Ethnic grocery stores – Hispanic, Thai, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese – have always thrived in a physical environment. Going to an Asian supermarket, for example, is much more than shopping. It’s about seeing people, bumping into your friends, colleagues or neighbors, and stopping for a minute or two to chat and share life updates. Who is getting married? Who is going to have a baby? How do you prepare this soup? This type of spontaneous social interaction is welcomed by many people of Asian descent and is essential to their overall well-being.
If you don’t live near an ethnic grocery store or have no way to get there, of course, you can always go online. There’s a healthy selection from these stores, including Weee, Umamicart and Quicklly, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to noodles to your favorite sauces and personal care items. The choice is plentiful, and with a certain dollar amount purchased, your groceries can be delivered to your home for free.
Unlike H-Mart or 99 Ranch Market, which have both a and online presence, these online-only stores lack the social factor. You can’t chat with your neighbor while choosing products or tell your friends about a co-worker who bothers you. So how can these outlets keep shoppers coming back, and how can they get closer to that sense of community? The answer: purchasable content.
Buyable content is an e-commerce solution that combines elements of digital content and company products. Think of it as your favorite grocery store showing you how to prepare certain dishes using products on sale and encouraging you to interact with other shoppers.
The Fresh Market, a gourmet grocery store based in Greensboro, North Carolina, was an early adopter of buyable content. To make its customers’ shopping experience more of a personalized treasure hunt, the brand implemented several e-commerce solutions in late 2021. For example, marketing emails sent to customers included recipes and videos , not just listings of available products. On The Fresh Market’s website, videos appear on the homepage that are something of a cross between Instagram Reels and QVC, with a “Buy Now” button that takes users directly to relevant items to buy.
Of course, The Fresh Market isn’t the only one testing this approach. Albertsons, a national grocery chain, also began posting a short series of videos on its website in 2021. HEB, a supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, also rolled out live content in 2021, with Walmart.
Buyable content aims to benefit both grocers and customers: shoppers can learn about new products while finding new recipes and meal ideas, while grocers can collect data on shopping habits customers and customize them accordingly.
Ethnic grocery store websites picked up the signals. Here are some creative ways they’ve managed to grab consumers’ attention and entice them to shop.
Weee is a Californian startup specializing in Asian and Hispanic foods. The company started in 2015 with the goal of being a one-stop-shop for ethnic foods. The brand calls it a “social flywheel,” a place where people gather and exchange ideas and recipes that will (hopefully) go viral. The more exposure, the better.
To achieve this goal, Weee focused on user-generated content. On the website and app, users can view recommendations, post a product or recipe video, get feedback from others, bookmark a video or recipe, and even enter contests. Past contests have included themes such as “Lunar New Year” and “2021 Reflections and New Year Celebrations”, both of which have generated hundreds of posts and, as a result, thousands of likes.
For Umamicart, the focus is on conservation, recipes and teaching people how to prepare simple Asian dishes. Umamicart does this in different ways. On the website, you can find recipes for a selection of Asian-inspired dishes, including Cantonese stir-fried noodles, mango sticky rice, and poke bowl. New recipes are added every month which makes it continually interesting and worth a visit for someone who prefers to shop online.
Marketing emails can include a recipe for tteokbokki, a popular Korean dish, and a link to that recipe on the website, as well as the option to purchase all of the recipe ingredients. Emails are personalized according to the season and appropriate cultural holidays. In addition to recipes, you can also browse Umamicart’s grocery lists, such as SE Asian Pantry, East Asian Pantry and Korean Essentials, the idea being that everything you need is under one roof or, in this case, a website.
Quicklly, the newest online ethnic grocer that started in 2018, specializes in South Asian and Indian foods. In August 2021, it rolled out a program called Quicklly Masterchef to allow users to earn money by submitting their own recipes. Once the recipe is approved, the user earns money every time someone purchases the recipe ingredients. To fulfill the order, the company uses local partner grocery stores based on the customer’s location.
To date, there are only 16 recipes, each with several hundred views. The company is now taking a break from its Masterchef program.
“Ultimately, the company strives to create a recipe and shoppable content pipeline that includes influencers and recipe bloggers,” says co-founder Keval Raj. Until then, you can browse through what’s available, like this simple Best Butter Chicken recipe and this Shahi Paneer recipe, both of which look delicious and simple. It’s still early days, but if readers engage with each other in the comments section on these recipes, the site might start cultivating the sociable feeling of shopping at an ethnic grocery store.