Mystery Shopper travels to Amsterdam: Dutch retailers fare well with online orders

ALBERTHEIJN4

RAPPIE
Albert Heijn's rapid-delivery app called Rappie

In the Netherlands, around 29 per cent of people are doing grocery shopping online, according to national statistic agency CBS. This is up from 21 per cent just one year ago. The increase puts the Netherlands at the very top of the European Union list of supermarket shoppers going online, with the UK following a close second. Added to these numbers, another recent report by GFK, a German research institute, reveals that 1 in 6 Dutch households order their groceries online regularly. 

To answer to this growing trend, several major supermarkets in the Netherlands have responded with a bevy of delivery options for consumers.

Albert Heijn piloted a mobile app called Rappie in December 2017. Rappie, as the name suggests, is a rapid delivery system, allowing orders to be placed via a specially developed app, with deliveries made within two hours. 

PICNICAlso in the Netherlands, Picnic was launched, a 100 per cent online supermarket that offers groceries ordered via the Picnic App. Picnic is free to customers and the company works directly with suppliers to deliver products to homes via nifty energy-saving electric vehicles. Think the modern milkman. What launched in 2015 has now become a quite a phenomena, with the Dutch start-up receiving a 100-million-euro investment last year by four Dutch family funds — NPM Capital, Hoge Dennen, Hoyberg and Finci. This investment led to the opening of Picnic’s first hub in Germany.

With the Netherlands leading several innovations in the online grocery category, Produce Business UK set up a Mystery Shopper experience in Amsterdam — completely online of course — to see how well retailers are doing in meeting the needs of customers. We ordered groceries from three major retailers, as well as an organic produce store and had them delivered to us. Factors that were considered included usability of the app, quality of the produce delivered, variety of produce offered, as well as general efficiency.

Our task for each of the stores was simple: deliver four apples, four avocados and a bunch of carrots. Here's how they fared ...

ALBERTHEIJN2

ALBERT HEIJN, Oostzaan, Netherlands
The largest supermarket chain here (80,000 employees, 959 stores in Netherlands) was founded in 1887 and is operated by the Dutch supermarket operator Ahold, which is actually short for Albert Heijn Holding.


The site itself was fairly straightforward to navigate, either by the search engine, or by clicking on products, and then selecting fruit and vegetable. For apples, all varieties — from Jonasgold, Elstar to Granny Smith to organic — come in packages or 4 or more, and all apples no matter what the variety are branded as AH apples. Avocados, also AH branded, can be bought as single units, or as a bag of misfit avocados, as well as packaged options of 2 or 4 units, or even a kilo. As for carrots, Albert Heijn offers bunches, packets, peeled, chopped options, loose carrots of the Regenboog variety, as well as organic ones. These are all under the AH umbrella. 

When clicking on the apples, avocados and carrots, full descriptions of each item, including nutritional information, as well as origin and suggestions on how to cook or prepare them, are provided for users. 

Signing up on the site was fairly seamless, with a simple form provided to input gender, name, date of birth, email, address and coupons, if applicable. Once a member of the site, customers can view previous purchases, as well as nutritional values associated with each purchase.

Next come the delivery options. For Albert Heijn, there are three: “Never wait again,” which is the most expensive option and means that customers select the expected delivery time on the website, and then receive a free SMS 30 minutes before the delivery arrives. “Doing smart groceries” is another option whereby groceries are delivered to customers within a two-hour window. This option also includes some special promotions. Finally, “Every bit helps” provides a five-hour window when items will be delivered and is marked as the cheapest option of the three.

All deliveries are made at least one day after the orders are placed. 

Upon ordering the items, a small caveat appeared: Albert Heijn has a minimum order delivery of 70 euros. However, although ordering 70 euros worth of products isn’t viable for some customer’s purchasing habits, the supermarket provides another option which is to pay for a delivery bundle – a fixed amount per month to have groceries delivered.

In this particular instance, and for the little basket of produce on this order, it was easier to combine it with someone else’s larger shopping order. 

The delivery option chosen was “Never wait again.” All in all it was extremely efficient and precise in terms of the timing window, and all produce came exactly as it was described, flawless and fresh, with specific labeling of each product.

MYSTERY4

SPAR, Amsterdam
Founded in 1932, SPAR is an independently owned and operated food chain which has more than 260 stores across the Netherlands ... and nearly 13,000 stores and 350,000 employees globally.

To get started on the online delivery section of the site, the user is first prompted to choose a store located within the range of their delivery postcode. Then, that particular store’s assortment of products comes up. In this case, it was Spar Sloterdijk.

