E-retail industry – the uk internet grocery market

This study aims to understand the competitiveenvironmentof some of the main retailers within the UK market and to demonstrate the different elements of the e-environment that impact on the retailer’s business and marketing strategy. Furthermore this study will assess the impact of many factors and constraints surrounding the e-retail industry and specifically the grocery sector of the retail industry.

It is known globally that the UK has the most developed grocery e-tailing sector in the world and that is increasingly appearing specially after thefailureof many business models which have adopted the internet for distributing and selling there products

This study will exclude B2B sector and will focus on B2C sector in the retail market

I will be focusing on the online grocery market and the main British players leading this market.

I have selected this industry because recently, it has caused a noise globally, and many interested people are wondering whether this industry has reached the mature level or it is still growing or it is only a noise which will lose its importance later.

The UK Grocery Market

it is estimated that �105 billion of groceries are sold in Britain each year, (MINTEL Nov, 2002) , that shows a noticeable increase in sales over the period since 1999 until the end of 2002.

The Total retail sales through specialist and non-specialistfoodretailers were worth some �90 billion in 1999 and many specialists predict this market to continue growing to reach 120 billion by 2005 (MINTEL, Nov. 2000)

Within the food market itself, fruit and vegetables represent the largest market, with high demand within the sector for fresh produce. Convenience foods – fresh and frozen ready meals – are also highly demanded, as are products which generally fit well with the needs of the much maligned ‘cash rich and time poor’ consumer. Key debates within the market surround the use of genetically modified (GM) produce, and this has helped to create niches in the retail market for suppliers of GM-free or organic ranges. The major supermarkets have been moving quickly into the organic sector, in which higher margins can be found. (Key Note)

The UK grocery market is driven by economic factors, population structures, household size employment pattern and lifestyle patterns whose impact is shown below as macroeconomic factors:

Economic factors – Although consumer expenditure is predicted to continue to grow by 12. 6% to 2004, with personal disposable income expected to also grow steadily, it is unlikely that this will impact strongly on spending on food for in-home expenditure; As personal wealth has grown, spending on food has decreased as a proportion of total expenditure, with leisure activities, including eating out, taking most of the surplus. Some premium categories of food, such as organic produce, will benefit. As a result the focus of promotional strategy is moving away from price competitiveness towards other aspects of the retail offer.

The population structure – Food expenditure and the overall market size is directly related to the size of the population but the long-term outlook for the British population is for very low growth, implying that the food retailing sector is likely to find domestic profits hard to grow.

Household structure – Over the period 1999-2004, an increase of 830, 000 (3. 4%) (MINTEL, Nov 2000) household is anticipated. This is due to factors other than an increase in population; the growth is coming from one- and two-person households, due to risingdivorceand separation rates, getting married later or not at all and the elderly living longer These trends disrupt the economic logic of the superstore model which is designed to offer large families convenient means to buy large volumes of food in one place, relatively infrequently, during the daytime, and to transport that shopping home by private car.

Yet only 20% of adults have children under 16living at homewith them. All the major grocery retailers are competing to grow their share of this crucial segment of the population.

Smaller households equate to more frequent shops for a few items at a time, often at unsociable hours, a considerably more expensive retailing proposition.

Changing employment patterns and practices, with increasing frequency of part-time working, mean there are fewer families in which one partner has the time to shop at relative leisure during the day, and more for whom shopping is a shared duty, carried out whenever busy schedules will allow. In turn, time-pressured shoppers will often want to use a variety of shopping patterns according to circumstance, with retailers being required to offer more channels to market in order to compete. This cannot be done without cost implications.

Changes in consumer tastes and lifestyles have an influence on grocery demand patterns. Healthy-food fashions and food-safety scares cause people to change what they eat, while there is a strong trend towards snacking and convenience eating – which involves an increasing proportion of food being bought through channels other than grocery retailers.(MINTEL)

Internet adoption in the UK retail Sector

Retailers generally begin on-line activities by providing information and interactivecommunication. Their site may develop into an electronic shop almost mirroring their offline activities

A study by the department of trade and industry (DTI) called, ‘E-Commerce Impact Study: Retail Overview’ (www. dti. gov. uk 29 July 2002) shows that:

More than 75% of retailers are adopting e-business technologies,

Nearly a quarter of retailers surveyed, and more than 56% of micro firms in the convenience store sector, have not thought about the benefits of the e-commerce.

