Starting with wine, in the first quarter of 2016, the German discounter will then move to list non-food items – such as electricals and clothing – from its Specialbuys range later in the year.
“Our launch online is another exciting chapter in our story and will enable us to introduce the Aldi brand and some of our bestselling, best-quality and best-value products to thousands more customers across the UK,” said Matthew Barnes, chief executive of Aldi in the UK and Ireland, of the launch.
Barnes had previously dismissed an ecommerce offering altogether. In 2014, he told Retail Week that online would “only increase our cost base” and that there were “no plans” to explore the option.
It is notoriously difficult for supermarkets to secure a ROI from ecommerce due to the high associated costs around delivery and dark store infrastructure. It took online grocer Ocado, for example, 14 years before it finally turned a profit last year.
Aldi’s u-turn isn’t surprising, according to Kantar Retail analyst Bryan Roberts. He says by not stocking food Aldi is “being smart”.
“Wine is a hero product at Aldi and its higher average transaction price and decent margins mean this will be profitable so the move makes sense,” he explained.
“There are still 47% of people in the UK who don’t have access to an Aldi so this is a good way of reaching them.”
Aldi’s UK sales hit a record high for the 12 months to December 2014 of £6.9bn, a rise of more than 30%.
However operating profit falling by £11m to £260m as the discounter reduced prices – to ensure it remains cheaper than the likes of Morrisons and Asda who are looking to close the gap with the German discounters – and hired more staff.
Having secured profit growth of 65% in 2013 and 124% in 2012, Julie Palmer, a partner at Begbies Traynor, called the record results “disappointing.”
She said: “They show that even Aldi can’t escape the clutches of the ongoing supermarket price war.
“But with almost half of British grocery shoppers now visiting Aldi or Lidl every month, the public still clearly loves the discounters and Aldi going online will be a major worry to the likes of Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.”
The discounter brand has committed to an aggressive plan to reach 1,000 stores in the UK but retail analyst Graham Soult believes it’s showing signs of “becoming like everyone else.”
“Part of Aldi’s appeal is the simplicity of the business, it’s cheap and easy,” he said. “By going online it risks losing that uniqueness and becoming like everyone else with a conventional online offer.”
Soult says it would be a “mistake” for Aldi – which insists it has no plans to sell groceries online but will be “monitoring” the situation – to start selling food on its website.
This is a view shared by Roberts, who adds: “Regular ecommerce is beyond Aldi altogether. It wouldn’t be a wise move for profitability and I cannot see it happening as Aldi’s streamlined supply chain model would have to change completely.”
Soult, however, would not be surprised if the German discounter changes its stance.
He concludes: “Once it gets up to 1,000 stores, you could see Aldi become more like a Tesco to its approach online as it would make sense to provide click and collect.
“As you’ve seen with its marketing, which has gone from quiet to just about everywhere over recent years, Aldi isn’t scared to become more mainstream as it grows.”
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