Online grocery is a fast-growing sector, but most consumers have yet to embrace it. Becky Bolton of Rockpool Digital explains why predictive technology can help retailers to persuade more shoppers to swap the trolley for the iPad.

It’s a quandary isn’t it? As shoppers, we’re spending more online than we ever have yet we still brave the screaming children and unpredictable self-service machines to do our weekly grocery shop. Wouldn’t it be better to stock up on our weekly groceries in the comfort of our own homes?

From January to April, £7.7bn was spent buying groceries online but compared with £166.8bn being spent in supermarkets, convenience stores and discounters, the sector is in danger of being left behind in the digital age. There are many reasons for this low uptake. It’s disconnected, it doesn’t utilise mobile as much as other industries, there are delivery charges and substitutions to consider and consumers have to wait in for their shopping. Most importantly it’s unexciting, and it shouldn’t be.

Getting people online isn’t just about improving the service – the real solution is to turn it into an experience that you can’t get in store. This can range from having new products as ‘online only’ exclusives through to using consumer data to shop for them. For example, supermarkets know how often a customer buys washing up liquid, so their basket can be pre-populated around the time they usually run low. The data trends that enable this will take time to develop, however the benefit to the customer is huge.

So how can grocery retailers build on this for the future? For me, it lies with smarter predictive technology which analyses the contents of a basket and the type of products a customer usually likes to purchase. Put simply it’s about evolving the grocery experience so that it offers true utility.

We’ve already seen start-ups disrupt other industries and it will be no different in the grocery industry if the giants don’t innovate. There are a few companies already trying to gain market share - Relay Foods in the US have secured $14.25 million of funding for their proposition of letting people order quality items from local producers and national brands. Uber is trialling a ‘corner store’ idea for same day grocery delivery and Amazon is rolling out Amazon Fresh across the States.

The reason more people don’t shop online is because it doesn’t offer true convenience or a compelling experience. It’s hard to offer a seamless and convenient service when you’re dealing with perishable and frozen goods, so there needs to be a shift in ensuring customers get more by shopping online – the exciting element that gets people to ditch the trolley and grab the iPad.

Becky Bolton is account manager at Rockpool Digital