This report provides a detailed look at a number of key retail sector, and shows how UK retailers are getting to grip with e-commerce and that modern technologies are helping to change the way they do business.

The report mentioned that:

– 77% of companies are adopting e-commerce technologies

– 71% of businesses use external e-mail

– 53% of firms have a website

More British food shoppers have converted to online grocery shopping than in any other country. However, Internet sales still represent a tiny, although growing, percentage of the overall UK grocery market. Most people use the Internet as a way of gathering information on products and making price comparisons before visiting their local store.(Key Note)

Despite these statistics are showing quite positive numbers, some experts and specialists state that this field needs further research to determine the extent to which the web is likely to promote long term changes in the retail sector .

Table 1

A classification of online retail activit

1 Food and consumables: Grocery, including supermarkets and hyper-markets

2 Convenience stores

3 Specialists food retailers, e. g. bakers and confectioners

4 Alcohol retailers, including off-licences

5 Clothing and accessories: Clothing retailers, including female, male and children

6 Footwear retailers, including fashion and work wear

7 Jewellery retailers, including accessories

8 Home: Furnishings retailers, including hard and soft furnishings and


9 Electrical goods, including brown and white goods and


10 DIY, including gardening

11 Leisure and entertainment: Sports retailers, including sportswear and equipment

12 Toys retailers, including games, hobbies and crafts

13 Books, music, stationery and video retailers

14 News, including newsagents and CTNs

15Healthand beauty: Health and beauty, including chemists and opticians

16 Home shopping: Home shopping, including catalogues and mail order


17 Mixed stores: Mixed stores, including department stores and variety


Source N. F. Doherty, F. Ellis-Chadwick and C. A. Hart. 1999 . Cyber retailing in the UK: the potential of the Internet as a retail channel

Online Grocery UK Market

In the UK online market there are four main grocery retailers dominating the market those are (Tesco, J Sainsbury, Asda, and Iceland. co. uk)

According to the researchers the UK leads the world in online grocery shopping. ” Chains like Tesco and Iceland have been much faster than their US counterparts in exploiting the immense potential of new virtual shopping markets.” They estimate that the online grocery market is already worth �200m a year and will reach �1bn within two years.(Guardian Friday February 4, 2000 )

The online grocery market is characterised by many of the features of the traditional grocery market. Big supermarkets have woken up to the Internet as a distribution channel and are gearing up to dominate the market. Smaller suppliers, using the Web as another side of their portfolio, are sure to lose out in this area. Smaller niche suppliers make up a large element of the market in terms of numbers of firms. In fact, there are so many companies, many of which operate on a very local delivery basis, that it is almost impossible to calculate their actual number.


Online shopping grew 19 times faster than traditional brick-and-mortar retailing in December 2002, and increased a further five percent in January 2003 to represent six percent of all UK retail .(www. nua. com)

Various reported predictions suggest the online grocery market will be worth around up to 10 % of 120 billion which is the predicted grocery market size by 2005 (MINTEL Nov, 2000)

The current size of the UK online grocery market has been estimated to be worth �1. 2bn. (Key Note 2001), while Tesco reported 446 million sales during 2003.

Sainsbury’s the second market leader announced annual sales of �110 million during 2002 (MINTEL Mar 2003)

More than half the UK population will have bought something online by the end of 2003. Online shopping will represent 7% of all retail sales in the UK, accounting for �2 billion a month.(MINTEL Apr 2003)

The total size of the UK grocery market has been estimated at �100bn per year. To support the market, the UK has 5. 9 million online shoppers, growing to a predicted 8. 5 million over the next 5 years �500m of turnover, that suggests that average spending per user in 2000 was in the region of �83 per head, suggesting that the Majority of users are not regular consumers of online services.(Key Note)

Market size is difficult to determine, as figures for turnover from Internet sales are often included in total sales figures. Companies that are struggling to perform in the market may be taking a rather flexible view in how they present figures that may disappoint shareholders. However, Key Note’s assessment is that the size of the true online market is currently �465m (lower than many estimates suggest). Within this, Tesco claims 64. 5% of the market, Sainsbury’s 9%, ASDA 7. 5%, Iceland 4. 7%, , with the balance held by a range of independents, small suppliers and niche companies.

