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Supermarkets need imaginative ways to expand online grocery shopping: study

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The online grocery market remains a niche one – because shoppers who switch to buying over the internet abandon it as too much of a chore or because their circumstances change. Those are the findings of researchers from Kingston University’s Faculty of Business and Law, who say that supermarkets “need to find more imaginative ways of trying to appeal to them.”

Those methods, say the researchers, might include improving the quality of service, tying in customers with a monthly subscription to the service rather than delivery charges, or giving special offers that are only available online.

The team point out that while some 10% of UK shopping takes place over the internet, the figure for groceries is only around 3.2%. Dr Francesca Dall’Olmo Riley, of the Kingston Business School, said: “Even though the UK online market is regarded as the most advanced in the world, online groceries are still only a niche market.”

People start buying their groceries online, the team found in a postal survey of more than 1,100 online shoppers, when they move to a new area, have new babies, or break a limb. They might also use the internet when their favourite supermarket didn’t have a nearby store or when elderly parents became housebound.

But these lead to only a temporary change in behaviour, the research found. Dr Dall’Olmo Riley said: “The adoption decision triggered by a specific situation is easily reversed when the situation changes again.”

Many respondents to the study, published in the European Journal of Marketing, said that online grocery providers regularly left out items from their order or substituted unsuitable replacements. “They also complained about late deliveries, bad picking and packing of goods and perishables being too near sell-by dates,” said Dr Dall’Olmo Riley.

She added: “One finding that came over very clearly was that internet and supermarket shopping are not mutually exclusive – online shopping is complementary rather than seen as a substitute. Reverting back to the traditional mode of shopping is easy because shoppers never completely stop shopping in traditional stores.”

The Kingston study: comments from online shoppers:

“I have given up expecting to get what I ordered.”

“If you are relying on a delivery coming and they don’t deliver it, you have to go out anyway, so that defeats the object of buying online.”

“A friend of mine had a hip replacement… and she did all her shopping online for a few months so it is very useful in that respect.”

Our view: There are some useful insights that come out of this study, not least the reasons why people start doing their grocery shopping online. Most urgent though, are the reasons why people stop shopping online. It’s obvious, but bears saying again: online shopping isn’t convenient if it’s unreliable. In fact, it’s worse than simply going to the shops in the first place – and believe me, that’s said with feeling.

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