retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe has an interesting story suggesting that as customers look for ways to save money, one way to do so is to use e-grocery shopping services…the theory being that such programs cut down on the impulse purchases that often add dollars to regular shopping trips.

The Globe puts it this way: While acknowledging that e-grocery services usually carry some sort of fee structure “to get somebody else to pick up your groceries and deliver them to your door. That cost can make it seem like a luxury - why pay extra when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself?

“But even factoring in the money, Peapod, as well as the delivery service provided by another grocery chain, Roche Bros. Supermarkets, can offer savings to the savvy shopper not just in minutes, but in dollars.

“These services are the first line against exactly the kind of late-list additions that … jack up the bill on even the simplest shopping trips. A quick run for milk and eggs suddenly becomes milk and eggs and, oh those, English muffins look good, and, whoops, I'm low on cream cheese, and some strawberry jelly would be nice, and those new pretzels look yummy. Suddenly that $8 tab is $18 or $28.

“But on Peapod, spontaneity is harder. You click through virtual aisles, build a list, and keep an eye on the running total. If minds are changed, there's no awkward attempt to hide the cottage cheese container in the magazine rack. Just click and it's gone. Same goes for impulse buys.”

KC's View:
There have been a number of stories here recently about the decline in impulse purchasing, including one about research done by IRI in this area.

I do think that some of this is inevitable, as people watch their money a lot more carefully than in the recent past. But I think that “impulse” can mean a lot of things…it can mean a product with little nutritional value, bought for a screaming child or a rumbling tummy. Or it can be based on an idea, a little bit of marketing magic, when a retailer works hard to help the consumer find new ways to feed his or her family is a responsible way.

That’s what retailers ought to be doing, in-store and online. The impulse purchase can be the best purchase of the shopping trip … but retailers ought not think about it as an easy, casual purchase, but one that has far greater meaning.

BTW…it isn’t in the food category, but I make a lot of impulse purchases when surfing around Amazon.com…because they are always telling me about new things based on past shopping behavior. It is highly targeted, highly suggestive…and it works. And I never resent it. I embrace it.