Table: 2

The UK Online Grocery Market by Online Sales by Supermarket (�m and %), 2000

Online Sales (�m) % of Total

Tesco 300 64. 5

J Sainsbury 42 9. 0 ASDA Wal-Mart 35 7. 5

Iceland. co. uk 22 4. 7

Others 66 14. 2

Total 465 100. 0

Source: Key Note

Macro Environment

To understand the macro-environment a technique called a PEST (Political, Economical, Socio-cultural, and Technological) analysis is usually undertaken.

The PEST analysis identifies all external factors that affect the way a business can operate. What follows is a PEST for the E-grocery industry



The UK government sets itself as the target of making the UK the world’s best place for e-commerce by developing public internet access and e-commerce awareness among UK businesses

To trade in the UK there are 40 different laws that a company may be subject to (chaffey)

Stephen Timms, e-commerce Minister, said:

” The UK’s retailers are making progress in adopting e-commerce and

developing e-business solutions. But there clearly is room for

improvement, and we cannot afford to be complacent.

” E-business technologies offer a wealth of benefits. In order to

exploit these we must help create the rightculturethroughout the

business community so that UK firms of all sizes can seize the

competitive advantage.

” UK online for business is leading the way in getting business

online, and the Government’s aim to make the UK the best place in the

world for e-commerce.”( http://www. gnn. gov. uk)

The first Annual Report on the strategy was launched in September 2000. The UK strategy for online development is laid down in the UK Online Action Plan, which details 94 recommendations for action in 25 areas of priority. One specific goal is to develop the UK as the world’s best environment for electronic trading by 2002. This, it is stated, will be achieved in four specific ways:

* Encouraging competition in Internet access markets

* Establishing a new regulatory framework for converging telecommunications and broadcasting markets

* removing regulatory obstacles to electronic ways of working

* Co-operating with international partners to develop a ‘global framework for e-commerce’.

Oftel (Office of Telecommunications) is one of the tools for achieving this strategy, and, as such, has been charged with driving competition in the areas of dial-up access and delivering high-speed access routes to the Internet , specifically the encouragement of adoption of Broadbandtechnology, and NPD (new product development) in the mobile-phone and fixed-wireless markets. Government strategy is to put as many UK consumers as possible online. Those responsible for driving this strategy are aware of consumer concerns about the Internet that must be addressed if the Government’s objective is to be secured.(Key Note)


The innovation in information technology (IT) and new business practices facilitated by IT are forming a ” new” economy, Electronic commerce and the IT innovations fuelling it are supposed to be fundamentally changing the logics of business practice, forming new social realities, and new business models. Traditional ” old economy” firms and organizations are busy building bridges to the new economy.

A stable rate of economic growth is one way in which the Government hopes to guarantee macro-economic stability, which can assist firms when assessing the risks associated with innovative practices. This, combined with the factors outlined below, has an influential effect on the rate of growth of the online grocery market.

Low Cost of Internet Access

One of the main drivers encouraging the use of Internet access and e-grocery in the UK is the relatively low cost of time spent online.

The UK is the cheapest off-peak location in the world from which to surf the Internet, peak rates have has been dropped. This advantageous position benefits consumers, and the state of competition within the market is strong, with a large number of good quality Internet service providers (ISPs) available and eager to serve the public demand.

Levels of Disposable Income

The greater the levels of PDI consumers have, the more likely they are to be tempted towards higher margin products. Such high-margin products can make the difference between a profitable online transaction and a loss-making one.

Table: 3

Index of Personal Disposable Income (1995= 100 and %), 1995-2001

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001


Income index 100 106 113 116 122 127 132

% change

Year-on-year – 6. 0 6. 6 2. 7 5. 2 4. 1 3. 9

Source: National Statistics

Table 3 shows that levels of disposable income are rising, and have risen by 32% since 1995. The indications are that the upward trend will continue to apply, suggesting that this economic indicator will contribute to growth within the market in the short term.

