As a time poor business owner, the idea of having life’s essentials delivered to my door really appeals. A gentleman’s personal gentleman such as Jeeves would be ideal, but since I am neither a gentleman or nor a member of the idle rich then home delivery will have to suffice.
From large supermarket chains to boutique providores there are a growing number of choices when it comes to home delivered groceries and produce. In what I hope will be a series on buying food online, I’ll be starting by comparing the home delivery services of Australia’s two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths. Coles online offer is known as Coles Online and the Woollies offer is known as Woolworths HomeShop.
Putting aside the preference that many of us who love food and booze have for buying locally or from small specialist producers, the big supermarkets carry the widest selection of products. So it makes sense that from a standpoint of pure convenience, they’d be worth a shot. I have no real routine to buying groceries, tending to torture by trolley whenever we run out of toilet paper, tissues, milk or some other essential. I write a shopping list that seems to exist for inspiration only, and always arrive home to unpack with the realisation that I’ve forgotten to purchase something vitally important. Herein lies one of the other great attractions of online grocery shopping: a shopping cart that you can add to over several days, or even weeks, taking out your credit card to pay from your computer when you are finally satisfied that every item your require is on the docket.
The online experience offered by the Big Two starts off much the same. Use your postcode to validate delivery is available in your area and then create a customer account. Both sites greet you with specials and navigation by category, offer recipes based on products they sell and offer lists of items you’ve purchased previously. Both offer shopping cart functionality, allowing your order to be stored for multiple logins, until you are ready to finalise your order and check out and pay for your order.
There are a few key differences between the ways the two retailers manage lists. Coles allows you to build a list of items you buy regularly, to save you time searching for your favourite items each time you are putting together an order. You can build as many of these lists as you like, allowing you to say set up a list for your regular grocery items, a list for stuff you’d buy if you were hosting a BBQ and a list of cleaning products you like but may buy less frequently ie. dishwasher tablets, furniture polish, disinfectant. You can also view your previous orders. You can add items to these lists as you shop by clicking a ‘list’ icon. If you’re in a hurry or lacking inspiration, you can also use ‘Quick Lists’ of products like ‘Pantry Essentials’, ‘Sunday Roast’, ‘Pet Essentials’ (by pet type), and so on.
Woolies deals with lists a little differently, you can view your previous orders as well as a master list of everything you’ve ever purchased from them before. However, unlike the Coles online shopping site, you can’t build your own lists. Similar to Coles, you can view ‘Quick Lists’ of Woolies assembled products, with headings like ‘Newsletter Specials’, ‘Tick Approved Products’ and ‘Winter Warmers’. There is however only 3 of these lists, whereas Coles has 50+ Quick Lists.
After using both sites on a number of occasions, I can firmly say that Coles offers a better online shopping experience. They were first to market with the online shopping and home delivery service and the Woolies online shopping experience seems to largely mimic what Coles offers although in a number of areas, such as Quick Lists, only a token effort seems to have been made.
Because you’re choosing from a virtual stock of products, occasionally your preferred items won’t be available when the order goes to picking. Both online retailers allow you to set a default preference on whether you wish to allow substitutions, and then to adjust this at a product level. For example, you may be happier to have any brand of white sugar than you are to have a supermarket gofer chose to substitute your favourite brand of tomato chutney with some other random selection.
Once you’ve finalised your order you’ll be asked to choose a delivery time. Coles and Woolies both offer delivery windows where the tighter the window (ie. 4 hours of hanging around vs. 2 hours of hanging around) the more you’ll be asked to pay. The process of selecting the delivery window is a little easier on the Coles site with better visual organisation of your options and the ability to choose with a single click. Both offer delivery to your door six days a week.
Of course, shopping for items and placing an order online is only one half of the online grocery shopping experience. Delivery is what seals the deal. And this is where the offers of the Big Two really starts to diverge.
Coles consistently delivers towards the top of the delivery window, meaning less hanging around waiting for your groceries. Items are grouped together with like products and bundled into biodegradable shopping bags. Despite living in a security controlled building, on each occasion they have followed the instructions at our front entry and delivered the groceries to our front door after first checking in with the security office. Items have been in good order, except for some fruit and veg items that I would probably have left in the store had it been up to me to choose. Generally the quality of fresh produce is fine and as you would expect from a large supermarket. Refunds for any incorrect items are handled promptly and politely with a refund issued to the shopper’s credit card within days.
Woolies on the other hand have some serious catching up to do in the area of delivery. Deliveries arrive outside of delivery windows, after multiple calls from the dispatch office to clarify the address. Rather than checking in with the security office and then proceeding with a delivery to our door, groceries were dumped at the security office, with glass bottles broken by the delivery driver and no offer made to clean up the mess. Complaints were handled tardily by disinterested staff with a credit taking 3 – 4 weeks to be processed. Woolies does offer their Everyday Rewards program which earns Qantas Frequent Flyer points, and after giving them the benefit of the doubt and receiving several botched deliveries, I have to say this is the only reason still remaining to use their online shopping service.
Coles Online also does some nice social media stuff on Twitter. Mention either Coles or Woolies and a Coles team member will reply to your tweets offering to help. They even helped confirm that some tricky eco-friendly specialist light globes I was looking purchase a quantity of were indeed the right ones for my needs.
Verdict: Woolies came late to the online grocery party. Rather than trying to outdazzle Coles with great service, easy to use online ordering and an efficient and well organised delivery service, it appears they simple created a ‘me too’ service, simply to tick a box on their corporate scorecard. Whilst the Coles Online service isn’t at all personalised, it’s functional and delivers the convenience an online shopper expects from a large supermarket.