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24 Oct 2019

Is Lidl launching an online grocery delivery service?

Which? investigates the rumours circulating about the budget supermarket

Lidl shoppers may soon be able to avoid the long Saturday queues and frantic rush to pack their bags at the checkouts, if rumours of a new online grocery delivery service are to be believed.

Despite being the seventh-largest supermarket in the UK, Lidl has yet to offer its bargain deals and popular Middle of Lidl products online. But there's been speculation that this could be about to change after the discount supermarket posted a job ad calling for a digital project manager to help create a new online platform.

Here, Which? takes a closer look at the rumours, how Lidl's online grocery delivery service might work in reality, and what it will need to do if it wants to compete with the best supermarkets for online shopping.

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When will Lidl offer online shopping?

At the beginning of October Lidl posted a job advert seeking a new digital project manager 'to deliver a new online platform' that would help 'to drive online sales'.

Some are taking this as a sign that the supermarket could launch an online shopping service as soon as next year.

The new role will be based at Lidl's UK head office in Wimbledon, working with Head of Ecommerce Louise Weise and digital director Alex Murray.

Speaking at a conference last year, Murray alluded to Lidl's online plans: 'There are certain aspects of shopping that are completely uninteresting physically for people to do.

'The interesting opportunity is to find any sector where physical shopping is a chore. And if it's a chore, what other channels can pick up that slack? What are the ways we can lift that burden away from people?'

When Which? contacted Lidl for a comment, the supermarket didn't confirm or deny whether it was planning to launch an online delivery service. However, the spokesperson did indicate that it's on Lidl's radar, saying:'Online is something we're looking at.'

The rise of Lidl in the UK

Lidl was founded in Germany in 1973, when its store employed three people and stocked 500 product lines.

It first launched in the UK in 1994 with 10 stores, but today has 760 stores and employs more than 22,000 people.

The arrival of Lidl and Aldi, another German discount supermarket, has disrupted the UK supermarket sector.

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons - typically referred to as 'The Big Four' - now hold just 62.7% of the market; a 15-year low according to Kantar.

Lidl has overtaken Waitrose to become the seventh-biggest supermarket in the UK with a 6% share of the market, up from 5.2% last year.

How Lidl online shopping might work

Some believe Lidl's online offering could come in the form of an app, but it might just be an upgrade to the existing website.

Lidl could opt for a scaled-back service similar to Aldi, which offers delivery on some Specialbuy and Everyday Collection products plus wines and spirits.

Murray has also said that Lidl's Facebook winebot, which currently offers shoppers advice on selecting the best tipples, would 'sell the wines directly' as part of an ecommerce launch.

The future of supermarket online shopping

In March, the Co-op launched its first online food delivery service in selected areas. Pickers do your shopping in-store and orders are delivered via zero-emission cargo bikes.

But Co-op says it is exploring a number of different home delivery schemes, including a free service by taxi from eight stores in towns and cities around the UK and a trial of robots making deliveries from a local store.

Co-op robot deliveries originally launched last year at the Milton Keynes store, and now a second store in Emerson Valley is offering the service.

Co-op robot delivery vehicles
Co-op delivery robots at the Emerson Valley store

Amazon, which entered the UK grocery market with its Amazon Fresh brand in 2016, could also offer drone deliveries soon after a successful trial in Cambridge.

In 2019, Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer, presented the latest Amazon Prime drone model and said it plans to offer 'fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes'.

Marks & Spencer is a bit more low-tech and, like Lidl, is trying to catch up with what rivals have been offering for years. It's trying to position itself as a supermarket you can use for your weekly shop after falling out of the FTSE 100 last month.

M&S has cut hundreds of prices on essentials such as milk and bread, and plans to make its entire range (around 7,000 products) available online through Ocado by September 2020.

Meanwhile Tesco, which was the first supermarket to offer online shopping in 1996, appears to want to tempt shoppers back into its stores. It announced a Clubcard Plus subscription scheme that offers money off when you shop in-store, but no offers have been revealed to make it worthwhile for online shoppers.

Best supermarkets for online shopping

We spent £12.3bn on online groceries last year, up 9% compared to 2017, according to figures from market research firm Mintel.

So it would make sense for Lidl to join the online world in one way or another - but when it does, it will already be on the back foot.

Tesco currently holds the biggest market share. But in our survey of more than 12,000 shoppers, we found that Ocado offers the best online shopping experience, followed by Iceland and Waitrose.

Shoppers love the range of products and choice of delivery slots offered by Ocado, while the value for money is what sets Iceland apart from the competition.