Rate of Change of Prices

The change of prices gives a good sign of the stability of the economy. The UK has a low rate of inflation, and this is confirmed by an assessment of the RPI in Table 4

Table 4:

Retail Price Index for All Items and Food(1995 = 100 and %), 1995-2000

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

RPI (all items) 149. 1 152. 7 157. 7 162. 9 165. 4 170. 0

% change

Year-on-year _ 2. 4 3. 3 3. 3 1. 5 2. 8

RPI (food) 151. 4 154. 9 160. 5 166. 5 169. 4 175. 2

% change

Year-on-year – 2. 3 3. 6 3. 7 1. 7 3. 4

RPI – retail price index

Source: National Statistics

It can be seen from Table: 4 that the rate of change in the price of food between 1995 and 2000 has been roughly in line with the general rate of change in the RPI. Similarly

European Currency and Simplification O European Trading Laws

The advance of the European currency and the simplification of European trading laws will mean that Consumers will find it increasingly easy to trade with European retailers. The Internet offers International retailers a great opportunity to attack the UK marketplace.

British shoppers are already prepared to go Euro to get what they want online.

” Big brand names are in the best position to immediately exploit e-commerce but if they don’t start moving soon the threat from foreign competition is real.” (Jolanta Pilecka, E-commerce Marketing Manager, Hewlett-Packard).

In future a number of important factors might affect the economic state of the UK and inevitably supermarkets. The first is the possible introduction of the Euro. The Euro has been introduced in various European countries, but most notably France. The introduction of the Euro in France has pushed up weekly shopping bills for the average French household by 10 per cent. Could the same be expected to happen in Britain should the Euro


To know the barriers to consumer online purchasing adoption it is useful to understand the different factors that affect the level of internet access. Value proposition ease, Security and fear of unknown are the main factors affecting the internet adoption (Chaffey)

Over the period July to September 2002 an estimated 11. 4 million households in the UK could access the internet from home, that amount 46 percent of all households. This is over twice the number three years earlier and is an increase of 7 percent from 39 percent reported in the third quarter of 2001. (www. nua. com )

Evidence suggests that household formation will continue to grow, but that the profile of home size as mentioned at the first of this paper will stay strongly biased towards homes with one or two people.

Table 5:

Changing Household Numbers in the UK (million and %), 2000 and 2005

2000 2005

Million % of Total Million % of Total

One person 7. 3 29. 1 8. 0 31. 1

Two persons 8. 9 35. 5 9. 0 35. 0

Three persons 3. 7 14. 7 3. 5 13. 6

Four persons 3. 5 13. 9 3. 5 13. 6

Five or more persons 1. 7 6. 8 1. 7 6. 6

All households 25. 1 100. 0 25. 7 100. 0

Source: National Statistics

An estimated 62 %of adult in the Great Britain have accessed the internet some time according to figures from the October 2002 national omnibus survey. This is equivalent to approximately 28. 6 million adults in Britain having accessed the internet. In the month prior to the survey 52 per cent of adults had accessed the internet.

Differences between the countries and regions of the UK

Levels of access vary greatly between different parts of the UK. In October 2001 to September 2002 the proportion of households with access was lowest in Northern Ireland (30%), Wales (31%) and the West midlands (34%). It is noticeable that the proportions were highest in the East of England (52%), London (50%) and the South East (50%) were around half of households had access to the internet.

Table: 6

Households with home access to the Internet by Government Office

Region & UK country:

October 2000 to September 2001 and October 2001 to September 2002

Oct 2000 Oct 2001

to to

Sep 2001 Sep 2002

Per cent

North East 26 36

North West 35 41

Yorkshire and the Humber 32 39

East Midlands 40 46

West Midlands 35 34

East 40 52

London 46 50

South East 46 50

South West 38 41

England 39 44

Wales 27 31

Scotland 30 40

Northern Ireland 26 30

United Kingdom 37 43

Source: national statistics

According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (www. itu. int )

it is shown that in the UK 36. 62 per 100 own a PC

Table 7:


Estimated PCs




Hosts per

10`000 inhab.





Users per

10`000 inhab.









485. 03

24`000. 0

4`061. 74

22, 00

36. 62

table 7 , shows that a large proportion of the UK population own a PC that makes accessing the internet easer than going to the work place or other places

Legal and ethical concerns

It is argued that people do not change as quickly as may be believed. They still do not like parting with personal details, especially to those that they do not trust. Firms that request data from consumers need to make supplying information optional and allow users to change and delete the information provided. Crucially, they need to convince consumers that they will treat all information confidentially. Firms that are recognised as ‘good citizens’ and with a high reputation in this regard are well placed to ease the anxieties of consumers scared of fraudulent use of details. Smaller companies with an Internet-only presence will find it hard to build up this trust.


