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Regardless of whether consumers have fully embraced buying online or not, 2019 will be a massive year for digital

Predictions make one a hostage to fortune - if there’s one thing the past year has shown us, it’s that disruption and change can come quickly and from unexpected quarters. But spotting opportunities is another thing entirely - those who keep an eye on technological developments will stay on the front foot.

There is an increasing interest in ordering groceries online with search queries up by 18% in October year on year (the highest growth seen since February 2016), while queries rose 16% in November compared to 5% in November 2017 [Google].

This renewed level of interest is a sign that improved propositions are beginning to drive a shift in consumer sentiment regarding online grocery.

But regardless of whether consumers have embraced buying online wholeheartedly or not, 2019 will be a massive year for digital and I see three big opportunities for brands and retailers.

Opinion: How retailers are finally making progress with digital operations

Using digital to drive people in store: in-store shopping has survived the arrival of e-commerce, showrooming and mobile. Physical stores remain the generator of more than 90% of sales, so why do brands and retailers continue to focus their digital investment purely on driving online sales? Brands and retailers need to start building and experimenting with propositions. They must measure digital performance based on how the activity influences multichannel shoppers.

Turning online into a powerful shopper marketing channel: as consumers spend more time online, retailers’ digital channels start becoming very interesting vehicles for brands to start influencing consumer behaviour. Being able to target shoppers with recommendations based on individual buying habits whilst they are building a basket will drive growth. Similarly, serving brand messaging as category shoppers are browsing the web can be powerful.

Engaging via in-store digital: when anyone talks about the future of grocery we often look to Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets in China, where digital shopping via mobile devices is core to the experience. We’re already seeing ‘scan & go’ options becoming the norm across many of the supermarkets in the UK. The functionality of mobile devices in the physical store will increase significantly in the next year.

An OC&C study earlier this year found grocery retail lagging well behind its peers from general merchandise categories in terms of digital’s involvement in the shopping journey - only 24% of journeys involved a digital touchpoint. I’m confident that by the end of 2019 this figure will be nearer 50% and those retailers and brands that optimise the opportunity will have a clear competitive advantage.

Harry Walker is industry head, grocery retail, at Google