Online shopping in the UAE: Groceries at the click of a button

We swap the car for the computer in a bid to find out how the UAE's online grocery shopping is shaping up.
Shopping in a supermarket can be a long, tiring process. Photo by Sarah Dea / The National
Shopping in a supermarket can be a long, tiring process. Photo by Sarah Dea / The National

My food-shopping excursions go something like this: Climb into the car (hot), battle through the traffic to reach the supermarket, fight for a parking space then elbow my way through crowds before joining a slow-moving queue at the checkout. Lug heavy bags of shopping back to car (still hot), fight more traffic to get home, haul bags out of the car into the house before unpacking them to discover the butter has melted and the blueberries are squashed.

I rarely look forward to doing a big food shop and yet I end up trudging to the supermarket twice every week (at least) in a bid to feed fresh, healthy food to our family of five.

There is, of course, a convenient alternative, one that many European and American expats in particular will be familiar with: order online and have everything delivered straight to your door. The success of online grocery shopping at the United Kingdom retail giant Tesco, and the American big-hitter Walmart, for example, have drastically changed the way we shop for food.

For those of us living in the UAE, however, the widespread introduction of online grocery shopping has been comparatively slow. While it’s easy to buy all manner of products from Souq.com, two kilos of apples, a litre of milk and a tin of sweetcorn is not among them.

The UAE supermarket ­Spinneys is currently evaluating the pros and cons of launching an ­online-shopping presence for its Dubai customers. The business development manager Rohith D’Souza says the team is considering a variety of factors during the initial testing phase before deciding whether to give the project the go-ahead.

“We need to carefully understand the differences in­ ­behaviour of UAE consumers ­versus European or US markets,” he explains.

“There is also a ­significant difference in the ­supply chain since we are more dependent on imported produce in the UAE. Quality and food safety are of utmost importance at Spinneys, and ensuring our customers get the same experience through all channels will be our priority.”

Another reason for the slow take-up of online food shopping here is perhaps to do with a fundamental difference in the way people shop in the UAE. “The traditional grocery shop at a hypermarket continues to be a form of recreational outing,” says Sajid Azmi, the head of e-commerce and ­digital marketing at Géant. Visit any mall here, any day of the week, and it soon becomes apparent that shopping en famille – even for groceries – is something of a national pastime.

Géant is the first (and still only) major hypermarket in the UAE to offer an online grocery-shopping facility. Eighteen months after launching the service, business is doing well, with Azmi reporting a 200 per cent increase in Géant’s customer base compared to the same time last year.

“We were sure there was an online need in this market due to the population influx with a lot of expats coming from different parts of the world where they have already been exposed to grocery shopping online,” he says.

“We started off with an online convenience store in terms of scale and volume, and now ­within a year we are operating at the volume of a supermarket – but with around 20 per cent less cost of operations compared to a brick-and-mortar supermarket that would generate the same revenue,” he adds. While electronic goods purchased online from Géant can be delivered across the UAE, at this time online groceries can only be delivered to Dubai. However, Azmi says Géant plans to roll this service out to Abu Dhabi residents soon.

The Dubai-based organic food company Ripe is also reaping the benefits of having an online presence. “Our customers were actually ordering from us online before the Ripe Farm Shop found its home,” says the founder Becky Balderstone. “We started with weekly deliveries of our fruit and vegetable box because we saw a gap in the market for fresh ­produce boxes. And that’s when the seed was planted and Ripe’s delivery service was launched.”

According to Balderstone, their delivery service has blossomed: customers can have fruit, vegetable, juicing or family boxes delivered as well as gluten-free products, honey, pantry items and dairy items including local eggs, cheese and milk.

“When Ripe started we had a handful of deliveries each week and now it’s hundreds,” she ­continues. “Our customers love local, seasonal and organic ­produce, and offering home deliveries and deliveries to collection points mean we make our customers’ lives that much ­easier.”

