CASE: III Peapod Online Grocery—2003
The online grocery turned out to be a lot tougher than analysts thought a few years ago. Many of the early online grocers, including Webvan, ShopLink, StreamLine, Kosmom, Homeruns, and PDQuick, went bankrupt and out of business. At one time, Webvan had 46 percent of the online grocery business, but it still wasn’t profitable enough to survive. The new business model for online grocers is to be part of an existing brick-and-mortar chain. Large grocery chains, like Safeway and Albertson’s, are experiencing sales growth in their online business but have yet to turn a profit. Jupiter Research estimates that online grocery sales will be over $5 billion by 2007, about 1 percent of all grocery sales, while it expects more than 5 percent of all retail sales to be online by then. A few years ago, optimistic analysts estimated online grocery sales would be 10 to 20 times that by 2005, but it didn’t work out that way.
One of the few online grocers to survive in 2003 is Peapod, the first online grocer, started by brothers Andrew and Thomas Parkinson in 1990. However, even Peapod was failing until 2001 when Dutch grocery giant Royal Ahold purchased controlling interest in the company for $73 million. Peapod operates in five markets, mainly by closely affiliating itself with Ahold-owned grocery chains. Peapod by Giant is in the Washington, DC, area, while Peapod by Stop and Shop runs in Boston, New York, and Connecticut. The exception is Chicago, where Peapod operates without an affiliation with a local grocery chain. Peapod executives claim the company is growing by 25 percent annually and has 130,000 customers, and all of its markets except Connecticut are profitable. Average order size is up to $143 from $106 three years earlier.
The online grocery business seemed like a sure winner in the 1990s. Dual-income families strapped for time could simply go online to do their grocery shopping. They has about the same choices of products...
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