By Gary Tasman

Like most Americans, your grocery shopping habits probably changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and capacity restrictions, limited hours, and even limited stock forced us to shift the way we shopped—and forced retailers to find new ways to provide our essential goods and services.

Half of U.S. consumers now say they purchase at least some of their groceries online, either through delivery services such as Shipt and Instacart, from online retailers like Amazon, or via BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) services. But with vaccinations now widespread and our nation slowly returning to normalcy, will consumers rush back to supermarkets or will traditional grocers expire as we continue to shop from the comfort of their home?

An argument can be made on either side. On one hand, grocery delivery and pickup services earn excellent reviews from busy consumers, and were surging in popularity well before the pandemic rendered them a necessity for many. Alternatively, 72% of consumers still consider an in-store shopping experience extremely important to them. Consider the number of times you’ve gone to a particular store because of an experience important to you, like product samples on weekends, a specialty bakery item, a diverse or unique produce selection, or even assistance loading your vehicle. Each of these services nurtures our loyalty to the in-store experience.

With consumers wanting both convenience and an in-store experience, smart retailers are looking for ways to balance everything their customers want. WD Partners, a customer experience strategy firm, has released its vision for the grocery store of the future, and its hybrid model combines convenience and engagement to create limitless options for shoppers.

Those seeking convenience will benefit from BOPIS fulfillment, order kiosks, and drive-thru pickup options, as well as an emphasis on prepared foods and pre-packaged meals in a grab- and-go section. The grocery of the future also satisfies experience-focused customers with a farmers’ market-style produce section, demonstrations in an experiential showroom, and comfort zones like an in-store coffee shop or outdoor seating area.

Many grocers currently offer some, but not all, of these features, and have earned devoted customers as a result. An excellent example is Whole Foods, which has developed a near cult-like following with its focus on local produce, chef-prepared family meals, healthy and organic foods, and free delivery for Amazon Prime members.

Specialty grocers aren’t just popular with residents—they’re also a favorite of tourists who rent family homes through services like Airbnb or VRBO. The full kitchens found in weekly and monthly vacation rentals are popular with families in search of a relaxed, homey experience in a tropical locale. Prepared, packaged, and grab-and-go meals are perfect for these vacationers who wish to maximize both their time and budgets while still enjoying Southwest Florida’s lifestyle.

But while grocers such as Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Sprouts Farmers Market are popular with both residents and visitors, they are anything but plentiful in our region. Lee and Collier Counties possess only a sprinkling of each of these stores, mostly along US-41. I anticipate this trend will change in coming years, as our region’s population and popularity among vacationers continues to grow. One area ripe for a specialty grocer is Cape Coral, Florida’s largest city between Tampa and Miami.

Despite being one of the state’s fastest-growing municipalities, large specialty grocers have yet to invest in Cape Coral. For more than a decade, Publix and Walmart have dominated the city’s grocery market. However, recent additions such as Aldi and Winn-Dixie have shown that there is still room for competition. The Cape’s booming population, as well as its 3,200 vacation rentals, make it a prime location for a new grocery concept to blossom.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we experience retail, and grocery stores are no exception. Grocers will continue to adapt to our changing preferences, creating hybrid centers that combine both convenience and customer experiences. Traditional grocery stores will need to invest in reinventing themselves if they want to stay fresh in this evolving marketplace.

Whether it’s time for you to sell, or you’re just considering your options in our current commercial real estate market, the commercial property experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida have the knowledge, data, and resources to determine the best strategy for you. Contact us by calling 239-489-3600 or reach us using the form below.

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