Online grocery still treading water

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 30th September 2009

It’s been billed as the ultimate in convenience and enjoyed phenomenal growth over the past few years but according to new research from Mintel, it seems many Brits are yet to click with online grocery shopping – a sign that it will not be plain sailing for Australia’s supermarket chains.

Market share of online grocery is considerably higher in the UK, largely due to an earlier commitment by the major retailers. In Australia, Coles and Woolworths have only this year branched out beyond the Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra markets but speedy expansion to other capitals over recent months suggests that there is some interest in Australia*.

UK findings

Nearly half the British population (45%) do not see the point of shopping for food online, and more than two in three (69%) think that they might as well do all their shopping in-store, if a top-up visit is needed. Today, around one in three (35%) adults shop online for food, but just one in nine (11%) of all UK adults do so regularly or exclusively.

Estimated to reach £4.4 billion (A$8.04b) in 2009, the online grocery market has grown 134% since 2005. Furthermore, Mintel forecasts further growth of 57% between 2009 and 2014, to reach £6.9 billion (A$12.6b). But sales growth is expected to slow as market drivers of recent years lose momentum, notably broadband penetration and the grocers’ geographical coverage. The Mintel research highlights how improving customer perceptions could be key to driving future growth, as more than half the population (56%) have never shopped for groceries online.

Today, nearly one in three adults (31%) see grocery shopping as a chore. In addition, it seems consumers also want to be masters of their own shopping basket as the research reveals two thirds (66%) of shoppers prefer not to buy fresh food online as they are concerned about use by dates. Meanwhile, the majority of consumers (83%) still like to see and touch fresh produce before buying.

“Our research reveals food is an emotional issue for today’s consumers,” Kiti Soininen, Senior Retail Analyst at Mintel, advised. “For many shoppers, touching, feeling and even smelling food before purchase to select shopping tailored to their own specific requirements is preferable over the online shopping route. In addition, nearly three quarters of consumers often choose products because they look interesting in-store, so online grocery retailers could benefit from encouraging such impulse shopping online.”

While the ease of getting the weekly shop delivered may seem ideal for older consumers, it seems the over 55s can’t compute the idea of shopping online. Indeed, more than half of this age group (55%) don’t see the point of online shopping for food and one in three (36%) hasn’t even thought of shopping online for food. Furthermore, three quarters (of this group) think that having to top-up in a supermarket negates the point of food shopping online.

And it seems even regular users of online grocery shopping think improvements can be made. One in three (36%) of regular online grocery shoppers note the lack of use-by dates on fresh food as an issue, and one in five (21%) complain about the inconvenience of waiting for delivery, underlining these as key development areas.

“One in five consumers has tried online shopping for food, but has been put off by it being cumbersome or time-consuming,” Soininen added. “Improving site usability by making browsing and searching easier and enabling greater personalisation, could be key in combating this. However, it is the delivery charge and need for top-up shopping in-store which seems to put off occasional users. Targeting these areas could help increase the frequency of online purchases for them and drive future growth.”

On a more positive note, the report finds that major retailers’ online operations now cater for around 90% of the UK population. What is more, broadband penetration and connection speeds are steadily rising, making online shopping faster and thus an increasingly viable alternative to shopping in-store. A steadily rising share of adults are shopping online for non-food, lowering the barrier to doing so for food.

*Recent research showed 212,000 Australians, or 1.2% of the population, bought groceries online in the year to June 2009.