Waitrose MD Mark Price expects its store-based online operations to break even in the current trading year - but that doesn’t stop him being worried by the high cost of doing business online.

Online sales at the upmarket grocer soared 31% in the year to 31 January, with average basket size up 5% to more than £100 - and at a marginal level each order made a profit. But if central and store overhead costs were included, they were loss making. “We’re looking to cover these central costs in our branches this trading year,” he promised - though the new dark store in Coulsdon, which opened in March, would take three years to make a profit.

Price admitted online growth had slowed this year as Waitrose was not repeating its huge push to promote its dotcom offering. But predicting online could account for 20% of grocery sales in the future, he said further work was needed to address the new economic model. “The fact is online is a less profitable channel. You have to think about how you rebuild your core business in that world.”

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