By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 27 June, 2013
Fish retailers in the United Kingdom are not making the most of the online shopping boom, according to new research conducted on behalf of the U.K. seafood authority, Seafish.
Online shopping currently accounts for more than 3 percent of the country’s overall grocery market and the food and grocery analysts IGD reckons it will grow by 98 percent over the next five years. IGD has forecast the sector will be worth more than GBP 11 billion (USD 16.8 billion, EUR 12.8 billion) by 2017, which is close to double its current value.
To date, e-shopping and fish, particularly fresh fish, are not the most comfortable of bedfellows. The delicate nature, short shelf-life and perceived high price often associated with fish means that most shoppers tend to want to see the product and assess its quality first-hand rather than buy “blind.” The more meticulous online buyers are also worried about how much time the fish might go unrefrigerated. While these are all legitimate obstacles, it’s also true that there are a growing number of people that are hugely dependent upon online grocery shopping.
At a recent Seafish conference held in Aberdeen, Scotland, Maureen Reynier of Reynier Research Ltd. filled industry delegates in on what’s happening in the online fish retailing world and where future opportunities might be found.
Among Reynier’s sample of online shoppers, were some that were “perfectly happy” to buy their fresh fish from the online fish counter, but they were very much in the minority. There was a greater number who would buy fresh pre-packed as well as canned and frozen, but the best take up of online shopping was by those who only bought canned and frozen fish products.
In establishing reasons for this trend, Reynier looked at the online fish sections on the Websites of Tesco, Sainsbury’s Asda, Waitrose and Ocado and found that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to making an online fresh fish purchase is the confusion over weights and measurements. Where there were prices per kilogram (e.g. 0.34 kilogram) a lot of the people surveyed had no idea how many grams that was or how many people it could serve. Furthermore, the price per kilogram made certain fish sound really expensive. “Cod loin, GBP 18.99 (USD 28.96, EUR 22.11) a kilo that sounds really, really dear,” came one comment.
Most worryingly, the process made it seem as though shoppers were having to do a lot of calculations just to be able to buy a few pieces of fish, said Reynier. “They wanted online shopping to be easy. This made it more complicated.”
Only Waitrose had recognized this problem and has made the process simpler by giving customers the option to assess a product in grams, pounds and portions — all with a price. Tesco, meanwhile, is the only U.K. retailer to provide a shelf-life indicator alongside each product.
The big concern is these failings could be affecting overall consumption per household. But the research did offer a number of straightforward solutions. First and foremost, retailers should take into account shoppers’ concerns and confusion by tackling the weight and shelf-life issues. Providing good levels of detail with regards to purchase options, e.g. price per fillet, price per whole fish, explaining what a GBP 5 (EUR 5.82/USD 7.62) purchase would comprise and how many people this would feed would likely encourage more people to buy fresh fish online.
At the same time, feedback from the survey said retailers should make the seafood category more appealing through improved visual imagery of cooked fish rather than the “dead fish” that are currently shown. They should also offer recipe ideas and serving suggestions — show ways to make seafood the basis of two meals per week and promote the health benefits of following such a diet, particularly among pregnant women and children.
Simply providing the right online offer, making it as easy as possible for customers to order, could hook in many new customers. With competition in the online grocery sector growing at an unprecedented rate, what further incentives do retailers need?