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Sinead Ryan: Why are consumers so reluctant to use the internet for their weekly shop?

News that Dunnes Stores is considering launching a home-delivery service means they belatedly join Supervalu and Tesco who have been sending out groceries to households for years.

While they may be late to the game, it's not an enterprise undertaken lightly, and they have had some experience with online shopping for their homewares and clothing lines, which is currently free with orders of €50 or more.

With 155 stores nationwide, a roll out of refrigerated delivery vans, produce-pickers and the consequent billing and paperwork, it's an expensive business.

Fresh food is a different prospect from non-grocery and Dunnes have taken their time to implement it. Lidl and Aldi do not operate deliveries while Tesco started its service back in 1998 on a phased basis, but says it now operates across 86pc of the country. Supervalu is rolling out new stores regularly also, and has an online map to see if your area is included.

"The online checkout gives customers an opportunity to put things into their basket and to take them out without the apprehension they might feel at a traditional till in-store," says Tadhg Dolly, e-commerce manager, Tesco Ireland.

"There is also a very significant increase in demand for deliveries and collections at the weekend, we can see customers who would have traditionally shopped on Saturday or Sunday, getting a delivery instead of going to the stores".

Surprisingly, baby products have shown particular growth, with parents avoiding lugging bulky essentials like nappies in trolleys.

Another trend for the Irish Mammy is shopping online on behalf of their college-going children to make sure they're getting their five-a-day and not spending their food allowance in the bar!

Still, online grocery sales account for about 6pc of the overall market, so it's not been an overwhelming success but is nevertheless popular with stressed, hard-working parents, who don't want to spend precious weekend downtime in the supermarket with children trailing out of them.

I have tried online shopping a few times and found that once the initial 'shopping list' is done- which does take some time, admittedly - the following shops are quite straightforward.

Having a constant calculator onscreen totting up the cost allows you to put back groceries you can't afford, or change brand, which you mightn't be prepared to do in the shop itself.

It's comforting knowing exactly what it will cost before you get to the 'checkout', rather than having the embarrassment of getting to the till and not having enough money.

Because I'm lucky enough to work as a freelance, I can get to the shops at off-peak times, which makes it less traumatic, so online shopping hasn't been necessary. But for people with small children and only precious weekend time to do it, I'd recommend it as a trial at least.

The drivers are normally very friendly, and will happily unpack your items for you. It's certainly worth the extra cost if you save on petrol, parking and the added stress of having children dangling out of you.

But what puts people off using the service? There is a cost, obviously, although the two players are keen to offer delivery slots which are charged at lower rates (see table), but these tend to be off-peak when arguably, you might get yourself around the supermarket quicker. You're also holed up for two hours awaiting delivery so it hampers your ability to get out and about for fear of missing it.

Tesco says its customers can choose delivery or collect in-store seven days a week with an interesting option to have as many deliveries as they like for €10 a month under their 'Delivery Saver' choice which means you're getting fresh food regularly.

Stephen Wynne-Jones of Checkout Magazine says the main hang-up people have about grocery shopping online, despite their thorough embracing of everything else, from shoes to gadgets to clothing, is cost and accuracy.

"International studies show that if supermarkets can master free delivery they'll nail it or even offering free delivery over a certain spend. Other retailers do this and whoever is the first mover on it will dictate where the market goes," he says.

The other factor is the prevalence of high-street stores in Ireland.

"This really hampers online shopping because certainly in urban areas there is lots of choice and proximity to grocery shops.

"In Germany for example, online never took off because there's a store on every street corner.

"In rural areas of course this isn't the case, but it's far more expensive to roll out a delivery service here".

He adds there's a battle for expansion, with Aldi and Lidl in particular, opening new stores all the time, giving customers more choice and less need to shop online. "Others are going into the convenience space, it offers access to people who don't want a hyper-market".

But when it comes down to it, do we actually trust the produce-pickers - those people sent out on your behalf to squeeze for bread freshness or check your apples have no bruises or keep your frozen peas frozen?

While Tesco offers a no-quibble freshness guarantee on all deliveries, and will give a full refund to unhappy customers, the time involved in all that is a bit messy. Personal shoppers are trained though, to make sure they only select produce they themselves would use.

The future of the market, according to Wynne-Jones, lies in how competitive it gets from brands. For instance, are companies prepared to pay supermarkets to have their products pop up first on the screen? Will they buy online shelf space in the way they do in the real world? It's long been known that products at eye-level sell faster than better, or cheaper brands further up or down.

Irish Independent