Online grocer whets Swiss appetite

Online shopping still needs the human element to be successful

Switzerland’s largest online supermarket allows busy customers the chance of ordering their groceries online, instead of spending time queuing in shops.

This content was published on November 19, 2003 - 17:04

swissinfo visited LeShop’s logistics centre in Bremgarten in canton Aargau to see how it’s all done.

It’s five o’clock in the morning, but the race against the clock has already started. Since the early hours, workers have been dispatching fresh produce all over Switzerland.

Every second counts because, as an online superstore, there are strict deadlines to be met. Online customers pay an SFr12 delivery charge for the luxury of next-day delivery of their groceries.

Elisabeth Breitenstein dodges her way around shelves full of products and the conveyor belt, which runs from the warehouse to the loading bay.

As the head of production at LeShop’s logistics centre, Breitenstein is responsible for ensuring that fresh consignments to the warehouse are immediately stored at the right temperature.

She dispatches a delivery of chicken to one of two cold rooms, both teeming with workers wrapped up in hats, scarves and warm jackets.

Human technology

Despite being the newest type of shop, the only concession to modern technology visible at the depot is printers. Hidden away in an annex, the machines record every order from LeShop’s website placed before midnight the previous day.

And there are no modern sorting machines either. All the shopping bags, which are emblazoned with the LeShop logo, are filled by hand.

The head of the logistics centre, Christophe Kay, says relying on humans is by far the best method. “We have less than 24 hours to fill the customer’s shopping trolley and deliver it to their home,” Kay told swissinfo.

E-shopping boom

With e-shopping on the rise, LeShop is hoping to mirror the success of some of its most famous exponents, such as the online bookshop, Amazon, and the auction website, E-bay, both based in the United States.

E-bay is looking particularly buoyant - its stock market value has bounced back to March 2000 levels when the bubble was at its height.

The secret of their success is in a mix of old and new economies, with online stores thriving on the fact that more households now have internet connections.

This is something that LeShop is aiming to achieve on the Swiss market, but there is one problem – it has yet to make any profits.

Future hopes

One of the reasons for this is that the online grocer doesn’t have enough clients, especially in the German-speaking part of the country. Currently, 70 per cent of its business comes from the French-speaking areas.

But help is at hand thanks to a deal with the Swiss supermarket giant, Migros. From January 2004, LeShop will be able to offer up to 6,000 Migros products on its website.

LeShop is hoping that with the backing of the Migros marketing machine, it will be able to attract more customers, make a profit and even try its luck on the stock market.

Together the two firms hope to double online sales to at least SFr50 million ($36 million) a year.

swissinfo, Jean-Didier Revoin in Bremgarten (translation: Isobel Leybold)

In brief

LeShop was founded in 1997 and was Switzerland’s first online supermarket.

At the end 2002, LeShop, then owned by the Bon Appétit Group, was threatened with closure because of poor business prospects.

Shortly afterwards it was taken over by ShoppingNet Holding, led by a group of Dutch investors.

It plans to sell up to 6,000 products from the Swiss supermarket, Migros, on its site from 2004.

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