Ripe’s delivery network extends across Dubai and home deliveries are available to most communities in the city. The take-up has been so popular that it recently ­introduced twice-weekly deliveries to Dubai Marina, Arabian Ranches, The Greens and Downtown Dubai.

Balderstone does note, however, that there is something of a cultural divide in terms of which customers opt to do their shopping online, with the majority of orders coming from expats.

“While we do have a significant and growing Emirati client base, they prefer to shop through the market or the Ripe Farm Shop. Home delivery of groceries is nevertheless becoming more popular in the UAE and we see an increase in the number of deliveries that leave our warehouse each week.”

To keep pace with this demand, the team has expanded its logistics operations to add more areas to its delivery schedule. Ripe ­delivers to customers in Abu Dhabi twice a week and recently started biweekly deliveries to Ras Al Khaimah, with other emirates likely to be added to the list soon.

Online grocery shopping providers: a comparison

The test

For the child-juggling stay-at-home mum to the Jumeirah Jane who doesn’t want to risk mangling her manicure and the overworked office staff with little time to venture to the supermarket, being able to shop for groceries via the click of a mouse offers many advantages.

Keen to see how local services compare, I ordered a selection of standard weekly grocery items ranging from fruit and vegetables to dried and tinned goods and household cleaning products, from five of the UAE’s online grocery delivery services, rating them on price, choice, quality of stock and reliability.

Immediately I discovered that about half of the online ­supermarkets I initially contacted didn’t deliver to my area (which is admittedly quite a way from Downtown Dubai, close to Dubai International Airport). To make it a fairer trial, I joined forces with a friend who lives at the opposite end of Dubai in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT). None of the supermarkets we ordered from knew we were doing the comparison and only one, Ripe, offers delivery to Abu Dhabi. Here are our results.

Géant

http://grocery.geantonline.ae

Website: Easy-to-use with search options and clear categorisation of items. It also had a section with specials and a good range of stock, ­including an organic section.

Price: The prices were what you would expect to see in the grocery store, and Géant offers payment by credit card or cash on delivery.

Delivery: Géant delivers to most areas of new Dubai, although not to Abu Dhabi, and offers free delivery for orders above Dh100, or Dh10 for orders below. Deliveries are booked in two-hour slots between 10am and 10pm.

Experience: There was a good selection of grocery items to choose from, although I would like to see a better selection in the organic section. The process of ordering and paying was straightforward, as was selecting my delivery time slot. After ordering, I received a confirmation email and receipt, and another email informing me when my delivery was dispatched. Unfortunately, the delivery did not arrive during the time slot (6pm-8pm) – it arrived close to an hour after. I called, only to discover the phones were not answered after 8pm, and emailed a complaint, to which I did not receive a reply. The Dh24 paid for blueberries, which I ordered but did not receive, was reimbursed to my credit card a few days later.

Verdict: With the exception of the late delivery, the process was smooth and pleasant.

Ripe

www.ripeme.com

Website: Fairly easy to navigate with an OK selection. It’s definitely geared up for ordering fresh fruit and vegetables boxes; however, individual items are also sold separately. 

Price: More expensive than regular supermarkets, but on a par with organic shops. A Dh5 fee is added for credit-card payments, but there is an option to pay with cash on delivery.

Delivery: Ripe delivers to certain areas on certain days and the timings are not always convenient. For example, delivery to JLT is between 10am and 3pm on a Thursday – not great for ­people who work. They can drop off your order at a collection point where you can pick it up at a more convenient time. ­Orders must be made three days prior to delivery, which means ­planning is vital.

Experience: I tried twice to order from the Ripe website and each time it gave me a delivery time well over a week away. In frustration, I called them to find out how early you need to order and discovered it was three days – something that should be clearly stated on the website. Thankfully though, because it was only just past the cut-off time, they agreed to change my delivery date to the same week. Because I would not be home during the delivery time, the goods were delivered to a nearby cafe. While all the items were accounted for, the carrots were in a sorry state (some had mouldy ends and two were so old they could bend in half). I complained to Ripe and forwarded photographs and was told I could collect replacement carrots from their store, or they could send a replacement in my next delivery.  

