The challenges of cyberspace The internet is taking Waitrose into whole new areas - giving director of selling and marketing Mark Price the task of making sure each element meets the standards set by stores. He tells Belinda Gannaway why this job is so vital Since becoming director of selling on top of his role as marketing director, Mark Price has the responsibility for ensuring Waitrose fulfills the promises it makes to customers in whatever guise they may appear. In anyone else's language, he's looking after operations. With a new WAP offering launched in May, 10 internet shopping services by the summer, Waitrose@work, as well as a growing store portfolio, the customer knows the company in an increasing and varying number of ways. Price's job is to ensure the standard of service they receive at each is identical ­ identically superb. "You inherit a lot of brand attributes from your physical buildings. Nonetheless, you've got to be aware of what you're offering on the web," says Price. The new channels to the consumer are also driving the main business as much as the retail arm. We're not talking about Waitrose "trying its hand at some internet add-ons", he insists. Yet, uniquely for a supermarket group so involved in pioneering new channels to the consumer, Waitrose has not opted for a full online home shopping service. Nor is it about to be bamboozled into doing so. Price explains: "At the moment, we've gone for Waitrose@work so you can sit at your desk and get your full grocery shop delivered out of the branch. "If we wanted, we could do home shopping. It's only a question of when we think it's right to do it. It's a question of asking how effective it will be, what scale of investment is needed and how the market will behave." Price doesn't feel any need to rush down that road. Nor does he worry abut losing out to the bigger players who have already gone online with a full grocery offer. "I don't think being first to market in-home shopping is a prerequisite for success," Price says. "Clearly, the competition doesn't share that view. A lot of people are saying I shop with Tesco online now, but when Waitrose starts, I'll switch'. "The question is, can this be the right time to go in when even the biggest players are forecasting just 0.5% of sales online, or are there other channels you want to develop first, where you can tap new customers." Winning new customers is exactly what Waitrose@work specialises in. But how many of them it is pulling in is a grade one official secret at Bracknell. Price does, however, suggest his figures makes those from Verdict look remarkably on the small side. But then, he points out, the service does target tech-nically oriented white-collar workers. All Price says on the subject is that "a lot of customers are genuinely new to Waitrose". And that's what it's all about. There's no point cannibalising your own store market, he insists. Clearly Waitrose@work was a coup, catching the larger players off guard. It is far and away the largest work based grocery delivery service in the country. Launched in June 1998, it is currently serving 45 companies, with an average 1,000 employees, from 25 stores. Another 30 sites are in the pipeline and it is rolling out at the rate of five businesses a month, gobbling up the market as it goes. Registration is typically 30-40% at each site, says Waitrose. So what about the future for Waitrose@work? Price says: "We haven't put a figure on how far we want Waitrose@work to go. The key is we want it to do well. If we service the BBC, can we supply a really good service and will people want to shop with us?" However, one store and one van operating in the Waitrose@work scheme can make 500 deliveries in a day compared with 200 a week with home delivery. "That means it's scaleable in a way that home shopping isn't," Price says. And the added beauty of the operation is that once customers are shopping with Waitrose@work, it's very difficult for competitors to step in. The same cannot be said for home shopping, where customers are likely to be promiscuous, especially if they are disappointed in the service they receive. But as well as taking Waitrose to new customers, the internet is taking Waitrose into new areas, providing more than just a means of selling more of the same. Who would have predicted two years ago that Waitrose would be a travel shop for last-minute deals with Last Moment. Online offerings in wine, organics, flowers, book, CDs and videos, as well as Last Moment ­ set up two weeks before the launch of ­ means Price has a host of channels through which to communicate with, sell to and attract consumers. Some 60% of wine orders come from outside the Waitrose catchment area, testament to the brand extension possibilities of the internet. Waitrose's internet service provider,, has the same number of unique visitors per week as 15 stores and just over 1,000 people a week signing up ­ all of which makes it a powerful marketing tool. In addition, the web site is used to build loyalty for account customers, turning it into something they "really appreciate". Special offers for account card holders are an important element of that. "More and more we'll look to give them a unique and exclusive area within the site where they'll feel very at home", Price promises. They get an additional 5% off BA deals on Last Moment, for starters. But Price's attentions are not all focused on the virtual store. Down on the ground, he faces the challenge of "making the stores better than they were last year and the year before and the year before that". To compete with any swell in the numbers opting for home shopping is a real challenge, he says. "Your product has to be better, the value in terms of the price quality equation has to be better and your customer service has to be better," he says. "People have to keep saying I think this is a wonderful place to shop'." Making 11 former Somerfield stores wonderful has proved taxing for the store services department, which will be running at "full stretch" for some months to come, according to Price. As for any multi-format retailer, the challenge for Price is ensuring full integration of the various channels. What the consumer wants is a cohesive Waitrose entity, not random bits of the business presenting different and unrelated service levels. Just as the marketing messages across the various channels have to tell the same story, so too the operations have to be slickly knitted together. Price says he is driving the e-tail and retail offers as "two complementary businesses". He adds: "The great thing for us is that people trust Waitrose. In surveys we've conducted, Waitrose is the most trusted food brand in the UK. If something's not right, they trust us to put it right. The internet is no different." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}