‘We went digital’: How a regional grocery chain is using Facebook live shopping to attract more online shoppers

As the social commerce arms race continues to take shape, Texas-based grocery chain HEB is capitalizing on Facebook’s live-shopping feature to reach more shoppers, who are spending more and more time on Facebook. time online due to the ongoing pandemic.

It’s also a decision to maintain brand relevance and build an online community after Covid-19 safety precautions shut down the grocer’s in-store cooking demonstration food samples known as the Cooking Connection name.

“It’s our job to make sure we continue this relationship with them even when they’re not stepping foot in our stores,” said Giovanna Dimperio, Senior Director of Digital Marketing at HEB. “When COVID hit and we weren’t able to have this resource in the stores, we went digital. “

Originally, the regional grocery chain, which also has branches in northeastern Mexico, started its weekly interactive cooking series on Zoom in November 2020. But after Facebook rolled out its shopping capabilities Live last May, HEB incorporated the social media giant into its digital video. strategy.

According to Dimperio, the Facebook series features local chefs and allows viewers to purchase HEB products used during the tutorial, right down to the very bowl the chef uses. On average, Facebook’s virtual life classes rack up hundreds of thousands of views. One video in particular, devoted to French cuisine, garnered nearly 500,000 views.

“We’re also seeing, not only a positive engagement with the content we’ve posted, but we’ve created this really interesting sense of community,” Dimperio said, referring to customers interacting with the chef as well as with others in the areas. comments. .

It is not known how the project is funded or what the financial return on investment has been, as Dimperio declined to provide these details. Per Kantar, HEB spent $ 16.2 million on media from January through September 2021. In 2020, the grocer spent $ 28.8 million, compared to $ 30.2 million spent on media in 2019. These numbers do not include social media spend as Kantar does not track them. Numbers.

It might not be traditional advertising, but Dimperio says there is marketing value in community engagement to build brand awareness and keep HEB in the lead. As the marketing team looks to create more interactive and participatory content this year, Dimperio said engaging the digital community will help them learn more about their customers.

“We’re always looking to test and innovate in digital spaces to help connect with consumers the way they want. We create content that we think is useful for Texans and try to tailor it to their needs, ”she said.

The idea of ​​shopping on social media, especially direct shopping, is still relatively new to Americans. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest all rolled out or stepped up live shopping features around the same time in the middle of last year. eMarketer reported that social commerce sales in the United States exceeded $ 30 billion last year, although those numbers are eclipsed by China’s direct-to-home shopping market of $ 351.65 billion in 2021.

While there is growing interest, Nick Meyer, director of social strategy at Campbell Ewald, points out that the introduction of live shopping capabilities must be complementary to branded content to avoid pushing hard sales.

“Don’t offer online shopping just because it exists,” Meyer said. “Do it because you have the right products, the right people, and the right experiences that can be improved with the ease of on-line shopping. “

Cooking Connection has since returned to HEB stores with food sampling in late May 2021. The grocer maintains a Covid safety protocol with hand sanitizer and no hand-to-hand contact between chefs and shoppers. However, Dimperio says the grocer will continue to prioritize social commerce, experimenting beyond Facebook as social media platforms ultimately offer more.

“Our digital job going forward is really about how to make sure we connect with customers the way they want and change the platforms to meet the customer where they spend time,” he said. she declared.

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