Is online grocery shopping meeting the Covid-19 challenge?

Woolworths online store is not currently accessible - try again later

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Snapshot : How are big retailers going with their online grocery shopping offer to support Australians in the current changing and challenging situation? We do a quick online store audit of Coles, Woolworth, Aldi, IGA and Amazon online as they are right now. What key learnings in communications and e-commerce experience can other business take to build into their own plans?

Online Grocery shopping in Australia

We’ve spent a lot of time in other articles talking about setting up your own D2C online store. And with the current restrictions of freedom of movement, those business who can sell online are in a stronger position to make it through the current economic challenge. 

But what are the big online grocery shopping players actually doing right now? Are their online services up to the challenge?

We’ve done a quick online store audit today on Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA as the major food retailers plus we added Amazon to see how each is coping.

Our aim to observe (not criticise) and look for learnings. For anyone thinking about the e-commerce planning process, looking at what others do is a great place to learn.

We’ve been in businesses operating in crisis mode in the past. We’ve had to run websites on the fly too. So we have a lot of empathy for the online retailer teams who’ll be working on these sites at the moment. It’s observation and learning, not criticism.


Here we go.


Woolworths online store is not currently accessible - try again later

Oh dear.

Woolworths site is down right now. It was down 20 minutes ago when we started to write this post.

We’ve gone away and looked at the other sites and then come back. It’s still down. It’s not defaulting to a 404 page, so someone has clearly popped that page up there as a stop gap to fix something behind the scenes.

The “All available staff to the checkout please” is actually a neat little creative thought as customers will recognise that from their in-store experience.

But right now, it’s offering nothing as a customer.

Let’s come back later.


Online retailers - Coles home page

Well, first off, Coles site loads first time, so one ahead of Woolworths already.

And look at that headline. Clear, simple message, easy and accessible for all.

Three simple message right up front.

1. What we’re doing to help. 2. The set up of the new Priority Delivery service for the vulnerable and the elderly. And 3. a recruitment link, because let’s face it they do need the extra staff.

Add a couple of videos of their online COO being interviewed on Sunrise and the Curtis Stone advert they currently have on air. and here we have a business that seems on top of it’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak and being there for its customers. 

The communication is super clear.

Learning from Coles Online

Is there anything they could have done better?

Well, those two videos do look like they’ve been hastily dumped on to the site as embedded You Tube posts. We’re sure some creative directors would look at those and think they could have been designed better.

And the frame of Curtis has him looking a bit smug / smirking which is unfortunate. But really, those are minor and not important in the overall scheme of things.

The clarity and simplicity of the communications means Coles has done a great job from a communication point of view.

From an online shopping customer experience point of view, there are a few more challenges, The fact that the is essentially the company site, but you you have to jump in to the part of the site to actually shop.

This is quite a clunky and confusing set-up for the shopper. It means an extra step in the shopping process for most online shoppers.

Not so good.

Coles online home page - corona notice

But when you hit the shop landing page, again a big upfront clear simple message to customers about the new priority service.

Good stuff.

Then the default landing is to Essentials – bananas (always the most shopped single sku in the supermarket), milk, water, strawberries, coffee, cereal

The header gives you three simple choices. 1. Everything – which pulls up all the category and aisle choices. 2. Bought before. And 3.Specials. This simplicity of choice is great for navigating to what you want.

Many online store websites overwhelm shoppers with too much choice. We believe Coles have done a great job keeping the shopping design really simple. 

The toilet paper test

We’ll close with a quick test on a simple item search – let’s say toilet paper, given how much it has dominated the headlines.

If we look at how it’s being handled, on that landing page, they have a simple text box message about the limitations on number of packs per purchase.

Really clear and overall we have to say, it’s part of a well put together online shopping customer experience from Coles.  

Online retailers - Coles toilet paper page
Online retailers - Woolworths home page

Well, forty minutes of trying and the Woolworths site is back up and running.

Like Coles, they’ve done a good job of using the big headline banner to highlight the core message on Covid-19. Except here, there are two messages.

Less clear.

Covid-19 updates and changes to online shopping (which are all related to Covid-19.)

As a shopper, that’s a little confusing to know where to look first. Particularly as the first Cover-19 update relates to launching a new online delivery service for the vulnerable. 

Really, there should be one consistent overall message.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci

The Covid-19 section starts with a big picture of a smiling Brad Banducci, the CEO of Woolworths. Smiling. Probably not a good look right now.

But it doesn’t tell you anywhere on that page that that’s who he is. Or why his picture is there.

His message when you click through is sincere and well-written. But it’s also quite long and also Woolworth’s site colour scheme where they use dark grey font colours on a light grey background is not the easiest to read. 

Online retailers - changes to woolworths online shopping due to covid-19
Online retailers - Woolworths Covid 19 page

That page then has a LOT of updates – we counted 12 articles or updates since March 11.

Is this good or bad?

There would be some people in the world of communications who say it is better to communicate more than less, so in that way it’s a good thing.

BUT, the situation is also changing so fast that what we current on March 11 probably isn’t so applicable now. 

Learning from Woolworths online

Our learning from how Woolworths site is handling the communications side, is that are clearly making the effort, but there’s almost too much going on. Coles has done a better job of landing the few key messages in a more simple and sticky way.

So when the Woolworth’s communications team get a chance to pause for a moment, they’d do well to create a simple message house and focus on landing that at the top of the communication hierarchy.

