Building an Effective Supermarket Retail Website

Feb 16, 2010
Al McClain

By Al McClain

A report out by Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard
, aims to decipher what supermarket websites
need to do to best communicate with shoppers. The report is based on
multiple visits to websites of eight retailers — Festival Foods, Giant
Food Stores, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, and Schnucks
— as well as an evaluation of their outbound (primarily e-mail) communications.
Here are some of the findings based on the report, which was conducted
in June through October of 2009:

(Note: While Bishop noted the importance of social media in his introduction, that area was not covered in the study.) E-newsletters are important and keeping them
out of the recipient’s junk folder is key. Festival Foods, Harris Teeter,
and Kroger opt to use simple and consistent subject lines, while Wegmans
varies the subject line to make each edition more eye-catching. Festival
Foods presents a short and sweet e-letter, while Wegmans goes into more
detail, highlighting the circular, presenting recipes, linking to video
clips, etc. The Wegmans approach is along the lines of “bringing the site
to the customer” in case they don’t make it to the site. Personalization
and making the e-mail “need-to-read” are also important.

Ease of access to the site is big, as is making
navigation simple. Festival Foods offers a unique home page
for each store while Wegmans rolled out improved navigation in late September.
Six of the eight sites reviewed give consumers the ability to access special
deals by signing in or becoming a site member.

Most of the sites offer meal-planning tools,
such as recipes and cooking videos, while Festival Foods offers a daily
lunch menu and Wegmans showcases its take-out items.

Five of the eight sites offer online shopping,
but Wegmans, Publix and Kroger do not. Delivery is offered by Safeway and
Schnucks. Store pick-up is offered by Harris Teeter, Giant, and Festival
Foods. All of the retailers provided a way to build a shopping list online.
Wegmans also provides a store map so the consumer can see where the items
are in the store. Harris Teeter shows prices as items are added to the
list. Giant and Kroger offer ways to take advantage of online coupons. Harris
Teeter, Publix, and Giant all offer party planning options.

Six of the eight sites offer diet programs,
and some have staff nutritionists or even a physician who can answer questions
online. Most of the sites provide some sort of wellness center and/or links
to outside sources.

In terms of building relationships with consumers:
Wegmans offers to store recipes from previous searches; Festival Foods
and Giant Foods keep records of shopping lists and frequently purchased
items; Safeway has a section on stretching a budget; and Schnucks has an
advisory board that shoppers can join.

Most of the sites tout their ties to the
local community through various charitable programs and several have community
calendars and tie-ins. Bishop suggests that to do more with their sites,
supermarkets think about promoting them on shopping bags, ads, circulars,
in-store signage, labels of private label products, and on receipts and

Discussion Questions:
How well do you think supermarket websites engage shoppers? Is having
a top notch website important for supermarket operators? What are the
key areas supermarket websites should focus on?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Building an Effective Supermarket Retail Website"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Max Goldberg
11 years 2 months ago

Supermarket websites should focus on providing information and value to consumers. They should make it easy to see what’s on sale, provide coupons and other value added offers and highlight loyalty program information.

Features like shopping lists are handy, and they become more valuable when they point consumers to product location in the store.

One thing that the article did not discuss is the social capability of websites. Supermarket websites should offer an easy way for consumers to communicate with the stores and each other. This takes time and financial commitment from the retailers, but without it, they cannot engage in a meaningful dialogue with their customers.

Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 2 months ago

I believe the primary goal of a supermarket’s website should be to convey the message of value. Selling stuff online should be secondary (if not tertiary). Meal planning, calorie counting, automatic shopping lists and recipe suggestions are probably the big four that any website should have. Sites that incorporate access to account management functions for their loyalty program is also a big draw to a particular site. The marketing opportunities are limitless once they log into their account.

Loblaws does a great job by using cookies and localizing the site to the user’s particular store. Store location, hours and services are prominently displayed on the first page. Their online flyer is indexed by category and finding products is very easy. There is a very large database of recipes that are indexed by different criteria such as skill level, prep time and main ingredient. That is a nice touch for the person who has no idea what to make and refuses to succumb to takeout.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
11 years 2 months ago

Bill and his staff have done a terrific job of assessing the websites of major food retailers. I firmly believe that the shopability of websites will be critical to the long-term health and success of food retailers.

Recently, I conducted in-depth research on the Mature Millennials, aka, the older Generation Y (23 to 32 years of age). Fifteen percent of this group who are starting/developing careers and households, regularly shop for groceries online, as compared to only four percent of Baby Boomers.

