Executive Briefings

Inside Amazon's Battle to Break Into the $800Bn Grocery Market

"Very wasteful" isn't a phrase usually associated with Amazon.com Inc., which is so cost-conscious it once removed the light bulbs from its cafeteria's vending machines. But after spending several months analyzing the online retailer's grocery-shipping hubs back in 2014, that's exactly how a mechanical engineering student described its approach to selling bananas.

Workers at Amazon Fresh, the company's grocery-delivery business, threw away about a third of the bananas it purchased because the service only sold the fruit in bunches of five, the student concluded. Employees trimmed each bunch down to size and chucked the excess.

The research paper by Vrajesh Modi, who now works for Boston Consulting Group, highlighted other problems: Poorly trained employees often stood around with nothing to do. Moldy strawberries were frequently returned by disappointed customers. Amazon's inspectors believed their corporate bosses didn’t care much about the quality of the food.

Such challenges linger for Amazon. Despite several attempts to break into the $800bn grocery industry and almost a decade in the business, the company has struggled to entice shoppers en masse to buy eggs, steaks and berries online the same way they've flocked to buy books, tablets and toys.

"Online grocery is failing," said Kurt Jetta, chief executive officer of TABS Analytics, a consumer products research firm. Only 4.5 percent of shoppers made frequent online grocery purchases in 2016, up just slightly from 4.2 percent four years earlier despite big investments from companies such as Amazon, according to the firm's annual surveys. "There's just not a lot of demand there. The whole premise is that you're saving people a trip to the store, but people actually like going to the store to buy groceries."

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Workers at Amazon Fresh, the company's grocery-delivery business, threw away about a third of the bananas it purchased because the service only sold the fruit in bunches of five, the student concluded. Employees trimmed each bunch down to size and chucked the excess.

The research paper by Vrajesh Modi, who now works for Boston Consulting Group, highlighted other problems: Poorly trained employees often stood around with nothing to do. Moldy strawberries were frequently returned by disappointed customers. Amazon's inspectors believed their corporate bosses didn’t care much about the quality of the food.

Such challenges linger for Amazon. Despite several attempts to break into the $800bn grocery industry and almost a decade in the business, the company has struggled to entice shoppers en masse to buy eggs, steaks and berries online the same way they've flocked to buy books, tablets and toys.

"Online grocery is failing," said Kurt Jetta, chief executive officer of TABS Analytics, a consumer products research firm. Only 4.5 percent of shoppers made frequent online grocery purchases in 2016, up just slightly from 4.2 percent four years earlier despite big investments from companies such as Amazon, according to the firm's annual surveys. "There's just not a lot of demand there. The whole premise is that you're saving people a trip to the store, but people actually like going to the store to buy groceries."

Read Full Article