SAN FRANCISCO -- On-line grocers need to build a brand identity to market successfully their service to customers, an executive from Shoplink.com said here.
According to Timothy E. Guen, vice president, marketing, for the Westwood, Mass.-based company, "Time and convenience is not an ownable benefit, but brand positioning -- offering superior fresh quality food -- is."
As consumers attempt to differentiate among on-line retailers, a brand identity "can become a symbol of trust," he said.
Guen spoke at the annual eFood 2000 conference here sponsored by the International Quality and Productivity Center, New York.
Shoplink competes against three other on-line players in the Boston marketplace, Guen pointed out, "so we needed to find a point of differentiation." That point is the superior quality and freshness of the foods it offers, he said -- a point reflected in the company's slogan, "Shoplink.com: Quality, at your convenience."
"We're in the business of delivering groceries and selling trust," Guen said. "It will be critical as we grow our business to maintain the same level of trust."
The food business differs from other businesses, Guen said, because it deals with items that people ingest, "so it requires a higher level of trust associated with the people who supply the product to the home."
Quality, particularly in perishables, "can create or break the trust," he said.
To market to the consumer, "you need to take every opportunity to add value," Guen added -- by providing deliveries that are on time and complete, by resolving problems quickly, by making shopping faster and easier and by making life less stressful.
Shoplink, which was founded three years ago, opened its second distribution center late last year in Stratford, Conn., to service accounts in Connecticut and Westchester County, N.Y. Its original distribution facility in Westwood, Mass., services shoppers in 95 towns in the Boston suburbs by delivering orders on a weekly schedule to secured areas in and around customers' homes.
Guen said Shoplink research conducted in the Boston marketplace indicates that 70% of consumers know about on-line grocery companies, but only 11% said they intend to try the service. Guen said the difference between the 70% and the 11% is a lack of trust or a lack of information.
When customers call Shoplink in search of information, Guen said the company sends them a brochure and a video explaining the company offerings. He said the video contrasts the way grocery shopping is -- with a harried mother toting crying, unruly children through the supermarket and the parking lot -- with the way grocery shopping should be -- a 15-20 minute session in f\two ways: as part of a commercial relationship, in which they order, a provider delivers, and the customer pays; and as part of an emotional dynamic that involves trust, the desire for the process to ease the shopping experience and the fear that it may not."Our view is that it's important to deal with both relationships," Guen said.