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Food & Grocery in Italy: has e-commerce delivered?


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Food is at the top of the list in every shopping basket in Italy, but e-commerce has yet to take off in this sector. In 2017, the online Food & Grocery market was worth 812 million euros (up by 37%), a measly 0.5% of overall retail purchases in the sector.
In 2017, Food & Grocery purchases via smartphones are worth about 200 million euros, equal to 26% of total e-commerce in the sector (up from 18% in 2016). If we add the shopping via tablets, the penetration goes up to 39% of the online demand.
Food is the main element in the Food & Grocery sector, in terms of purchased value. This element accounts for about 87% of the sector and is worth 708 million euros, an increase of 39% on 2016. Non-Food Grocery, which consists of Household, Health & Personal Care, and mainly concerns products bought from the supermarkets’ own websites and those of the manufacturers, accounts for the remaining 13% of the sector and is worth 104 million euros, a growth of 26%.
Food consists of 54% in “dry” groceries (packaged products that can be kept at room temperature, including coffee), 31% in “fresh” products (that need refrigeration or controlled temperature, including ready-made food plus fruit and vegetables), 9% in “alcoholic drinks” (beer, wine, spirits and liqueurs), 5% in “non-alcoholic drinks” (water, soft drinks and juices) and 1% in “frozen” products.

Growth can be traced to various circumstances, with new mass retail initiatives being activated and the existing ones cemented, the exciting projects in the field of Gastronomy & Wine that are gaining ground, the growth of innovative services, such as same day delivery services, and the rapid expansion of the ready-meal sector. Despite this entrepreneurial vigour, the sector is only an emerging market. To pass its test and show its maturity, the Food & Grocery offer must first come up with initiatives that can provide nation-wide cover and a more or less homogenous service from North to South and from large cities to the outskirts.
While this is not generally the case for B2C e-commerce in Italy, in Food & Grocery, it is the traditional operators (retailers and producers) who are taking up the baton, with 59% of the sales value in 2017. However, we are observing an inversion in trend, due to the decisively higher growth of dot-coms.

In a sector where the offer is extremely wide, products are often very complex (they are perishable, fragile...), the difficulties in operations and logistics abound and the purchasing process is laborious (a high number of items per order, repeat orders), operators must, by necessity, provide a fluid, simple and effective customer experience that can attract new shoppers, while retaining its existing loyal clientele. Offering an innovative and streamlined customer experience does not merely mean improving performance in the “basics” (range, price and service), it means coming up with new business models, to join up the physical and the online channels and introduce new technology, such as mobile payment and artificial intelligence.

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