The selection was simple and slightly reduced from their other, larger stores, however the basics were easy to spot. For avocados, these can be either be selected as single items or two pieces packaged together. Spar also provides a Fairtrade option. Carrots are on offer unbranded here as a 300g bag or as snack carrots in 150g bags. Apples are available, also in a bag, or 150 grams worth in the Elstar or Joangold variety.

Like Albert Heijn, the site also lists the basic benefits of each of the items and recipe ideas, however this one is more condensed.

The entire interface of the site is easy to navigate and straightforward, with a clear search bar and consolidation of products listed. What’s more, when it came to placing the order, there is no minimum order amount here, and when orders are placed before 10am, it is delivered to the location the same day.

However, in this particular case, when selecting a delivery slot, there was no slot available at all, not even in a week’s time. This meant that Spar either didn’t have the option to deliver those days, or that they were fully booked. The only two foreseeable options were either to select another Spar, or to pick up the produce in store. Staying upstairs from the store made the pickup the right choice. All the products were in perfect order, labeled correctly and ripe. For the pickup service, paying in cash was a possibility.

DEKAMARKET5

DEKAMARKT, Velsen-Noord, Netherlands
Founded in 1941, the company operates a chain of 81 supermarkets after a merger with Dirk van den Broeck's companies. The first true grocery store opened in 1955.

Signing up to use the service involved inputting name, date of birth, zip code, email and address. Out of all the retailers, DekaMarkt appeared to have the most variety for the produce selected. Like the other websites, navigating the search either by search bar or by browsing by categories lead to the produce items. For apples, the variety was quite extensive, from Hollandse Jumani, to Hollandse Jonagold, Pink Lady, Royal Gala, among others, either purchasable in packets of 4, or in 1kg or 2kg measures.  There were also eco-options. For avocados, one variety appeared in either per piece, 2-piece options, 700 grams worth. These ones were listed with the “Eat Me” label.

Carrots were also available in several varieties; loose, bunched, chopped, organic.

The website itself proved extremely efficient, with some nifty features to the profile section such as favorites, shopping cart, personal lists, receipts and soon-to-launch favourite recipes. When it comes to delivery options, customers can either pick up the groceries from the branch at a certain time, say 11am-1pm, or they can be delivered. However, upon selecting the delivery option, the following message appeared:

“I want to pick up my groceries at the branch at Hagelingerweg 28 in Santpoort Noord and I will collect my groceries on Friday 12 October between 18:00 and 19:30. If there are items that are not available, I want no contact with me for alternatives.”

There seemed to be no option to have the items delivered after all. Upon researching this further on the site, it stated that the minimum order amount for home delivery is € 50, and for a Pick Up Point order no minimum order amount applies. 

MYSTERY5

EKOPLAZA, Amsterdam
The chain of organic food supermarkets boasts 74 stores ... as well as a couple dozen more after recently acquiring competitor Natuurwinkel. They feature the "world first plastic-free aisle" at one of their shops in Amsterdam and vow to be fully plastic-free in all stores by the end of the year.

The final try out was Ekoplaza. They call themselves the largest organic supermarket of the Netherlands with 105 pickup locations nationwide, serving affordably organic, delicious food. In terms of the website, this was the most user-friendly in terms of simplicity of navigation, fonts and design. Setting up an account was simple, with providing just a name and email. It also seemed that the experience was much more curated. For example, produce items such as avocados were presented without a brand name, and with only one option. The description section of the item was much more elaborate, including tips on how to prepare it, nutritional value, information about allergies, as well as country of origin. The whole navigation felt like a more personal and boutique experience.

Like the other websites, users can search by category or with the search engine for an item.

Selecting avocados was a seamless choice, as there was simply only one on offer. Next came carrots, which came loose in 500g or 1kg, or bunched, and apples, which were either sold by single units (Santana), Elstar in a pack of 4, or small appels in 1.5kg bags. 

Upon selecting the items, orders that were placed before 1pm made it to the next day delivery, and same-day pickups were also offered at one of their 105 locations. The minimum order here is 60 euros, with the delivery costing 2.5 euros. 

To try out this service, without spending the 60 euros, it was sensible to combine this with someone else’s shopping order. The delivery of the items was timely, however most striking to this was the packaging. It was all very simple, as though the groceries came straight from a farm, with less plastic in general wrapping the produce.

The bottom line

On the whole, all the produce from the four retailers was fresh, ripe and accurate. 

With plenty of retailers in the Netherlands catching onto online grocery delivery services, from organic farms, to large retailers as well as smaller shops, watch this space for upcoming initiatives, particularly in design and technology, that will answer to this growing need.

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