Hello, I am delighted to take the reins of this column and I look forward to bringing you the most compelling insights I can on the rapidly changing consumer world we’re experiencing and the developments in technology at the heart of accelerating that change.

Grocery is on a journey to become more customer-centric, efficient and innovative. But like any journey, you need to know where you are starting from before you can head to your destination. The more data you can mine for customer trends and insights, the better. To that end we recently partnered with consultancy OC&C to produce a report titled ‘Partnering to Win in Retail’s Digital Age’.

Harry Walker

The study makes apparent the fact that customers are leading the way in the use of tech and retail is struggling to keep up. There are three key imperatives to win: focus on the customer not the channel, reinforce your distinctiveness, and organise around speed and accountability.

The study’s drill down into the grocery retail sector provided some interesting insights on how consumers are currently using the online channel: 24% of customer journeys for groceries now involve online, 20% combine store visits with online and 4% are solely online. For a benchmark, the next smallest category, health & beauty, sees 45% of customer journeys involving online. Clearly, the use of online in grocery is still nascent but must be ripe to hit a tipping point soon thanks to the increasing role digital plays in the journey.

Analysis of specific grocery shopper missions shows that online is starting to play a significant role for consumers looking for inspiration. A quarter of consumers now use search engines and retailer websites when looking for inspiration for their everyday groceries, rising to 35% at special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.

Online is becoming increasingly important for checking information on product availability - online vs store is on a par, with almost 50% of consumers claiming they check for everyday grocery availability online and a similar percentage checking in-store. While this only decreases slightly for special occasion missions, it highlights one of the key drivers for online shopping, which is consumers searching for specific products and building their baskets around them.

Purchasing online over-indexes for special occasions, as you might expect. This demonstrates that winning the seasonal moments that matter is increasingly aligned to winning online, as consumers spend more time planning and building their baskets for these friends and family events.

We see significant increases in searches in the food and grocery category over these seasonal moments and with Mother’s Day and Easter coming up, it makes sense to get your online product information bang up to date and work with your marketing departments to ensure you have the right promotions in place.

Search is a wonderful proxy from consumer demand and understanding the role search plays in terms of specific shopper missions and how people search for products and categories is crucial to the success of your product or business. I’ll be expounding on some of these thoughts at The Grocer Conference: How to Win in Online Grocery on 13 March. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Harry Walker is industry head, grocery retail, at Google