As the social commerce arms race continues to take shape, Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B is banking on Facebook’s live shopping feature to reach more shoppers, who are increasingly spending more time online due to the on-going pandemic. It’s also a move to maintain brand relevance and build an online community after Covid-19 safety precautions shuttered the grocer’s in-store cooking demonstration food samplings known as Cooking Connection.
“It’s our job to make sure that we continue that relationship with them even when they’re not setting foot into our stores,” said Giovanna Dimperio, senior director of digital marketing at H-E-B. “When COVID struck, and we weren’t able to have that resource in the stores, we looked to digital.”
Originally, the regional grocery chain, which also has locations in northeast Mexico, started its weekly, interactive cooking series on Zoom in November 2020. But after Facebook rolled out its live shopping capabilities last May, H-E-B folded the social media giant into its digital video strategy.
According to Dimperio, the Facebook series features local chefs and allows viewers to purchase H-E-B products used during the tutorial, down to the very bowl that the chef is using. On average, the Facebook virtual life classes rack up hundreds of thousands of views. One video in particular, which focused on French cuisine, pulled in nearly 500,000 views.
“We also see, not only positive engagement on the content that we’ve put out, but we’ve created this really interesting sense of community,” Dimperio said, referring to customers interacting with the chef’s as well as one another in the comments.
It’s unclear how the project is funded or what’s been the financial return on investment as Dimperio declined to offer those details. Per Kantar, H-E-B spent $16.2 million on media from January through September of 2021. In 2020, the grocer spent $28.8 million, down from the $30.2 million spent on media in 2019. Those figures do not include social media spend as Kantar does not track those numbers.
It may not be traditional advertising, but Dimperio says there’s marketing value in community engagement to build brand awareness and keep H-E-B top of mind. As the marketing team looks to create more interactive and participatory content this year, Dimperio said that digital community engagement will help them learn more about their customers.
“We’re always looking to test and innovate in digital spaces to help connect with consumers in the way that they want. We’re creating content that we think is useful to Texans and try to tailor it to their needs,” she said.
The idea of shopping on social media, especially live shopping, is still relatively new for Americans. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest all rolled out or ramped up livestream shopping features around the same time mid-last year. eMarketer reported that social commerce sales in the U.S. surpassed $30 billion last year, albeit those figures are overshadowed by China’s live shopping market of $351.65 billion in 2021.
While there’s a growing interest, Nick Meyer, director of social strategy at Campbell Ewald points out that introducing livestream shopping capabilities has to be complementary to brand content to avoid pushing hard sales.
“Don’t offer live shopping just because it exists,” Meyer said. “Do it because you have the right products, people, and experiences that can be improved on with the ease of live shopping.”
Cooking Connection has since returned to H-E-B stores with food sampling as of late May 2021. The grocer maintains Covid-safety protocol with hand sanitizer and no hand-to-hand contact between chefs and shoppers. However, Dimperio says the grocer will continue to prioritize social commerce, experimenting beyond Facebook as social media platforms eventually offer more.
“Our digital work moving forward is really, how do we make sure that we’re connecting with customers in a way that they want, and shifting platforms to meet the customer where they’re spending time,” she said.