Remember, for this generation, computer technology and the Internet are as natural as breathing. Unfortunately, many of these Mature Millennials are opting to shop for groceries online via, representing a missed opportunity for traditional food retailers.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 2 months ago

Willard Bishop did a great job developing this very informative report. I only wish they had included Hy-Vee in the report. Having traveled to over a dozen retailers in the last 9 months and visiting over 20 retailer web sites during that same time, I think Hy-Vee’s approach to using the web and social media is one of the strongest in the industry. Their ability to tie the web back to the store is one of the best approaches I have seen. Jon Wendel and his team are clearly cutting edge in this area.

David Biernbaum
11 years 2 months ago

Here is what I’d like to see on every supermarket web site:

1. What’s on sale?
2. What new items are you now carrying?
3. Easy way online to communicate with management.
4. New item(s) request.
5. Survey.
6. User friendly store-finder (I might be from out of town.)

Joan Treistman
11 years 2 months ago
An underlying point of Bill’s article is that one size does not fit all. Supermarkets that understand their unique strategic position with consumers should build off that. Having a website that is easy to navigate is the cost of entry, if supermarkets want to engage customers. To bring people back time and time again requires something special that is attractive and sustainable. Across-the-board perceived value, which is the integration of cost and derived benefits, is sustainable. Retailers have to convey the unique drivers for their shoppers’ profile. While recipes, for example, have appeal to a wide audience, it will probably be the type of recipe–healthy, convenient, organic, inexpensive, etc, that will draw some consumers and miss others. My observation is that supermarkets that focus in this way will have the most effective websites. But one additional caveat for the retailer and website designer…be certain that the words you use on your drop down menu or link communicate the message and content you intend. Too often on supermarket sites, consumers encounter phrases that don’t line up… Read more »
Matthew Spahn
Matthew Spahn
11 years 2 months ago

I think that many of the customer-friendly features that engage and inform have been noted here. Perhaps what got less attention and should not go without mentioning is how critical it is that all of these features are regularly measured and optimized based upon customer online behaviors.

Let the customer shape your tools, content, and experience!

W. Frank Dell II
11 years 2 months ago

The supermarket websites I have viewed were disappointing and confusing. With the demise of newspapers, these websites need to step up their game to be a viable replacement.

The problem I see is, four things are going on. First is to sell the retailer on creating the store image. Second is some form of education, be it recipes, health, or diet information. Third is the special, and last are the products.

Online ordering will continue to grow, but what about explaining the product? Most sites make ordering difficult as they are using a store layout, not a consumer perspective. Thing missing is creating a treasure hunt, be it information or product, to keep the consumer coming back. We are in a 24/7 era; this means the web site must be changing daily at a minimum.

Jim Lukens
Jim Lukens
11 years 2 months ago
Supermarket operators have different expectations when we discuss web content with them. Some are looking for ways to mitigate the rising costs of printing and distributing insert ads–and expect their website to allow them to reduce or discontinue printed ads. Our most successful supermarket operators have carefully positioned their websites to engage their customers and as importantly, attract new customers to their stores. Outbound communications (e.g. Wine Newsletters, Cheese Newsletters, Seasonal Newsletters) are fine but shoppers are looking for value and we’re finding that well crafted “web blasts” to opt-in customers are the most significant factor in increased business (and web traffic). Since the opt-ins only go to subscribing customers, we’re finding that the “forward to a friend” feature is critical and the best way to propagate outbound offers to new shoppers. Web analytics we look at point to the same items as five years ago…the most popular items in a supermarket website are the weekly ad posting, job offerings, and the recipe/meal planning database. In our experience with supermarket websites in 41 states, in… Read more »
James Tenser
11 years 2 months ago
As this study clearly indicates, the supermarket industry has by now accumulated sufficient online experience to begin to identify some best practices. Bishop makes a case here for broadening the definition of online retailing to incorporate the full spectrum of digital interactions. The Web site remains as the centerpiece of a retailer’s extended online presence. But online shopping for delivery or pickup is not necessarily its most compelling function. Even in the best scenario, only a fraction of shoppers will shop virtually for a fraction of their purchase occasions. In grocery, the greater power comes from using the Web to establish a permission-based communications routine that links the retailer’s e-letter, frequent shopper program and weekly circular activities for the benefit and convenience of shoppers. Digital tools permit “mass customization” of offers based on shopper profiles and past behavior, and digital communications permit delivering those offers to shoppers accurately and at minimal expense. The addition of online deal search, shopping list and meal planning tools will be compelling for shoppers who like to plan. Extending the… Read more »
Dan Raftery
11 years 2 months ago

Seems to me that most of the online activity by the general public is either social media, research, or communicating with friends and family the old-fashioned way (email). With social media out of the picture at this time for retailers, and email marketing becoming increasingly intrusive, research seems like the most reasonable function for a supermarket Web site. That would be research about food, as mentioned frequently in this column.