Verdict: An easy way to order fresh organic produce, but only if you’re organised – and only if all of the produce is fresh.

Trolley

www.trolley.ae

Website: Easy to navigate with clearly defined sections and a ­selection to appeal to the average shopper, but nothing outside of that mould.

Price: More expensive than supermarkets and corner stores. ­Payment can be by cash or credit card.

Delivery: The delivery times are organised in one-hour slots ­daily between 10am and 10pm. You just choose the most convenient time. Delivery is free for orders above Dh100, while orders below that will incur a Dh10 charge. Delivery is only in areas of New Dubai, Jumeirah and Downtown Dubai.

Experience: There were no complications during ordering and everything was clearly labelled and easy to find. The selection was OK, but it did not meet all of my needs – such as organic produce or dairy-free items – and I would be unable to do an entire shop with this provider. It was also more expensive than other online competitors and even my local supermarket, which delivers for free. The delivery was made within the time slot and all items were accounted for. 

Verdict: The service was seamless and delivery times are very ­convenient, making it a good option if you don’t mind paying a little bit extra.

Fresh2door

www.fresh2door.ae

Website: Frustrating. It wouldn’t allow me to create an account; all I could do was download a simple list of products and prices. I resorted to calling the number provided and was informed I could go to their Facebook page and order that way, or via the phone. I opted for the phone.

Price: Updated regularly and easily comparable to what you would pay in a supermarket.

Delivery: Covers most areas of Dubai on certain days. I was offered only one time slot (Monday between 9.30am and 10.30am), which worked fine for me, but is a limited option and wouldn’t suit everyone. Everything arrived in perfect condition with all the items accounted for. Payment is by cash or credit card on delivery.

Experience: Initial frustrations regarding the website aside, I was very impressed with Fresh2door’s range of products (which included six varieties of apple, five types of melon and a great selection of salad leaves). Each item is clearly listed with its country of origin, good for those who are environmentally minded and prefer to buy local (Fresh2door offers cucumbers, herbs and lettuce from the UAE and cabbage, aubergine and okra from Oman).

Verdict: Online presence needs refining, and it’s not a viable option if you want anything other than fruit and vegetables. But if you’re on a health kick and are heavily into your juicing then the products are of top quality and for an excellent price.

Earlybird

www.earlybird.ae

Website: Easy-to-use and straightforward to navigate, but the choice of products is limited. No fresh fruit or vegetables; mainly dry goods and pantry items as well as dairy produce including milk, yogurt and butter. Good choice of cleaning and beauty products, although none of the better-known nappy brands.

Price: Easily comparable to what you would find in a standard supermarket; some items actually worked out cheaper, such as the Tetra pack of 32 mini boxes of fruit juice.

Delivery: Free delivery to most areas of Dubai (not Abu Dhabi) once a week on designated days according to area. Otherwise it’s a Dh15 charge for immediate delivery – within an hour of placing your order; or Dh7.50 if you want to specify a day and time.

Delivery: The window for my free delivery was an expansive 12 hours – anytime from 9am to 9pm – which is fine if someone is at home, but inconvenient if they arrive and everyone is out. I received a call around 7pm to say my delivery was on its way, followed by another three calls to say the driver couldn’t find the location. He finally arrived around 7.45pm.

Experience: Very friendly and polite staff. The range of goods needs to be widened. However, what was delivered was of good quality, especially the cheese.

Verdict: Not a viable option if you need fresh fruit and vegetables but perfect if you’re planning a party and need a bulk delivery of soft drinks, charcoal for the barbecue, a block of ice and cleaning products for tidying up afterwards.

To sum up

Online grocery shopping is gaining ground in Dubai (and ­gradually in Abu Dhabi and beyond), but there is still a very ­limited choice of sites offering a complete, one-stop grocery shop service via the click of a button. It looks like we’ll be putting up with those supermarket queues for a while longer.

weekend@thenational.ae

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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