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Grocery shopping goes online

ONLINE SHOPPING is well established in Slovakia, but until recently it was impossible to buy food over the internet. Some supermarket chains in Slovakia, however, are finally jumping aboard this new trend. Two such chains have just launched online shopping platforms while others are working on their own online sale models as well. Experts view the two existing online shopping schemes in Slovakia as viable, pointing to the advantages that purchasing groceries online allows.

Will shopping in supermarkets soon become a thing of the past?(Source: TASR)

ONLINE SHOPPING is well established in Slovakia, but until recently it was impossible to buy food over the internet. Some supermarket chains in Slovakia, however, are finally jumping aboard this new trend. Two such chains have just launched online shopping platforms while others are working on their own online sale models as well. Experts view the two existing online shopping schemes in Slovakia as viable, pointing to the advantages that purchasing groceries online allows.

“Definitively this is a trend that should be respected,” František Ťapuš, vice-president of the Association of Trade and Tourism (ZOCR), told The Slovak Spectator. “Its popularity and importance continues to increase and the growth dynamic in this kind of sale will be by far the highest. Its spread is actually limited not by the availability of goods but rather a certain lack of confidence that remains among consumers toward this way of shopping.”

Ťapuš believes that in the case of groceries purchased online, the decisive factors are the speed with which the orders are fulfilled, the quality of the products and the price of the service. These factors are much more important when buying groceries than durable goods.

Jozef Dvorský, the executive director of the Slovak Association of Electronic Commerce (SAEC), pointed out that in contrast to buying groceries online, customers who buy other goods online can generally return their purchases within seven working days. In case of groceries this is not possible.

Gabriel Csollár, chairman of the board of directors of the Coop Jednota Slovensko retail cooperative, expects that customers will be very cautious in the beginning, especially when buying fresh food.

“Trust, guaranteed prices and freshness of goods are very important in the online sale of food,” Csollár told The Slovak Spectator. “In the shop the customer can choose the product, preferring nice pieces of fruit and vegetables or goods with a longer shelf life. He does not have this possibility via the web and when he decides to purchase online, he must not feel like he has been cheated and that he received goods that are of inferior quality or lacking in freshness.”

Online shopping services

Earlier this year Tesco Stores SR launched the Tesco Grocery Online service in Bratislava and its surrounding area, and Carrefour started a similar service called Carrefour Drive. Both of them are not e-shops in the real sense of the word.

Within Tesco’s platform customers can create a shopping list online and decide at which time their groceries should be delivered directly to their door. The advantage of this system is that the customer, when looking over all the goods in person upon delivery, can decide which items from their list they want to buy and which they do not. When implementing this service Tesco trained its staff to adhere to the “Would I buy this myself?” rule when choosing groceries for customer orders.

Customer can choose from two methods of payment, either card payment online or card payment at the door upon receipt of the goods. No cash payments are accepted. The price of the service is €3.99.
The Carrefour Drive service enables customers to order goods online, select the day and time when they will collect their purchase in person at one of two Carrefour service centres, in Petržalka or at Polus City Center.

Tesco evaluates its first month running the service positively. The number of orders has been rising and almost 1,000 new customers register with the service every week, Zuzana Lošáková, spokesperson for Tesco Stores SR, told The Slovak Spectator.

“Customers are gradually getting used to the new service,” said Lošáková, adding that inhabitants of nearby towns and villages also use the service. “Currently we have registered about 8,000 customers while especially women on maternity leave, inhabitants of the satellite towns and people busy at work use the service the most.”

Products that are most frequently purchased online include dairy products, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, washing agents and goods for babies, while as much as 40 percent of the groceries sold through this service fall under the category of fresh food.

The model Tesco launched in Slovakia is similar to one that it runs in Great Britain.

“But here we focus even more on spreading information and gaining the confidence of customers because the sale of food via the internet is a relatively new service in Slovakia,” said Lošáková. But on the basis of surveys the retail chain conducted before it launched the service, it decided to extend its method of payments to include payment on delivery, which is not possible in Great Britain.

Dvorský expects that Tesco’s service will be successful here, adding that this is a well-tested model as Tesco has been running similar services in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Here, target groups of customers are quite clearly defined,” said Dvorský, adding that these are women on maternity leave as well as people who need to shop for their parents, or who are not able to shop on their own any more. Other customers who may find this service appealing are people with busy schedules or those who do not want to spend their time waiting in queues or searching for certain goods in shops.

With regards to expanding the service into other parts of Slovakia, Dvorský highlights the importance of good logistics.

“We will see how they will manage the logistics,” Dvorský said. “This is not a problem either in Bratislava or Košice. But it will be more complicated in smaller towns where goods would have to be delivered over longer distances.”

Kamil Demuth, the project manager of the price-comparison website Heureka.sk, views both of the projects very positively.

“We see them as the first ‘bigger’ gulps in the sector of food sales via the internet, which has huge prospects for the future,” Demuth told The Slovak Spectator, adding that it would be ideal if customers themselves were able to select through the e-shopping platform whether they want the groceries delivered to their homes or prefer to go to the store to pick them up. “Nevertheless, this is an interesting choice for many, but unfortunately only for customers living in Bratislava and its vicinity.”

With regards to the sale of groceries online Demuth views logistics as the biggest challenge, as many foodstuffs must be transported in refrigerated vans, and the retailer that manages this best will gain a huge advantage. But he also expects that the option to pick up online orders at shops in person, as a way of saving time, will be viewed as a more trusted way of shopping for groceries, as opposed to having them delivered to one’s home.

Other retail chains' plans

Other retail chains are closely watching the online activities of Tesco and Carrefour and while some are tight-lipped about any plans, others are intensively working on their own online services.

The Coop Jednota Slovensko retail cooperative plans to launch an e-shop for the sale of groceries via the internet, but did not specify exactly when it would do so.

“The service should be available especially in large cities where there are Coop Jednota Tempo supermarkets, which by their scope of variety are the most suitable for this purpose and are able to satisfy the needs of customers the best,” Csollár of Coop Jednota Slovensko told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the primary target groups for this service are families with children doing large family shopping and, secondly, all of those who are interested in or prefer this method of shopping.

The retail cooperative plans to run two models of the service, giving customers the option to either have their groceries delivered or pick them up from the shop.

Another supermarket chain which already has experience with selling groceries online is Billa, but as Martina Kovacs, the marketing manager of Billa Slovensko, told The Slovak Spectator, they are currently intensively analysing opportunities for selling groceries online, but for the time being they do not want to comment on their findings so far.

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