NEW YORK -- While consumers may visit Shoplink.com looking for fresh seafood, meat and produce, what they are really searching for is time, according to John Icke, chairman and chief executive officer of on-line grocery e-tailer Shoplink.com
When he launched Shoplink.com more than two years ago, Icke assumed that the consumers most likely to visit his Web site would be not only hungry for food, but starved for time as well. Shoplink.com is providing relief to time-deprived individuals by outsourcing their shopping chores, delivering goods to their doorsteps.
In fact, time conservation is quickly becoming the cornerstone of Shoplink.com's marketing campaign, Icke revealed.
"We're in the business of reducing stress for time-starved individuals and families. We're providing convenience for people who crave convenience," Icke said at the National Retail Federation's annual convention here last month.
Icke spoke at a session that addressed "intention-based" businesses, which are companies that provide services catering to the needs of specific consumer groups. Shoplink.com is considered a model of an intention-based Internet business because it seeks to meet the needs of busy, working individuals and dual-income families - a target audience that buys 46.5% of the groceries, said Icke.
Rather than adopt an over-ambitious campaign to appeal to every demographic group, Icke strategically focused on this select class of shoppers, whom he called "the best consumers in the household product replenishment business," because "the last thing they want is to get bogged down in chores like grocery shopping."
Steve Louis, a partner at Andersen Consulting, Chicago, who moderated the NRF session, praised Icke's game plan, calling it ahead of its time. "The [successful] companies of tomorrow will not ask 'What product do I sell,' but 'What segment of consumers do I want to own?"' Louis told the NRF audience.
According to Icke, company studies have shown that Shoplink.com is saving customers an average of four hours per week. As Shoplink expands into new product categories, it is increasingly saving customers time not only in terms of trips to the supermarket, but also to drugstores, specialty pet stores and florists.
As a result of this convenience, said Icke, there is an 80% customer loyalty rate among the participating consumers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, where Shoplink.com's service is currently available.
Shoplink.com has learned a lot about its target shoppers through consumer studies and transaction reporting. Most of the Web site's customers are educated and work full-time, with 91% being married and 75% having children. Shoplink.com users spend an average of $95 per order, and 78% of them place orders more than three times per month.
Icke said his customers want on-line shopping experiences to meet six strict criteria -- "convenience, quality, service, value, intimacy and trust." Icke, though, is not stopping there. The CEO also wants to know what other on-line services can be leveraged to satisfy the needs of the company's customer base.
Shoplink.com, for example, is beginning to seriously investigate the merits of customer relationship management software, he said. The goal would be to make each shopper's on-line experience intimate, with personalized information going to individuals based on their purchasing history.
Shoplink also plans to introduce health experts, such as doctors, dieticians and pharmacists, on-line by the end of the year to advise shoppers in real time about their purchases.
To further facilitate the shopping experience, Icke is also considering making deliveries to businesses as well as homes. Consumers who wish to pick up their groceries at the office, or employers that order food for their employees, may soon be able to turn to Shoplink.com, he said.