Executive Series

Challenges and Tactics of Ecommerce for the Food & Beverage Brands

Before the advent of ecommerce, Food & Beverage brands relied on catalogs to attract the attention of customers, and to develop a loyal customer following. But as the consumer migrated to the web, such brands found that the skills they honed no longer applied. Selling food and beverages online presents challenges that are unique to the sector. Because Something Digital has worked with a lot of brands that sell all types of food and beverage, we know the pitfalls to watch out for, as well as strategies to help brands navigate those challenges.

Let’s look at some of the most common challenges.

Your product is perishable and transit is everything

Just about every food and beverage item is perishable, and getting them to the customers while they’re at the peak of freshness has unique requirements. The first is a seamless integration between your ecommerce platform and your logistics partner. End customers are often buying products as a gift for someone else, which means meeting a delivery date is absolutely critical. If you promise a gift-giver that the product will arrive in time for a birthday or Valentine’s Day, you must keep that promise or forever lose that customer.

To meet delivery expectations, you need to clearly communicate cut-off times, (e.g. “order by December 20th to arrive by Christmas”). In other words, you need to build urgency with the customer so you don’t get blamed for products that don’t arrive in time.

You also need to translate the date a product needs to arrive by into the date it must ship from your fulfillment center. Not all logistic companies have the ability to set a future order, so you need to build that translation into your ecommerce platform.

Finally, you’ll need to take care that you don’t overload your logistics partner and create a backlog of orders.

The right approach depends on your product line and peak ordering times. For instance, one of our clients, Baked by Melissa, does a brisk gift-giving business, with Valentine’s Day seeing a spike in sales. Products are shipped FedEx 2-Day, in cold or freezer packs. We helped Baked by Melissa meet its delivery requirements by integrating ShipperHQ, an important partner of Something Digital, to facilitate much of the logistics information.

Bottom line: Understanding those needs and challenges of selling and scheduling delivery of perishable goods, and the integrations that workflow relies on, are absolutely paramount to a food & beverage delivery company.

You need to sell the food and beverage experience based on looks only

A lot of food & beverage companies are historically catalog companies, a medium that is better suited than the web at creating an immersive experience for buyers. One of our clients, Chesapeake Fine Food Group, has many decades of experience selling their fabulous gourmet meals via catalogs. Catalogs allow the brand to display their products over a two-page spread, leveraging top-notch photography that creates a sense of joy and plentitude. It doesn’t matter that consumers couldn’t touch or taste the products, the spreads create a sufficient, immersive experience.

The web is much more constraining. In ecommerce, emphasis is on content, calls to action, and plenty of white space to create a sense of calm in the user — all requirements that apply to food & beverage sales. That leaves just enough room for a tiny image.

Something Digital helps food & beverage companies overcome this challenge through a combination of tactics, including creative direction, UI and UX enhancements. For instance, our creative team will advise brands on strategies to ensure photography and copy build an immersive experience, with each product description evoking a sense of plentitude.

Product discovery takes extra effort

When customers arrive on your site, they typically have a very clear idea of that they want, and it’s all too easy to get pigeonholed into a single product or category. A good example of this phenomenon is Harry & David, a brand that is renowned for its amazing pears. And while that’s a great hook for the brand, there are a great many sweet and savory options available on the Harry & David site. But due to its reputation for a single item, it might not be a destination for someone looking to send a cheese and cracker basket.

One way to get loyal customers to expand their palates is through creative promotions and kitting. This strategy has multiple benefits: it promotes product discovery, encourages repeat orders, as well as boosts AOV.

A tactic we suggested to Baked by Melissa is to encourage gift-givers to send an item to themselves as well. The results have been sweet (pun intended).

Corporate gifting is a B2B sale

So far we’ve talked about consumers who buy for themselves or others, but there is a third, extremely important food & beverage customer: corporate accounts.

The corporate customer has very different needs than a consumer. They need to place orders en masse, and ideally want to upload orders to a site. They also need accurate estimations of shipping times, delivery windows, pricing (with taxes), as well as volume-based discounts. And they are apt to ask for significant customization of the card, box or wrapping. This is very much a B2B experience, and one you’ll need to excel at given the budgets they have to spend at key times, especially the end of the year.

Obviously, your ecommerce platform will need to be able to accommodate these types of large-volume, highly-customized sales.

Beverage Compliance

Brands that sell spirits, wine or beer face an additional layer of complexity. Laws differ from state to state and from region to region. In some regions you can ship liquor, in others you can’t. Some items can be shipped via FedEx and UPS, but not through the post office. Tracking and complying with these logistics are a huge challenge. It is essential that your ecommerce platform can handle all requirements of your region, as well as the regions you will ship to.

In general, we recommend that such brands have a capable order-management platform that allows you to set rules to flag orders that need additional review, and to fully integrate that platform into your ecommerce system. Maintaining those rules in two different systems is problematic, and can lead to mistakes being made.

The ideas presented here allow you to create shopping experiences that cater to the common personas of food & beverage customers. If you need to improve your site in order to increase sales, AOV, or create a better experience for all of your shoppers, get in touch. We have a lot of experience building beautiful sites for a wide range of food & beverage brands.

 Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist