Despite general belief, it is not the younger consumer the one making greater and more frequent use of digital retail platforms. As a matter of fact, a recent study about the preferences of the digital consumer in Puerto Rico revealed that people between 35 and 64 years of age account for 70% of the consumers/users of these platforms, while people between 18 and 34 represent only 18% of that universe.
Two years of pandemic pushed the world’s economy further into the digital era more than any technological advance had done before. Puerto Rico was no exception. But like with many other developments, there is much myth surrounding the conditions that follow, and interpretations abound on how Puerto Rico’s cyber ecosystem has evolve in the late stages of the pandemic.
“This train had already left the station, with just a few passengers on board, at some 50 miles-per-hour. By 2020 and the pandemic, that train had accelerated to 200 miles, and while many had managed to catch it, others figured that, once the pandemic is over, the train would slow down to 50 miles again,” said Esteban Colón Franco, from Econo Supermarkets. “The fact is that 70% of digital platform consumers have kept or increase their online purchases, and 81% anticipate they will spend more.”
To address the issue, from the food retail industry perspective, Puerto Rico’s Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution Chamber (MIDA, for its Spanish acronym) recently published its first Radiography of the online Consumer, a profile of the consumer/user of digital platforms for buying products and services.
Consumers’ online behavior
Aside from the demographic profile of these consumers, MIDA’s radiography shows how the consumer behaves online, what products and services he/she buys and how frequently, and how much they spend. The radiography of these consumers revealed that 53% of them buy their unprepared food online.
The study, comprising of 650 interviews done through a computer assisted computer interviewing (CACI) system, reveals that, while connected (digital) consumers are committed to buying products and services through the internet, they still shop for specific products at brick-and-mortar stores, specifically alcohol.
Questioned about how much of their monthly alcohol purchases they buy online and/or at a store, 56% said they make their purchases in stores vis-a-vis 44% who said they did it online. A difference of 12 percentage points.
A similar behavior could be observed for household products, with 52% of total purchases being done at stores, and 48% online, for a 4% difference.
Only in the section of unprepared food did digital consumers buy more online (53%) than in stores (47%).
Regarding their platforms of choice, 41% of consumers prefer those using the mail, while only 18% said they prefer to pick-up their merchandise or have it delivered in person. The remaining 41% said they used both methods.
Both kinds of consumers (mail and delivery/pick-up) cited “convenience” as the main reason for preferring their specific digital alternative. But in the case of consumers opting for the mail-in platforms, they justified their use citing a greater variety in merchandise (55%) and better prices (50%). Consumers preferring delivery/pick-up said these platforms honor the prices published in their shoppers. The groups also coincided on the “low cost” of their respective delivery methods.
“The message consumers are sending through their answers in this area is that they found a way to save and they are doing it abroad, elsewhere,” said Yadmin Vargas, from Selectos Supermarkets, who gave a “heads-up” to local retailers when planning their next steps in terms of product availability and pricing.
Navigating the websites
MIDA rated consumers’ preference for platforms selling unprepared food in terms of them having visited a specific provider at least once. Islandwide, digital consumers expressed a preference for Supermax Online (39%), Sam’s Club (38%), Econo ToGo (33%), and Selectos EasyShop (21%). Those same platforms were the most visited during the four weeks prior to the study (May 18 to 31st, 2022), with Sam’s Club and Econo ToGo topping the list with 23% and 18%, respectively.
The majority of both kinds of digital consumers said they go directly for the products the platform has on sale. Consumers also prefer to look for their products by category and availability before resorting to the search engine to look for specific brands.
Interestingly, while this finding might suggest some type of brand loyalty, findings in the previously published Consumer’s Radiography –which surveyed consumers buying in brick-and-mortar stores– point in the opposite direction. According to that study, 69% of the consumers surveyed (1,350) said they changed for a less expensive brand when a product increased its price, and 13% simply stop buying the product.
Similarly, when the product is out of stock, the majority of consumers (51%) switch for the less expensive brands, while 32% of them said they don’t buy the product. The digital consumer on his part, either looks for a similar product within the same platform, or searches for the same product on another platform.
“When we look at all areas of the sample [of digital consumers] –demographics, income, region…– the results of the study are very similar to those of the Consumer’s Radiography. This confirms a low margin of error and a high confidence level for this study,” said Luis Defendini from Tres Monjitas Dairy.
Yadmin Vargas, from Selectos Supermarkets, explained the neither radiographies sought to determine which brands consumers preferred. “Nevertheless, the findings do suggest more of a level of brand awareness than brand loyalty,” said.
Regarding how much do digital consumers spend monthly buying unprepared food online, about two thirds of both mail and delivery platform users said they spend $51, or more.
The inflation factor
Even though inflation has shown signs of slowing down in recent weeks, the fact is the Federal Reserve Bank (FED) and most economists anticipate it will continue its upward spiral, albeit at a slower rate, until early next year. Nevertheless, online consumers seem unfazed by the prospect.
According to MIDA’s Radiography of the Online Consumer, while most consumers will checkout and pay immediately after selecting their products, 24% of delivery costumers, and 37% of mail costumers would be filling their shopping carts throughout the month, until they have the money to checkout and pay.
Still, a majority of these consumers (51%) would continue to buy online products and services as they have been doing it, despite inflation and the increasing costs of services. Others (28%) said they would continue to buy online, but would reduce their purchases. Only 2% of those surveyed said they would continue buying online and increase their purchases.
“79% of consumers will continue to buy online, maybe a little less –as it has happened with brick-and-mortar stores– yes. But that does not mean they are going stop using these kind of platforms,” Colón said.
The Online Consumer’s Radiography report ends with a series of recommendations to retailers and distributors to increase their online business. Among these, the development of efficient search engines, specialized sections (i.e. organics, keto, vegan, etc.), avoiding out of stock messages and a purchase history section.