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Germany's Shoppers Head Online for Groceries—but Not to Their Favorite Supermarkets

Buying groceries from physical stores' sites not common

Shopping for groceries—one of the most frequent (and potentially tedious) tasks for many consumers—is now possible online in most of Western Europe. But how are food shoppers responding?

In Germany, Fittkau & Maaß interviewed more than 5,000 digital and potential digital grocery buyers in April and May 2014 to find out how many were buying food online—and if so, where.

Of those polled, one in five (20.8%) said they already bought food from suppliers on the web, and 16.3% were interested in doing so. Of the remainder, nearly all—over 60% of the total sample—said they were effectively creatures of habit: They were satisfied with their current shopping methods. And almost as many (57.3%) raised the traditional objection that it was difficult to judge the quality and freshness of food remotely.

But those in Germany who bought food on the internet, or were open to it, also had good reasons for their opinion. More than half (57.5%) pointed to the fact that they weren’t restricted by the opening times of physical stores, and 51.3% said they saved time overall. Almost as many (48.2%) mentioned that shopping online enabled them to see a larger product selection. Younger respondents in particular appreciated these advantages.

The web really came into its own as a place to find products not locally available. Some 52.5% of online food buyers in Germany said they bought items that were difficult to find elsewhere, and nearly 40% purchased from specific suppliers. Almost one-third went online to find foreign food specialties. Interestingly, only 6.8% said they did their regular weekly shopping on the web. Rather, purchases were most likely to be tea, coffee, chocolate and other confectionery—all bought more than once by 40% or more of online purchasers. Predictably, the items bought least by either regular or infrequent online shoppers were dairy and frozen products, fresh meat and fish.

Shoppers’ favorite destinations for online food shopping were more surprising. In a country extremely well served by supermarket chains, Fittkau & Maaß reported that Amazon.com and eBay were the retailers clocking up most grocery purchases by Germany’s digital buyers. Nearly 45% of respondents had bought food on Amazon once, and 9.0% had done so several times. The corresponding figures for eBay were 25.5% and 5.2%, respectively. The Gourmondo site ranked third, and the online arm of the REWE chain fourth; both registered much smaller shares of the digital food market, though REWE came near to challenging eBay in the percentage of respondents who had made multiple purchases (4.9%).

Germany is generally acknowledged to have lagged behind the UK in online grocery shopping. In 2012, for example, the value of UK digital grocery sales was more than 10 times the German tally, according to the February 2014 EY report, “Cross Channel - Revolution im Lebensmittelhandel.” Yet there are still many UK shoppers averse to buying food online. A January 2014 survey by YouGov for VoucherCodes.co.uk found that 43% of adult web users in the country had never bought groceries on the internet. Only furniture was cited by more respondents as a product category they’d never purchased online.

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