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Is online grocery shopping meeting the Covid-19 challenge?

Woolworths website 404 error page which says All Available staff to the checkout please!

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Why read this? : We look at how online grocery shopping is coping with Covid-19. Learn how Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, IGA and Amazon are supporting their customers. Follow our online store audits to see what we can learn from their approach. Read this to learn how online grocery shopping is handling the challenges of the pandemic.

Online grocery shopping in Australia

Businesses who set up their own online store before the Covid-19 crisis are probably feeling quite smug. With all the lockdown restrictions, selling online is the best way to get products out to customers.

In particular, online grocery shopping is super important. Because we all need groceries, right? 

So what are the big online grocery shopping players doing right now? Are their online services up to the Covid-19 challenge?

Covid 19 empty shelves with a sign saying customer limits of essential items like bread and water

We’ve just done a quick online store audit on Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA as the places where most Aussies do their grocery shopping. Plus we added Amazon which also offers some grocery. We wanted to see how each is coping with the pandemic challenges.

Our goal is to pick out lessons we can all learn from. Looking at what others do is a great way to build your e-commerce planning knowledge.

And we realise it’s tough. We’ve worked in businesses operating in crisis mode. Running websites on the fly isn’t easy. We feel for the online retailer teams who’ll be working hard at the moment. Our intent is to observe and learn, not criticise.


Here we go.

Oh dear.

The Woolworths site is down. It was also 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 going to a 404 page, so someone has popped that page up there as a stopgap to fix something behind the scenes.

Woolworths website 404 error page which says All Available staff to the checkout please!

The “All available staff to the checkout please” is a neat little creative thought as customers will recognise that from their in-store experience. But right now, it’s offering nothing in terms of customer experience. Let’s come back later.

Well, the Coles site loads first time. So they’re one up on Woolworths already.

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

3 clear, simple messages 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 need the extra staff.

Online retailers - Coles home page - headline says working together on Covid-19 - all Coles supermarkets, petrol stations and liquor stores remain open

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’s on top of its Covid-19 response outbreak. Coles is there for its customers. 

This is very all clear, very good public relations focussed work.

Learning from Coles Online

Is there anything they could’ve done better?

Well, those 2 videos look like they’ve been hastily dumped on the site as embedded YouTube posts. We’re sure some creative directors would think they could be done better. And the frame of Curtis has him looking a bit smug. Which is unfortunate. But really, those are minor. Not important in the overall scheme of things.

The clarity and simplicity show Coles has done a good job from a communication point of view.

From an online shopping customer experience point of view, there are a few more challenges. There’s the fact that is essentially the company site. And you have to go to the part of the site to shop. This is clunky and confusing. It adds an extra step in the process.

Not so good.

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

Good stuff.

Then the default landing page shows “Shop Essentials”. Here we’ve got bananas (always the most shopped product in the supermarket), milk, water, strawberries, coffee and cereal

The header gives you 3 easy choices :-

Screengrab from Coles website headline Coles Online to launch priority service
  • Everything – which pulls up all the category and aisle choices.
  • Bought before.
  • Specials.

This simplicity makes navigation clear. It’s a good example of both progressive disclosure and chunking. (See our design psychology article for more on these). 

Many online store websites overwhelm shoppers with too much choice. We believe Coles has done a great job keeping the shopping design 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’s been in the headlines.

Looking at its landing page, they have a simple text box message about the limitations on the number of packs per purchase.

Really clear.

Overall, it’s part of a well-put-together online shopping customer experience from Coles.  

Screengrab from Coles Website showing products in the toilet paper category

Well, 40 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 2 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. You don’t know where to look first. Particularly as the first Covid-19 update relates to launching a new online delivery service for the vulnerable. 

There should be one consistent overall message.

The Covid-19 section starts with a big picture of a smiling Brad Banducci, the CEO of Woolworths.


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.

Screengrab from Woolworths website headline Latest Woolworths Updates

But it’s also quite long. And Woolworth’s site colour scheme with dark grey font colours on a light grey background isn’t easy to read. 

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

Is this good or bad?

Well, that’s a matter of opinion. 

Some communication experts would tell you more communication is better than less.

Online retailers - changes to woolworths online shopping due to covid-19

Leaving people hanging with gaps in what you communicate isn’t good. 

However, it’s also possible to over-communicate. If there’s too much to read, the key messages can get lost. People will get confused. 

Plus the situation is changing so fast that what was current on March 11 won’t be applicable now.