E-retailing can be seen as an innovation in retailing that in turn is built around a technological innovation

Many reports have summarized technological problems as: The complexity of the user interface bandwidth restrictions and access connection speeds and security concerns

A wide range of new technologies have enabled companies to create

better and more efficient relationships with consumers as e-retailers:

– provide more information in the pre-shop experience;

– increase the number of access points to meet customers needs;

– offer a wider choice of products than can be held in-store; and,

– improve the overall service provision, for example through better stock management. www. gnn. gov. uk

Technological breakthroughs are some of the key drivers in building the right conditions for online grocery to thrive.

The main technological factors influencing the market include:

� The expansion of broadband Internet

� The introduction and growth of DTV (digital television)

� M-commerce (mobile-commerce) and WAP (wireless application protocol) phones

� Automated reordering systems

� Systems offering defence against fraud

� Automated customer service.

(Key Note 2001)

Broadband Internet

One of the problems many consumers have when dealing with the Internet is the speed of access. Many consumers connect using 56K modems, although the majority never achieve this speed, perhaps because they live a great distance from the central phone-exchange routes or because their phone lines are too old. Broadband connections can alleviate this problem.

Broadband connections come in two basic types: digital subscriber line connections (DSL) and cable modem connections

In the first quarter of 2001, the number of DSL lines grew by 90% in the UK This market is likely to experience high growth in the coming years.(www. itu. int)

Digital Television Advancements in television are running parallel to other Internet-enabled technologies 4. 4 million households had DTV in 2000, and the figure is now probably in excess of 5 million. Not all DTV services are fully Internet-enabled, but there are plans to achieve this. The growth rate in subscription to DTV services is believed to be higher than the rate of new subscribers to ISPs. It has been suggested that more than 45% of homes will have digital satellite TV by 2008 (generating revenues for the communications companies of �2. 4bn per year).

One of the major barriers to e-grocers is the high costs charged to the suppliers by the DTV companies. Tesco reported to have found Open Digital’s charges too expensive to make a venture worthwhile, however, the majority of the large supermarkets are signing up to the service may have very severe consequences in the long term.

M-Commerce and WAP Phones

M-commerce for all markets in Europe is forecast to reach levels of around $38bn by 2004.(Key Note) with over half of European companies planning to offer some form of service via mobile phones (particularly in the banking and service sectors). Major multiples are increasingly active in the service sector, and their online successes in other areas could well spill over into m-commerce activities, Mobile communications company Ericsson has estimated that, by 2004, there will be more than 600 million people using mobile Internet services in Europe.

In 2000, the market for subscriptions to mobile-phone services grew by 67% and by 84% in 2002 .(www. itu. int ) However, WAP phones, currently the only method of accessing Internet via a mobile, have been relatively slow to catch on in Europe and make up only 15% of overall handset sales globally.

Automated Re-ordering Systems

All the technologies so far discussed require a conscious effort on the behalf of the consumer. In the future, it is possible that automated re-ordering systems will mean that the retailer is automatically notified when products are being used up within the home and need replenishing. There are two enabling technologies currently under development that may make this less fictional and more everyday. Vendor managed inventory (VMI) is one of these technologies.

Another enabling technology in the same area is radio frequency identification technology, also known as RFID. This improves on VMI by using radio waves to scan all products in the fridge at any one time.

Those kinds of technologies build and grow up the relationship between the consumer and the supplier learns more about the consumer behaviour to satisfy his demand

Also they can create a competitive advantage for the business

Systems Offering Defence Against Fraud

Concern over fraud continues to scare many consumers away from using the Internet as a route for purchasing items and services.

Credit-card companies are already making changes to their services to ease these concerns, but longer-term solutions may be found in encryption technology.

Technology is being developed that adds digital signatures to a purchaser’s Web browser which may help fight fraud.

Such services can only be developed and provided by strategic partnerships between online retailers and Web security corporations such as Inktomi, Ariba, Broadvision, Vignette and Verisign (all leaders in secure-payment processing solutions).


