Online shopping services have not managed to make sites easy to navigate for first-time users says Siân Harrington

Kit Kat caused one of the biggest headaches for The Grocer 33’s online mystery shoppers this Easter. The problem is it is found under biscuits, not confectionery, on many of the online sites. This may surprise category planners, but most consumers see a Kit Kat as something they choose instead of a Mars bar or Dairy Milk, not a pack of Rich Tea.
While this may seem a small point, it proves how counter-intuitive some supermarkets’ online stores can be, adding to the frustration for potential new customers navigating web sites for the first time. And with the grocers successful in persuading online customers to spend more than they do offline, the race to secure more of these first-time customers is hotting up.
Indeed, Asda is rolling out its service to cover 40% of the country following a period of retrenchment to concentrate on improving customer service. Ocado is now available to just over 5.2 million households across south east England and the Midlands, which equates to about 20% of the UK population. Meanwhile Sainsbury, which earlier this month closed its Park Royal centre to focus on store picking, is putting its efforts behind customer service and expects to break even this year, with sales of around £200m.
But as our survey regularly shows, there is still work to be done. Despite decent PCs, some hooked to broadband, our shoppers complained about the time it took to order items. One caveat is the list is very specific, which will add some time, but delays were also caused by delivery pages not working, slow downloads and, in Asda’s case, the page crashing.
The good news is that stock availability has improved and substitutions are better, although our survey indicates grocers are substituting higher value items, pushing the cost up (see right).
Unfortunately, our Ocado shopper failed to find the 2-finger Kit Kat, only seeing the 4-finger. If only he had known it was under confectionery and crisps, then chocolate bars and bags and then multipack bars, he would have found it the 16th item on the list and Ocado would have had a full basket.