They need to do some tidying up of the messages and push the out of date and too detailed other stuff into the background. 

And from a shopping point of view, Well, first off, the Woolworths shopping site header bar is really complicated.

It has three levels visible including associated Woolworths links (stores, insurance, mobile etc), an account management line (including lists, catalogues, recipes, search bar etc) and then all the aisles / categories. We count 30 options you can click on just in those top 3 lines.

That’s pretty overwhelming from an online shopper customer experience point of view.

The toilet paper test part 2

And if we get to the toilet paper section, then yes, similarly to Coles, there is a warning on the number of packs that can be purchased. 

It’s less obvious, but it is there. And, once you actually hit the aisles in the Woolworths online store, the shopping experience is on a par with Coles.

Big images. Simple product names. Clear prices and layout.

Overall, the Woolworths site feels ‘busier’ from a design and message point of view. In general this is not a good thing in e-commerce set-up.

Maybe their numbers tell them differently, but if these two sites were competing head to head and everything else was factored out, we’d have Coles slightly ahead because of their clarity and simplicity. 


Aldi have quietly and steadily grown their presence in Australia over the last few years. We know they have done a lot of work to build their brand and have a devoted following of customers.

What they don’t have yet though is a site you can order groceries from. (Note : they have launched some online shopping services since this article was originally written.)

Which is a real challenge in the current situation.

Their site page does have a Covid-19 update right there in the top headline banner, which takes you to a very text heavy statement covering trading hours, special buys, restrictions, returns and a slightly odd statement on customer behaviour.

No in fact, scrub that, it’s very odd in that they’ve set seven ‘conditions of entry’ in to their store. We can see why they might do it, but it’s a little preachy and patronising. Hmmm. 

Online retailers - Aldi customer behaviour rules

As for shopping online, the best you can do with Aldi is add products to a shopping list or send to a friend.

That’s not massively helpful.

We couldn’t even find a search function on the site. That’s pretty basic.

We are sure the Aldi staff are doing an amazing job in-store but so far they are missing the boat online. We’ve seen Deliveroo in the UK partner with retailers like Marks and Spencers and the Co-op. We do wish the team at Aldi and Deliveroo in Australia are reading these articles and seeing what they can do to follow suit in Australia.


Online retailers - IGA home page

The IGA website homepage currently doesn’t actually mentioned Covid-19 or Coronavirus anywhere. This seems like a bit of a miss from a communication point of view.

The page does have a “Latest Updates and Store Information” link right at the top of the page and in a banner which takes you to their latest statement on Covid-19. But, they’ve missed a trick by not overtly stating that’s what it is on their home page.

The IGA ‘updates’ page is similar in layout to Woolworths, but better from a communications point of view in that it only seems to hold the latest stories. The oldest update is March 23 – and we guess that someone in the IGA online team has gone in and archived previous updates that may now be out of date.

Good job.

Much clearer communication.

Online retailers - IGA Covid 19 page

So like Aldi, IGA provides an alternative solution for shoppers who want something different from the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths. But, also like Aldi, when it comes to online shopping, the offer is just not there. Deliveroo or Uber Eats would be a good match to support IGA at this time.

And the rest of their website seems to be business as usual with access to store locators, recipes and competitions, and details on catalogues and prices. But NO ability to actually buy off the site. Which as an online shopper is the reason we’d be most likely to end up here. 


Online retailers - Amazon-home-page

Delivery times may be longer than normal at this time. That’s it That’s all we can find in relation to Covid-19 and Coronavirus on the Amazon Australia home page.

Now, there is an argument that given they mostly deliver ‘non-essential’ items and their grocery selection is mainly pantry items, they don’t need to go big on communications on the virus.

But you think they would at least acknowledge it? The closest we can see is the appearance of toilet paper in their best seller list. 

The landing page is super long, and there’s so much choice, as we’ve mentioned in previous blog articles, we don’t believe Amazon offers a great site experience. They might have a great range (even if it’s less than the US version), but the amount of pictures, text and upsell offers is really distracting. 

Is online grocery shopping meeting the challenge?

Well, the answer to that is that it’s giving it a fair go. Yes, these are challenging times for all online retailers, but a few areas of confusion aside, it’s doing what it needs to do. 

With many online pundits pointing to a booming opportunity for e-commerce with people unable or wary of shopping in-store, it’s clear Aldi and IGA are missing the opportunity of online grocery shopping, though.

If they had a basic online service set up for their customers to shop online, this would win them massive brand kudos right now. And more sales. 

We understand the logistics set-up of this is a challenge. Especially, when you need to link to inventory, payment and set up a whole new supply chain system. But, if you are not in the game, then you are never going to win. There are partners out there, they could and should be talking to.

Amazon, along with niche players like the food delivery companies offering grocery delivery – e.g. ubereats, and menulog; small and local independents like Grocery Run and Grocery Van and even Harris Farm Markets for fresh produce do offer options for online shoppers. But realistically, let’s face it, the challenge really comes down to Coles and Woolworths.

And despite a few rough edges, you know what? They’re doing pretty good job.

For being under the pump, if not more so, than everyone else. They have managed to deliver what the customer most needs, safe access to groceries. So yes, yes online grocery shopping is meeting the challenge.

Good on ya Coles and Woolworths.

Keep it up.

Check out our guides to online retailers and customer experience to see some of the expertise that sits behind this online grocery shopping review. Or contact us, if we can help you with your e-Commerce planning

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