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Playing offense with online shopping

Playing offense with online shopping


That’s an emotion that fills the room when retailers — especially smaller ones — discuss online shopping.

You can feel it in their questions: Should we enter the online space? Can we get up to speed and make it profitable? How can we compete with formidable online competitors in the market? Where do we start?

“I think our industry always needs a big boogeyman that is up above and is going to kill our business,” said Dan Shanahan, president and CEO, Buehler’s Fresh Foods, in a presentation at The NGA Show in Las Vegas last month. “And I think online delivery is now that boogey man.”

Shanahan is right, and the best way to get the boogey man is to stop being fearful.

There are lots of ways to approach online shopping, even if you’re just a one-store retailer. One such operator in Western New York has found a model that works.

Wade’s Market Center had the opportunity to be a first mover in its market, and it jumped quickly, said James Cheney, president and CEO, at The NGA Show.

The retailer partnered with online facilitator Rosie to drive its website, mobile and digital strategy. Store associates pick orders, primarily for local delivery.

Wade’s also opened a very small satellite store 20 miles away for grocery pickups and may introduce more of these.

This small company has emerged with big takeaways. Online retail is far from just a defensive move; it can refresh and differentiate a traditional retailer. This type of e-commerce can build a completely new customer base and lends itself to innovation, such as creating a satellite store strategy. It can even increase connections with customers rather than decrease them.

Wade’s was fortunate to be a first-mover in its market, but that’s not crucial for success. PSK Supermarkets, which operates stores in New York City and upstate New York, fine-tuned its e-commerce strategy last year to become more competitive with major online shopping competitors, said Noah Katz, vice president. His company offers pickup and delivery, and found a way to relay the independent retailer spirit by “making the website an extension of our store.”

Shoppers identify their local store online and the basic messaging goes something like this: “Your order will be shopped by Cynthia at the Foodtown of Bay Ridge and her team, who you’ve known for years. It will not be shopped by someone in a warehouse,” Katz relayed. “That’s what we have as independents and I believe it’s a winning formula.”

Independents now have something else as well, Katz said: access to ample resources to operate an effective online business.


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“The technology involved is available to independents,” he said. “It has advanced to the point where it’s essentially plug and play.”

Online shopping is a business up for grabs, with brick-and-mortar and pure-play companies battling each other.

Take a look at SN's new profile of, an online grocer with a targeted mission: To serve Milliennials in their 30s.  The story of Yummy, which also operates a few small retail outlets/distribution centers, reflects how some online players are eschewing mass appeal in favor of a niche customer base.

Retailers need to decide if and how they will embrace online shopping. If they decide to pass, they will need a very good reason.

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