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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Is the future of organic, natural grocery shopping online?

Is the future of organic, natural grocery shopping online?
A recent study shows online shopping's on the rise, especially among older consumers. Here's why organic and natural sales are primed to grow, and how the Green PolkaDot Box is leading the trend.

Efficient, less expensive and convenient—when it comes to shopping online, both consumers and online natural businesses have the same set of values. And according to an ongoing shopper behavior study published in The Checkout, 21 percent of shoppers say they shopped online more in 2011 than in the previous year, making eCommerce a hot business opportunity in the natural products industry.

In the survey, shoppers say the number one reason for online shopping is to get a better deal, followed by finding the highest quality product. But product expiration dates and shipping costs remain barriers to online grocery shopping. Indeed, the survey found an overall increase in the percentage of online purchases across all age groups in all categories except for food and beverage.

Driven by consumers demanding lower prices and convenience, it's only a matter of time before shopping for organic online explodes. One newcomer (and pioneer) in the space is the Green PolkaDot Box, an online, organic grocery collective where members pay an annual fee to receive organic, non-GMO products delivered to any zip code.  

Officially launched in December 2011, the online grocer boasts more than 12,000 members. "We offer organic foods at the lowest prices in the market, and it's well known that price is the number one reason why consumers aren't buying organic food," said founder Rod Smith.

Who's buying groceries online?

The Checkout found that consumers in the 45-to-49 age group are more likely to purchase food and beverage products online. Could busy parents be at the heart of this trend? "I think that group has more income, is more interested in convenience, and they prefer a good deal. In other words, they have the means and the motivation to shop online," said Smith.

Green PolkaDot Box's customers are 70 percent women, ages early 30s to late 50s, who are college-educated and particularly savvy about the benefits of healthy, clean, organic food, said Smith.

"However, the real opportunity lies with the baby boomer generation. That consumer group is by far the most aggressive spender on healthy foods," he said. Baby boomers are the largest online purchasers of health and beauty consumer-packaged goods, according to The Checkout.

The benefits of selling your natural product online

Natural food manufacturers win significantly when it comes to offering their products through eCommerce platforms. For one, they're no longer bound to the geological footprint of their food distributors, said Smith. For another, online retailers have the ability to easily educate consumers on the benefits and features of the products they sell, which contributes to long-term brand loyalty.

But most of all, Smith said manufacturers are attracted to his company because "they view us as a new kind of marketing partner. We can attract an entirely new segment of consumers that have been standing in the sidelines unable to participate because of price."

What does the study mean for your natural store?

Because online grocery shopping isn't widely adopted, consumers need to be coached to click, rather than wheel their cart through a store. "Manufacturers and e-tailers have the most to gain if they can help shoppers get over their purchase barriers," said Craig Elston, senior vice president, The Integer Group, the firm that conducts The Checkout study.

Here are three tips to embrace the growing trend of online shopping.

  1. Brick-and-mortar retailers should leverage real and virtual storefronts to win customers. "An online business model is a much more efficient business model," said Smith. For example, overhead costs are much lower.
  2. Can you offer free shipping? Many popular online supplement retailers such as do if purchases exceed $20. When you're competing with and, coupons and free shipping deals go a long way to win over customers.
  3. Make your eCommerce platform easy to use. The last thing you want is a cumbersome online checkout that takes longer to complete than it would for a consumer to check out in your store. Green PolkaDot Box invested millions in a state-of-the-art shopping cart platform that is much more than a simple shopping cart.

Do you think organic's next big opportunity is online? Discuss in the comments.

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