Jonathan Marek
11 years 2 months ago

The new frontier here ought to be finding ways to replace the traditional, very expensive and increasingly difficult to distribute weekly circular. Clearly, the circular has driven lots of traffic for years. As I’ve heard one executive say, “it’s the bazooka.” As the world changes, supermarkets will need to find the right combination on digital means to get me to come to Safeway this week, rather than TJ’s, Whole Foods, or Lucky. No one has come close to finding this answer yet.

Justin Time
11 years 2 months ago

Great A&P family of banner supermarkets maintains a separate web page for each banner along with various Facebook pages and instant email alerts.

For instance, on each home page, there are easy navigation tools where the consumer can click on zavers or, or the weekly circular, special Price Shockers coupons, meal planning ideas, Easy Solutions magazine, Live Better health guides, and important alerts such as product recalls and winter weather and other severe weather advisory information to stay safe in place. Also each website has a very convenient store locator.

Likewise food can be ordered online from the Food Emporium, A&P and Waldbaum banners in various areas. And nowhere else can fans of Jane Parker fruitcake place their orders online for this traditional treat for the holidays.

Bill Bishop’s report would have been more accurate had he included these websites as well.

11 years 2 months ago
When viewing the survey I was amazed to find that online shopping was so low on the list. In Louisville, we have one small chain, Valu Market, that has online shopping and even delivery. The Curbside Carryout that shops for you and brings it to your car charges you $5.95 and the delivery option is $12.95 within a certain geographic area and something like a dollar more per mile after the base amount. I absolutely LOVE this option. After a long work week which includes airline travel, I am ready to grab my cup of coffee, sit in my favorite comfy chair and put the things in my basket that are on my list and then I check their ad and pick up anything that is a great buy that I can stock up on, either meats, canned goods or cereals–things I will use within the next month or so. Granted their prices are not the lowest; Walmart Supercenter is less expensive on their canned goods and some other categories such as cleaning aids but… Read more »
Frank Beurskens
11 years 2 months ago

Based on analytics from our web site, clients across the country, the data points clearly to one essential component that generates the majority of web traffic–the weekly interactive ad circular. We’ve found the same true in-store where the interactive ad circular continues to attract shoppers searching for meal ideas associated with what’s on feature.

Dave Wendland
11 years 2 months ago
Once again Bill Bishop and his team have assembled an informative look at what’s working and what’s not across a very quickly-evolving medium. I would agree with many of the others who offered comment in this discussion that value to the consumer is paramount. Meal planners and calorie counters are great examples. I believe that mobile applications will be gaining significant steam in the coming months. I also am waiting for one of the sites to take full advantage of the “online shopping” feature that is downplayed by many and even by Bill’s team. The problem with online shopping is that a person must know what they are looking for when they shop in order to find it. That’s not the typical path to purchase. Instead, imagine a site built around sound category management principles–the kind that has been part of the foundation of our company for 30 years. Or a site built around health conditions that offered ‘solutions’ to shoppers rather than a directory listing of all available items. This, to me, will reshape… Read more »
Kai Clarke
11 years 2 months ago

Online grocery shopping is a concept which is not ready for prime-time, and may never be. So is the website that drives this. The public does not go online to purchase most food goods, since there are tremendous obstacles to overcome with delivery and customer satisfaction of the chosen product. Add to this the increased costs involved (in a low-margin retail environment) and it is clearly a minefield for disaster. Customers prefer to purchase their steaks, bananas and ice cream in-person. Plus, grocers prefer to sell these items in-person.

Add to this list the inability to retain the sales and profits of impulse items (which are large contributors to the bottom line of many grocers) and the online grocer (and website) is just not ready for prime time.

Keep the website focused on education, community information and use a retailer’s limited resources to better eliminate OOS and you have a better usage of grocer’s resources.

John Crossman
John Crossman
11 years 2 months ago

I agree with most of the comments above. Keep it simple and short. Focus on value and on sale items. It could get into some specific needs of the community–charity, etc. Also, it could promote health and easy to make meals for consumers on the go, working moms, etc.


Take Our Instant Poll

What is most critical to building a successful online presence for supermarket chains?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...