Online grocery shopping: is it really worth it?

A recent report by Which? Magazine has looked into the popularity of supermarkets in the UK, in particular their offering for online shopping and home delivery. The marketplace for home delivery has grown significantly since Tesco launched the country’s first online delivery service in 1999, with online groceries in the UK accounting for a total spend of £12.3 billion last year - which is a 9% increase from 2017.
However, according to recent Mintel research this trend might now be going into reverse, with the proportion of online grocery shoppers dropping from 49% to 45% between 2016 and 2018.
Why the decline? There are a number of possible reasons. For example, of the 2,000 people surveyed, 24% said they were concerned about high delivery charges, while 18% were worried about the minimum spend costs imposed by most supermarkets.
But there were also many other customer service issues mentioned in the report. The Mintel research revealed that almost two thirds (63%) of online shoppers had experienced a problem with their order within the past year.
Most customer complaints were related to missing products, with just over a quarter (26%) of online grocery shoppers experiencing this issue. This was followed by incorrect product substitutions (25%) and out of date/short shelf life items (24%). Also, one in five customers (20%) received damaged goods and also one in five customers (20%) had experienced late deliveries.
The majority (85%) of those who have experienced a problem had taken measures to resolve it. The most popular method was to call customer service (42%). Meanwhile, 28% made a complaint through the retailer’s website and 15% complained using live chat and chatbots. Just under one in ten (8%) used social media to air their complaints. Worryingly, one in seven customers (15%) said they did nothing at all when faced with a problem. So in these cases, the supermarket would have been left with angry customers without even realising it.
According to Nick Carroll, Associate Director of Retail Research at Mintel: “The fact that nearly two thirds of online shoppers have experienced problems with orders in the past year should be worrying for the sector. For those retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores, this may not be as great of a concern given that groceries are, to a degree, non-discretionary and, therefore, consumers who experience issues online ordering do not simply stop buying groceries altogether; they just go back into the store. However, this is playing dice with customers given the level of promiscuity in-store and, despite the thin margins, how relatively loyal online shoppers can be to a business.”
The table below gives details of what each of the main supermarkets offer customers in online grocery shopping, including delivery charges, minimum order value, delivery slots, and UK coverage. The final column gives the score awarded to each supermarket in the 2019 Which? supermarket customer survey.