How to Find the Right eCommerce Partner for Your Grocery Business

As eCommerce becomes increasingly mandatory in today's grocery business, brick-and-mortar stores have a choice: can they execute an omnichannel strategy in-house? Or should they outsource to a third-party provider?

By 2020, some 7.4% of grocery spend will be digital. By 2025, the proportion will be over 10%.

By 2020, some 7.4% of grocery spend will be digital. By 2025, the proportion will be over 10%.

The fact is, launching an eCommerce operation internally isn't feasible for most grocers, due to the scope of technology, personnel, and research that it requires. Yet many grocers are daunted by the prospect of outsourcing, because it's unknown territory. They don't know what to expect, what to demand, or what they need to know going into a partnership.

This is understandable. With the abundance of eCommerce providers clamoring for your grocery business, retailers need to be savvy when it comes to choosing their partner.

Let's take a closer look at what it means to outsource your eCommerce platform, and how to identify a provider that will align with your values, brand, and business goals.

Third-party providers come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer a quick fix: a rudimentary online system that offers the basics of online grocery, such as placing an order for home delivery or click-and-collect, but little else. These "quick fixes" generally come in the form of a fixed, one-size-fits-all platform, regardless of the scale, nature, and goals of your business.

On the other end of the spectrum is a partner that provides turn-key, end-to-end software services which integrate seamlessly into your existing brand. This type of partner will offer a sophisticated, scalable technology suite, allowing you the flexibility to choose from a variety of user-friendly features. Partnering with a company like this will not only open up new channels for reaching new customers, but it will also allow you to keep control over  your unique brand.

But how can a grocer know when a provider is offering a quick fix, versus a comprehensive set of solutions?

Here are some key characteristics to look for:

The provider's software should be sophisticated and cutting-edge, using data intelligence to offer a variety of user-friendly options for online shopping, fulfillment (especially the ever-growing customer favorite click-and-collect), and merchandise. If an eCommerce partner only offers a set of fixed services that do not evolve with customer trends and technology, then they are limiting the potential for your business's growth.

They should be experts in the field of eGrocery, so you know that their services cater to the most up-to-date customer demands. This means that they take on the responsibility of research, testing, and following trends in emerging technology as well as customer behavior, and develop their services accordingly.

The provider should guide you through a process of integrating the features that will benefit your business most. Experts agree that the biggest mistake retailers make in transitioning to eCommerce is trying to introduce too many flashy services at once. To avoid that trap, your provider should work with you to create a scalable omnichannel strategy that functions smoothly, carefully considering how each component functions alongside the rest.

Along with these three qualities, there's one aspect of outsourcing that many grocers don't understand until it's too late. It's this:

Your provider must allow you to maintain control of your brand. This means that the provider should integrate their services into your brand – not the other way around.

Often, partners that provide a fixed, basic digital platform – the "quick fix" companies – are more likely to stamp their own brand on their services, which means the customer is now interacting with another business instead of yours. As Jon Polin, Cofounder and President of StorePower, writes in RetailWire, "They are effectively becoming that third-party’s customer."

When a grocer hands over control of their brand to a partner, they lose the ability to determine what a customer will see and experience in relation to that brand. They risk compromising value and quality of service, since a provider who’s interested in promoting their own brand won’t make an effort to promote yours. This can  reflect poorly on the grocer and can result in losing customers.

This is detrimental to your business because it lowers your visibility and prevents you from fostering loyal relationships with your customers. Brand identity is a complex and vital piece of your business, and with some third-party partners, you lose control of it.

As your grocery business transitions to eCommerce, you must own your digital brand.

A good third-party provider will work with you to learn your business goals and understand your unique brand and customer base – before you sign a contract. As you choose the partner that will guide your grocery business through the ever-changing landscape of eCommerce, ask questions and be clear about your goals. The right partner will understand you and your customers' needs, and work with you to create an eCommerce experience that reflects and grows, not eclipses, your brand.

To learn more about how you can partner with locai for an intelligent, end-to-end software service – while maintaining full control of your of your brand – click here.