Porter’s 5 forces analysis

Michael Porter’s five forces is The model that widely used for competition analysis in business strategy formulation, states that an organisation exists within an industry. To succeed it must deal with the competitive forces that exist within that industry:

(1) Entry of new competition.

(2) Threat of substitute products.

(3) Bargaining power of buyers.

(4) Bargaining power of suppliers.

(5) Rivalry amongst existing competitors.


As an industry in the early stages of its life cycle, the online grocery market is currently very fragmented, with a growing number of competitors. The reasons for this fragmentation lie in several factors: relatively low entry barriers, high transportation costs, the perish ability of grocery items, nontradable goods and services industry, and the ability to specialize in geographic regions and reap the benefits of economies of scale. Much like traditional bricks-and-mortar supermarkets, online grocers are highly localized except for a few that operate nationally or internationally by delivering only non-perishable goods. (Success factors)

Barrier to entry

Compared to building traditional supermarkets, the barriers to entry in the online grocery market are relatively low, since most online grocers are localized. Set-up costs include establishing the computer system, creating logistics and warehousing capabilities, building brand awareness, and having the necessary alliances with local grocers in place. Many online grocers have already established partnerships or alliances.

Entry into the industry is currently relatively easy, because no one has inherent advantages.

Innovation and competitive moves, which can be easily replicated, have not prevented new firms or substitutes from entering the market. However, entry barriers may rise in the future as consolidation likely occurs.

Market such as groceries, barriers must be built on differentiation through brand recognition by achieving superior customer service and responsiveness. One attraction for the recent surge of Internet startups in the grocery business is that online grocers require less capital and have lower variable costs than bricks-and-mortar stores. Fixed costs are high, but the potential for big returns is great if a large sales volume can be generated.

Exit barriers can be moderate to high, depending on the amount invested in logistics and warehousing, the Web site, computer systems, and marketing.


Retailers have high bargaining power when they purchase a large volume of goods from their suppliers. Unlike huge supermarket chains, the smaller online grocers typically possess a lower level of bargaining power than their suppliers. But traditional grocers that decide to branch out onto the Net have the advantage in this regard, buying in bulk and enjoying established relationships with suppliers and customers. This allows them to price their goods competitively, deterring new entrants or forcing inefficient incumbents out.


The bargaining power of buyers or consumers is very high in this industry. With many substitutes and competitors to choose from, dissatisfied customers can simply switch to a competitor. Groceries are commodities, so consumers can be sure to purchase the exact same products elsewhere.


The threat of substitutes is undoubtedly high for two reasons:

Firstly, the products and services offered online to customers are extremely similar. So similar in fact that supermarket’ often have to lower their prices to give them more appeal.

Secondly although there is a certain degree of brandloyalty, it can’t be relied on, as customer loyalties tend to change when they find they can obtain better value formoneyelsewhere. E-grocers understand that the threat of substitutes is high, and this then is the main reason for supermarkets branching out and pursuing a broader product line, as a means of calming the intense competition with their competitors. However, in pursuing broader product line grocers open themselves up for further competition from experienced players in other non food retail markets.


Competitors will do everything in their power to increase their market share. Supermarkets also have high fixed costs due to the sheer number of stores they have open. They must make a sufficient amount of sales to cover their costs and generate profit.

As discussed earlier there are a variety of substitute products and services that are becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate thus custom is very much determined by price. This situation is further aggravated because switching costs are difficult to impose, as food is an everyday necessity, many customers will happily forget any loyalties if they really need to obtain it.


The environment in the online grocery industry is growing more and more competitive as new firms continue to enter.

Grocers which established its online purchasing site first is gaining the benefits of the first-mover advantages such as Tesco. com

E-grocery has become a considerable industry sector each main player in this industry is trying to create a competitive advantage to attract more numbers of spoiled customers trying to satisfy there demands.

The UK e-environment is one of the best e-environments globally that ease the entrance to this industry and generate the potential for more and more customers to buy grocery on line.

This industry sector is a quite new industry that makes the flow of information about its success and pitfall factors relatively not enough to know every factor influences this industry

We can’t say that e-grocery sector has reached the mature level since there are more and more numbers of customers and rivals are entering this sector.