Setting up certain types of e-commerce businesses can be relatively straightforward but selling groceries online is far more challenging. If you sell non-perishable products, sold only by volume (rather than weight) and generally in small, simple orders, then off-the-shelf e-commerce software is likely to cover everything you need in one. 

The grocery sector, however, is somewhat different. Online grocery sales have received unparalleled attention in recent weeks, as the sector grapples with a rapid and enormous shift to online shopping in the wake of the evolving coronavirus pandemic. 

Existing online grocery giants are rapidly scaling up their resource to cope with a huge increase in demand, requiring medium-sized grocery businesses which may not previously have offered e-commerce functions to look at options for selling groceries online and ensuring local delivery options can be offered as cost-effectively as possible. 

How can this be achieved? 

Off-the-shelf e-commerce software shortfalls when selling groceries online

There are a range of off-the-shelf e-commerce platforms available, such as the likes of Shopify, many of which encompass a wide variety of sophisticated functions. These platforms underpin some of the most successful e-commerce businesses in the world.

The problem is, they are not tailored to the unique needs of the grocery sector and selling groceries online. There are several challenges specific to selling groceries online which off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions are typically not designed to deal with. 

Such challenges include:

Selling by weight rather than volume

Many grocery products are sold in this way, from meat and poultry, to fruit and vegetables. However, doing so means that the ecommerce software in question needs to be able to process different units of measurement across pricing, ordering and billing, and these must apply throughout the entire end-to-end e-commerce process, from ordering, to picking, to invoicing. In addition to this, most countries have made it a legal requirement for ecommerce businesses to provide base prices.

Managing product availability and replacements

Because grocery orders are often larger than other ecommerce orders – and because stock levels, particularly of fresh goods – may change between the time the customer places the order and the time it is picked and delivered – grocery ecommerce websites need to deal with substitutes in a way which both achieves customer satisfaction, and integrates seamlessly with the wider supply chain.

Credit Checking

Because of the above two points, the process of selling groceries online often end-up costing a different amount at the point of delivery to the initial order. The ecommerce platform in question needs a way of achieving this, perhaps by distinguishing between a payment reservation and a payment capture, or using payment methods which only become effective after delivery, such as a mobile terminal. This, however, requires a credit check.

In-store wave picking

Managing the pick-pack-ship process can be trickier for grocery businesses than other retail sectors. Sending pickers around the store whilst customers are in situ can be inefficient and difficult, however, it is required to ensure businesses can deliver fresh produce that guarantees customer satisfaction and trust. Wave picking, a process whereby all groceries for all orders are collected at once and picked together, is the most efficient way of managing this process. But this requires e-commerce software which can guide the picking process.

Most off-the-shelf ecommerce software simply cannot handle these challenges, because they have not been designed for the nuances of the grocery sector. 

So what is the alternative?

Experience is key when it comes to selling groceries online

The simple answer is e-commerce software that has been developed by those with experience of the grocery sector. When it comes to selling groceries online, a business has to ultimately become a mini version of the online retail giant Amazon. Because of the need to pick produce directly from stores in order to guarantee quality and customer satisfaction, there is no point at which an online order can simply be ‘passed on’ to the separate warehouse or logistics teams. Instead, grocery businesses must control the process from start to finish, and be capable of working with real-time information in a way that is as efficient as possible, especially given the tight profit margins in the sector.

While there is often no specific software or individual applications that are unique to selling groceries online, experience of applying software to the sector is key. For example, the back office system used by emporix has been developed using over 10 years of experience of managing live product and stock information and using this to manage pick, pack and ship applications and operations across the grocery industry. Another example is having an online check-out basket and subsequent billing process that can handle multiple items – far more than are typically seen in other online transactions.

The emporix approach to selling groceries online

At emporix, these capabilities are provided using headless commerce software. This approach to e-commerce means decoupling the front end of the platform from the back end. This results in two separate layers: a presentation layer which customers navigate and engage with and a functional layer which incorporates the shopping basket, payment processing and order fulfilment processes. emporix’s back-end platform also consists of multiple micro-services, connected by APIs, all of which control certain aspects of the overall e-commerce operation. These micro-services each contain their own in-built logic and can therefore be adapted quickly, allowing the platform to be quickly tailored to the needs of a specific grocery business.

It is this agile and flexible approach that isn’t present in “off-the-shelf” solutions and is why, along with the need for necessary experience of the sector, businesses must take an alternative approach when it comes to selling groceries online.

Want more help in setting up your online grocery business? Get in touch with the emporix team today!