunistic. Many consumers aren’t thrilled to be changing their daily shopping routines, but it provides an opportunity for CPG brands that hold special places in consumers’ hearts to stand out as even more valuable.

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