So, here as long as it’s kept clear, we’d side to more rather than less information. 

Online retailers - Woolworths Covid 19 page

Learning from Woolworths online

Our learning from how Woolworths is handling its communications is that they’re 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 simpler, stickier way.

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

They should tidy up the messages and push the out-of-date and over-detailed stuff into the background. 

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

It has 3 levels 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 viewpoint. It’s less clear in terms of progressive disclosure and chunking. (Again, see our design psychology article for more on these). 

The toilet paper test part 2

And if we get to the toilet paper section, then yes, similarly to Coles, there’s a warning on the number of packs you can purchase. 

It’s less obvious, but it’s certainly 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.

Screengrab from woolworths website showing search results for toilet paper

Overall, the Woolworths site feels ‘busier’ from a design and message point of view. In general, this isn’t a good thing in e-Commerce.

Maybe their numbers tell them differently. But if these 2 sites compete head to head and everything else is factored out, we’d put Coles ahead in terms of their store website set-up for their clarity and simplicity. 

Aldi has quietly and steadily grown their presence in Australia over the last few years.

We know they’ve 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 grocery shopping services since this article was first written).

Which is a real challenge in the current situation.

Screengrab of Aldi home page with headline Aldi Australia's response to Covid-19

Their site page has a Covid-19 update right there in the top headline banner. This 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. They’ve set 7 ‘conditions of entry’ to their stores. We can see why they might do it. But it’s a little preachy and patronising. Hmmm. 

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’re sure the Aldi staff are doing an amazing job in-store. But so far they’re missing the boat online. They should be looking at options like the way Deliveroo partners with retailers like Marks and Spencers and the Co-op in the UK.

Screengrab from Aldi showing 7 rules of Customer Behaviour to be enforced in their stores

We wish the team at Aldi and Deliveroo or Uber Eats in Australia could look at following suit in Australia. (For more on Uber Eats and Deliveroo, check out our last mile cost of delivery article).

The IGA website homepage doesn’t currently mention Covid-19 or Coronavirus anywhere. This seems like a miss from a communication POV.

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.

Online retailers - IGA home page

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

Good job.

Much clearer communication.

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, they don’t offer it.

Deliveroo or Uber Eats would also 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 way to buy off the site.

Which as an online shopper is the reason we’d be most likely to end up here. 

Online retailers - IGA Covid 19 page

Delivery times may be longer than normal at this time. That’s it.

That’s all we can find about Covid-19 and Coronavirus on the Amazon Australia home page.

Now, there’s 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 about the virus.

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

Screengrab of home page, headline says Join Now - Prime Video and shows image of The Test : A new era fro Australia's team and an image of Steve Smith

Plus, the landing page is very long. There’s so much choice. Messages get lost in the detail.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous article, we don’t believe Amazon offers a great website experience, although much of the rest of their offer is excellent. 

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 distracting. 

And it appears they’re not taking Covid-19 all that seriously if this site is anything to go by. 

Screengrab from Amazon Best Sellers page who shows Best Sellers in Health, Household and Personal Care

Is online grocery shopping meeting the challenge?

Well, it’s giving it a fair go, so yes.

Yes, these are challenging times for all online retailers. But a few areas of confusion aside, grocery is mostly doing what it needs to. 

With many online experts 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.

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. 

Man and a woman wearing face masks and keeping arms distance away from each other

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 order to delivery system. But, if you’re not in the game, then you’re never going to win. There are partners out there, they could and should be talking to.

For example, they could talk to Amazon and piggyback on their order and delivery systems. Or the food delivery companies offering grocery delivery such as ubereats and menulog. There are also small and local independents like Grocery Run and Grocery Van, and Harris Farm Markets for fresh produce to offer online shoppers other options.

Something, anything would be better than what they’re offering now. 

The challenge comes down to Coles and Woolworths

So realistically, let’s face it, the Covid-19 delivery challenge comes down to Coles and Woolworths.

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

They’re clearly under the pump, probably more so than everyone else right now. They’ve managed to deliver what the customer most needs, safe access to groceries. So yes, online grocery shopping is meeting the challenge so far. Good on ya, Coles and Woolies. Keep it going. We all appreciate the effort you’re making.

Check out our online retailers and customer experience guides for more on e-Commerce. See also our article on how the travel industry is coping with Covid-19. Or e-mail us, if you need advice on improving your e-Commerce planning

Photo credits

Empty Shelves : Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Distancing : Photo by Chris Greene on Unsplash

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