French Warm to Online Grocery Stores
May. 29, 2000
PARIS (AP) _ It is a centuries-old tradition, a visit by the French to the daily market for fresh bread and produce, a cut of meat, perhaps a wedge of Brie cheese.
But now, urban French shoppers are increasingly trading market stand browsing for the point-and-click variety.
With the recent e-commerce launch by France's biggest grocery chain _ Carrefour, the nation has officially entered the era of online grocery shopping.
``I think that the Web is really practical for shopping,'' said Christell Dekeyster, 26, who has been shopping online since January, when two online grocers, Houra.fr and Telemarket.fr, launched.
``I used to live in the provinces and there it was much easier to shop than in Paris,'' said Dekeyster.
Still, picking out the right bunch of grapes does have a certain pleasure, and shopping outdoor markets for countryside produce is as French as the baguette. Is online grocery shopping changing tradition?
``Of course,'' says Telemarket spokeswoman Martine Moran. Just like the car sent shoppers flocking to large grocery chains, store officials say the Internet is now changing shoppers' habits.
``When you work full time, it's great to have your vegetables and fruits there waiting for you,'' Moran said. ``Going to the market is nice too, but this makes life easier.''
Online grocery shopping may only speed the decline of the small market here. In 1994, small markets and specialty artisans made up 19.4 percent of the overall food market. Five years later, they made up 16.8 percent.
Lionel Grall, 30, followed his grandfather and father into the business of owning fruit and vegetable stands. He believes his days as a vegetable seller may be numbered.
``Ask any seller here,'' Grall said while stacking zucchinis at his Parisian stand. ``Everyone knows that we can't compete with the big stores. What's more, we only get customers on the weekends.''
Meanwhile, online grocery sales _ just 0.15 percent of grocery sales in France last year _ are expected to boom in the next five years, said Alberto Montagne, an analyst for Lehman Brothers.
``Food and grocery on the Web is going to be the fastest growing segment,'' Montagne said. ``Food as a percentage of total consumption is very large, and as Internet distribution improves, food sales will expand.''
Groceries represented just 6 percent of all Internet sales in Europe last year, but by 2005 should represent 35 percent, Montagne said.
Houra and Telemarket get a combined 700 orders a day, a number company officials say is growing daily.
Telemarket, which has seen a fivefold increase in Internet orders this year, expects revenues to rise 75 percent in 2000 to $34 million. Ooshop has just expanded after a yearlong test phase and won't yet release numbers.
Online shoppers can choose from some 6,000 items, including fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. There is about a delivery charge of about $7.
Telemarket delivers only around Paris, but will soon go nationwide. It was actually ``online'' in 1985, selling groceries over Minitel, France's now-outdated online banking and shopping system.
Online grocery stores in the United States, notably Peapod, which serves eight U.S. cities, have struggled to turn a profit. Because France is so small, population density may help online grocers succeed financially, Houra spokesman Florent Guibert said.
Still, customers expect that online grocery shopping is unlikely to completely supplant the old-fashioned markets and bakeries.
``I don't think the Net can replace the small stores,'' Dekeyster said. ``I have three bakeries around me where I can get fresh, crunchy bread, and I like that.''