Grocery market watchers still predict a doubling of growth in online grocery shopping by 2019, and are quick to criticise companies who seem not to be embracing the channel with gusto.
The enthusiasm is perhaps understandable. After all, many product sectors like books and music are nearly all bought on line, clothing is increasingly so, as are household goods.
Certainly, online is growing fast when compared with sales through stores. Tesco’s online sales over Christmas grew by 12.9%, Sainsbury by 6%, Ocado by 14.8% and Waitrose by 26%.
However, the ONS tells us that total online sales of grocery products were up just 6% in December, and a look at trends through major grocers tells us that the rate of increase is slowing markedly. This despite heavy promotions, the advent of click and collect and increased ownership of tablet computers and smartphones which are supposed to make the whole online shopping experience cheaper, easier, and therefore more attractive.
Retailers are ploughing enormous amounts of money into building their online presence. Tesco is currently charging just £1 for certain delivery times, and allowing £15 off the first shop. Ocado is offering £20 off the first shop and free delivery on a Wednesday. Sainsbury offers £25 off the first shop and £10 off plus free delivery for subsequent shops. Asda charges just £2 per month for delivery. The low delivery charges are especially profit draining given the cost of getting an online order picked, put on to a van which has to be taxed, insured serviced and fuelled, and dropped at the customer’s front door.
Click and collect and the chance of shopping on high tech gadgets do not seem to be catching on in a big way. A look at IGD data examining shopping behaviour shows that as of October 2014 just 26% of online shoppers were using click and collect. Data to April 2014 shows 18% shop on a smartphone and 23% on a tablet computer.
The same data suggests that online is still used infrequently. 21% of online shoppers use the channel every week, and a further 11% use it every 9 or 10 days.
It is interesting to compare the growth rates of online - heavily promoted, technology friendly, highly service orientated with click and collect or drop at the door – with those of Lidl and Aldi who offer none of that, and yet grew by 15% and 23% respectively in the twelve weeks to beginning of January.