2020 has been a boom year for the online grocery industry, with the overall market increasing a whopping 53% this year alone. Amid this increase in demand, however, comes greater competition. Online grocery stores are increasingly turning to new features when it comes to differentiating and protecting themselves from the competition.

The digital transformation of grocery stores works differently for independent retailers, who need to be smarter when dealing with larger competition. Luckily, there are advantages of these independent grocery stores that translate well into the online space—particularly when they offer SNAP coupons as payment.

Expanding Online Payments

The best online grocery store is one that can both replicate and expand on the brick and mortar shopping experience. For starters, customers need access to the same payment methods they use at the till to pay for their digital basket. After all, since online grocery shopping has vastly increased in popularity this year, many of the customers are new to the digital grocery experience.

For these customers, continuity of payment methods between in-store and online channels isn’t just preferred, but necessary. Customers receiving SNAP benefits, for example, rely on this federal assistance program to do their grocery shopping each week.

While online grocery shopping apps and websites have existed for a number of years, pilot programs allowing for the use of SNAP benefits online only date back to 2014. However, in response to the pandemic, nearly every state in the continental US now allows approved grocery stores to accept SNAP payments on their online storefront, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Moreover, all fifty states and every US territory have received a 40% increase in SNAP funding from the USDA since April.

Meeting Consumer Demand

This expansion of federal assistance means more customers than ever have access to SNAP benefits, at a time when in-store shopping is at an unprecedented low. It’s simply essential to build in a payment’s infrastructure that accepts SNAP benefits.

These changes in SNAP availability have affected every food retailer, but independent grocery stores, in particular, can reap the largest benefit. Low-income shoppers, for instance, are the ones least likely to have access to big supermarket chains, which can often be miles away from an individual or family’s home. As a result, they not only prefer to shop at local independent stores, but are often required to, particularly for the most essential goods.

Offering SNAP benefits on an online storefront opens new payment options to those who need it most, and creates a valuable opportunity for business as well. Independent grocery stores, after all, have long relied on their ties to the community to drive sales; by keeping abreast of these changes in policy and the frequency of SNAP use, they’ll be better able to meet demand.

The Independent Future

Much of the discussion surrounding the future of online retail centers on the largest chains. National chains have a marketing and supply chain reach that outstrips their rivals—meanwhile, regional and independent stores need the right technology at an affordable price to avoid being left behind.

There’s a tangible impact when independent grocery stores aren’t online. Customers are unable to purchase fresh goods from their closest store when online shopping isn’t available, and the need is particularly great in times of social distancing.

Local grocery stores have the advantage of knowing their customers better, thanks to their necessity in the local community—but they need to adapt to the changing environment. To not only survive but in fact thrive beyond  2020, it’s essential for these stores to meet customer’s changing shopping habits while maintaining the unique shopping experience they’re known for—recreated online, for their widest audience ever.

Bagrat Safaryan is the CEO & Co-Founder at LocalExpress, omnichannel SaaS eGrocery commerce platform, which he co-founded in January 2017. Since then, Bagrat has been on a mission to bring turnkey e-commerce solutions to grocery stores and food retailers across the country using the Local Express platform.

SNAP stock photo by Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock