Kate Williams, RDN
Six years ago, I went on a weekly, chaotic shopping trip with my three kids under the age of four. I navigated a double stroller and full-size cart through the aisles for groceries, frequently reminding my caravan “hands in” so they wouldn’t break jars and eggs. I vividly remember one trip that required three visits to the restrooms and the panic I felt watching the clock, knowing the next time to feed the twins was only minutes away. I tried my hardest to get in and out as quickly as possible, but it always took longer than planned. Back then, online shopping was not widely available in my rural setting, but I would have used it to cut back on those hectic trips. Recently, I tried it for the first time and reached out to my nutrition colleagues to learn about their online shopping experiences. I learned tricks and tips unique to food shopping online, but I also saw an opportunity for health professionals to play a bigger role.
Who Shops Online and for What?
In 2018, the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen report, predicted that within the next five to seven years as many as 70% of American households will routinely buy packaged goods online. In addition, online grocery purchases could reach $100 billion by 2022, about $850 annually per household.1 Although online shopping is growing, especially for shelf-stable products, trips to the brick-and-mortar supermarkets remain relatively stable.2 Online shoppers have more access to specialty items that may be missing from store shelves, creating more opportunity for smaller brands. Millennials (61%) lead the way followed by Generation X (55%) for reported recent purchases online.1 In addition, those with college degrees, living in urbans areas and parents with children who are strapped for time shop online more frequently.3 Online shoppers tend to research and plan ahead more before shopping by making lists, meal planning and looking up recipes.4 These consumers may be in search of nutritional guidance that is just a click away.
How Nutrition Professionals Can Impact E-Commerce
I asked our team to share their experiences and feedback about online shopping and all agreed we have an opportunity to increase nutrition services, guidance and visibility. Health professionals can play a bigger, more effective role in the digital arena whether they work with a retailer directly or offer shopping assistance through daily practice. As consumers continue to shop across multiple channels, linking nutrition and wellness services in our offices, stores and online are key to building loyal relationships and confidence with clients. Explore these opportunities to connect more with digital consumers:
Simple Ways Health Professionals Can Support Online Shoppers
- Get familiar with digital shopping websites and apps. This will help you match clients with venues that best meet their budget, food preferences and dietary restrictions.
- Provide a tip cheat sheet for clients new to online shopping.
- Help clients manage their food budgets by using tools like the running total in their e-cart, digital coupons, and practical meal planning.
- Encourage clients to discover new products. Automatically generated lists and a different shopping environment may limit their exposure to product innovation.
- Host virtual tours or an online tutorial for clients so they gain confidence with digital shopping.
- Educate clients on typical health and wellness filters online and what they mean.
- Review client’s grocery list to suggest any modifications or substitutions based on dietary restrictions.
How Retail Dietitians Can Increase Engagement with Digital Shoppers
- Offer live chats as part of your health and wellness services. These online office hours provide an opportunity for customers to ask questions.
- Explain the dietary filters and when they are appropriate for clients. For example, customers may not realize that low sodium filters mean the product has 140mg of sodium or less per serving and could be unnecessarily restricting their choices.
- Be involved in planning and enhancing the user experience of the websites and apps to ensure product filters and messages are accurate and easy to understand.
- Promote in-store demonstrations, classes, and tours, where applicable to connect the two channels.
Regardless of where clients shop, health professionals need to guide and support them along the way. Understand how online shopping impacts their food choices and adapt your counseling approach accordingly. Test and learn which online tools are most helpful to your clients and customize your services. Ultimately, we want to empower clients to establish healthy shopping habits from the aisle to the recliner.
Meet clients where they shop,
Kate's BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.
- U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2018. Food Marketing Institute and Hartman Group. Accessed January 2019.