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What Business Can Learn from Supermarkets' Pandemic Playbooks Adaptability can make or break your business.

By Jennifer Spencer Edited by Heather Wilkerson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

sefa ozel | Getty Images

Businesses across the board are struggling to meet the new demands put forth due to Covid. Increasing sales while decreasing operational costs is not an easy feat. However, the country's nearly 40,000 grocery stores, classified an essential service during the pandemic, have had to adapt quickly without any downtime.

Only about 3 to 4 percent of grocery spending in the U.S. was online before the pandemic, but that's surged to 10 to 15 percent, according to research by consulting firm Bain & Company. And in some cases, it's much greater than that.

"Early on during the pandemic, we saw a 300 percent increase, on average, in online grocery sales among our clients compared to the same time period last year. Some of our clients successfully handled much larger online sales spikes. A single location gourmet market in Brooklyn, New York, for example, went from $53,000 to $388,000 weekly online sales at the height of the pandemic," says Dan Dashevsky, COO of My Cloud Grocer, an ecommerce software platform for supermarket chains. The company offers a robust, customizable virtual storefront with a white-label platform that powers and integrates the full shopping experience.

As the current pandemic dramatically changes the landscape of retail around the world, smart grocers are utilizing technology to grow their sales while safeguarding their customers. Let's look at the technology and tactics businesses are using, not only to stay afloat during these troubled times but to thrive.

Customer needs and their experience must come first

The customer experience should always be the driving force that determines how a website operates or which policies a company will enforce, but unfortunately. that is not always the case. During the pandemic, customers have complained that they've had to wait days or even weeks to receive grocery deliveries — not an ideal scenario when supplies are low and the need is greater.

"Many online grocery platforms are only showing available delivery times at checkout — after customers have spent 20-40 minutes filling their carts with products — causing additional frustration for customers when they realize they can't get their groceries within a reasonable time and on top of that, they've also wasted their time," says Dashevsky. "We made sure that our clients' platforms display the available delivery and pickup times as soon as shoppers add the first item to their cart."

Fred Schonfeld, CEO of Grand and Essex, adds, "Our goals were simple: how to best help the community physically and mentally during these unfamiliar and scary times. We stretched physically and monetarily to accept two to three times the amount of online orders daily, implementing all kinds of sanitizing and safety precautions to take care of and reassure those entering the store as well as those placing online orders with us, at the same time setting up curbside pick-up for anyone not comfortable leaving their cars."

Related: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Get Right About the Customer Experience

Serving the community builds loyalty

Going above and beyond has always been the name of the game. And in times of need, it's even more important to bring people together and come up with solutions any way you can. When businesses act with this mindset, customers not only take notice, but they remember — creating loyal customers for many years to come.

"In a time of uncertainty and uncharted territory for everyone, with customer service being our core foundation, we knew if we stayed true to our fundamental purpose of serving the community, those values would lead us in the right direction," says Schonfeld. "We kept our ears to the ground to find out which families were in need of emotional comfort and sent meals to those who had family members sick with the virus as well as those who, sadly, lost family members to Covid but could not be surrounded by loved ones at that time. When we learned of 120 college kids who had to stay in lockdown in their dorms for a weekend, we jumped on the opportunity to send them food as well. And even as our costs went up, we came up with solutions to creatively spread those costs across the business so as not to hit customers with large spikes in prices."

Related: 4 Benefits of Using Your Business to Serve a Broader Community

Adaptability can make or break the business

The ability to react to consumer needs quickly and adjust to new conditions can be the determining factor in whether a business thrives or folds. During these tough times, we have seen examples of this every day, with many businesses struggling to survive the pandemic.

"While we already provided our clients with highly efficient fulfillment and delivery software before the start of the pandemic, we had to quickly create and deploy several new features because of the Covid situation to accommodate contactless delivery and tips given to personal shoppers and drivers," says Yehuda Vernik, CTO of My Cloud Grocer.

Breadberry, an upscale kosher supermarket in Brooklyn, focused on gourmet catering to weather the storm. "During the pandemic, we were able to provide ready-made meals to customers at a time when restaurants were forced to close being deemed non-essential," says Sam Gluck, CEO of Breadberry. "Customers flocked and utilized our convenient online ordering system which we had painstakingly built up over a long time while internally on the back-end, we were ready and experienced to handle the increased demand. Working remotely, our digital team got the word out and pretty quickly we went from being just a key local supermarket to a cross-city provider stretching multiple zip codes."

Mayer Gold, VP of Operations of Seasons Kosher, said the spike in ecommerce business was unlike anything ever experienced. "There has always been an appetite for ecommerce, though we've never seen anything like the demand back in March and April," Gold says. "Thankfully, years of experience in the space allowed us to pivot our focus to where customers requested it. It's been interesting to see how first time users of our site have returned again and again to order their groceries directly from home, satisfied with the experience, even as Covid cases subsided in the areas surrounding our stores."

Millions of customers turned to online grocery shopping, many for the first time, as the outbreak grew into a pandemic. However, now that many customers have experienced the convenience and ease of online shopping, they may opt to remain digital customers in the future — changing the retail landscape for good.

Jennifer Spencer

CEO of Energent Media

Jennifer Spencer is the founder of Energent Media, a digital marketing firm for tech startups. She is passionate about helping brands leverage content to share their stories with the world.

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