Aldi and e-commerce

There have been rumours that Aldi wants to move into e-commerce. The rumours go on to suggest that it is looking at the UK first, because it is the most developed market at the moment.

We are sceptical about this news on several grounds, but especially the economics of e-commerce for Aldi and the idea that it should tackle the UK first.

UK e-commerce

As we show in our recent E-commerce in Europe report, the UK is easily the most developed e-commerce market, especially in food. In France, while there are figures to suggest that it has been successful, most retailers follow a drive through concept which is popular, though expensive for the retailers.

In Germany, our own research shows there is an appetite for e-commerce, though hardly anyone has tried it. (The problem there is the strength of Aldi and Lidl and the weakness of the full range superstores.)

But in the UK it is seen as being highly successful. But is it really? 18% of people tell us that they do their main shop online and yet online accounts for under 5% of all food retailers sales. This is symptomatic of a general problem with e-commerce, that it is hard for retailers to make opportunistic sales online. Online shoppers tend to know what they want and buy it. It is very hard to persuade them to buy anything else. (This is true across much of e-commerce).

Who succeeds in the UK?

The only retailers to have succeeded in e-commerce in food retailing have been the big four superstore businesses plus Waitrose and Ocado (which set up as the online outlet of Waitrose and is still seen as such).

We think that the reason for this is twofold – they have the depth of range and a level of trust – in quality and prices – that comes from those who have shopped in them. We think that those who have failed in the UK have done so because they lack one or more of those qualities.

Prospects for Aldi in the UK

And that is why we are very sceptical about Aldi’s prospects in the UK. It is true that there seems to be an appetite for Aldi to move online in the UK as we found in Mintel’s upcoming report Online Grocery Retailing – UK – March 2015. The suggestion is that it would partner with Ocado, in the way that Morrisons has done.

But however Aldi chose to do it, it would suffer from the same problems.

  • Basket sizes would be relatively small – because Aldi carries 1,500 lines while Sainsbury’s or Tesco has over 30,000.

  • Most people use Aldi (and Lidl) for only part of their shop. Relatively few (8% as we found in the last grocery retailing report – Supermarkets, More than just food retailing, November 2014) say they use it for their main shop.

Smaller basket sizes are lower value and that would inevitably mean that delivery costs would be disproportionately high – in effect delivery is a fixed cost, irrespective of the size of the delivery. So all those people who think they would like Aldi to deliver, probably don’t realise how expensive it would be. And we can’t see Aldi wanting to subsidise its online service, even to get it established. Aldi has changed in the last few years, but one thing has remained constant – costs are pared to the bone and it is most certainly not a charitable institution.

Where next?

So we are very sceptical about Aldi’s prospects in the UK, even if it could tap into an established fulfilment capability such as Ocado’s.

In our opinion it would be better to start in Germany. We know there is an appetite for e-commerce there and the Aldi brand is far stronger.

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