It was Day One of the Snow Siege, as we were calling it, and I was pretty sure we would be eating solely whatever was left in the pantry and freezer, given the dire forecasts of snow and more snow for the next three days.
“There’s no way the supermarket delivery guys are making it through this storm,” said my husband. At least not Jerusalem delivery guys.
So we began rummaging through the bags of beans, jars of rice and unidentifiable packages of frozen food buried in the freezer, aiming to cobble together a menu for the weekend. You can imagine our relief when the supermarket delivery van pulled up at 2 p.m. on the first snow day, as promised, and quickly unloaded our three boxes of groceries, dry, cold and efficiently packed.
As relative newcomers to the online food shopping phenomenon, we’ve been ordering from a variety of local supermarkets to test the waters of this potentially efficient manner of food acquisition. So far, it’s been a successful experiment for our family of five. The deliveries arrive on time, the substitutions are few (you can choose if you want random products substituted for items that are out of stock or to asked ahead of time), and we end up spending far less because we’re picking and choosing every item (no opportunity for retail ergonomics, otherwise known as impulse purchases).
True, the actual process requires taking some pains to get adjusted to the website and create a master list. But for those of us who hate food shopping (yours truly), it’s a relief to avoid the supermarket and redeem those two to three hours of the week.
Satisfied customers indeed. This week, a look at several food product purveyors, their entry into the online business and what they offer consumers.
1) The two biggest supermarket chains — Shufersal (previously known as SuperSol, but that’s for another story) and Blue Square, the parent company of the Mega chain — created the biggest change in online food shopping when they entered the fray several years ago. Opinions differ as to which retail chain does a better job, and who offers the lower prices, but methinks the bottom line has to do with which supermarket one ultimately prefers.
If you’re a Mega customer, it’s easier to search and find the products you’re accustomed to, and ditto for Shufersal. It’s been said that Shufersal is cheaper, but prices are often higher for both chains when shopping online, and neither chain responded to repeated requests for interviews on the subject. Both, however, offer good customer service, well-laid-out websites and regular sales that are great for stocking up on goods, all necessary cornerstones of the online shopping experience. It takes time to get used to this kind of shopping, so allow yourselves several weeks of adjustment. And remember, you can always take a week off and go back to the store. It’s not going anywhere.
2) Danny Bezalel, head of marketing at Eden Teva Market, the local organic foods supermarket controlled by Blue Square, offered some good insights into the online shopping world. The chain of organic grocery stores, which includes 21 brick-and-mortar stores throughout the country, decided to go online two years ago and moved quickly, said Bezalel, as it does with all things. The website has increased the number of customers, particularly in cities like Jerusalem, where there are only two Eden Teva Markets, in the Malha and Ramot neighborhoods. For Bezalel, it’s all about ease.
“Our offices are above one of our Netanya stores, and I [still] have no time to do shopping,” said Bezalel. “It’s the same story with my wife. The minute that the technology changed and made it possible for someone without a degree in engineering to do an order online, the demand grew. People have less fear about going online and ordering.”
For now, Eden Teva Market stores are located in the center, Haifa and its suburbs, Jerusalem and Beersheba. There are no stores in the Galilee or south, but what he’s found is the customers in the center — where, paradoxically, there is the highest concentration of stores — use the online system the most, while those in the periphery think nothing of driving some distance to shop at an Eden Teva Market. Maybe they enjoy the benefits of the in-store experience, which often includes a stop at the store’s hummus or gelato bar.
“They have different attitudes,” he said of his customers. “Those who live in the periphery order less online. The queen of ordering is Tel Aviv, because it’s about comfort and early adapters. They don’t want to have to look for parking.”
3) The efficiency of online ordering and delivery has even spread to specialty shops. In Jerusalem’s shuk, otherwise known as the Mahane Yehuda market. David Dagim, a family business that is one of largest purveyors of fresh fish in Jerusalem’s shuk aka Mahane Yehuda market, recently opened a new shop down on Agrippas Street but that wasn’t quite enough, said Neta Dahan, who is married to Tuvia, David’s son and partner and the family member now running the store’s online business.
“We used to do orders by phone and we saw that people are buying a lot online,” said Dahan. “It can be hard to get to the shuk, whether because of parking, or the weather. And everywhere I went, people told me they wanted to be able to get fresh fish.”
Dahan’s father-in-law often delivered fish to customers on his way home each night, but it wasn’t a formal thing, said Dahan. It was also tough to handle orders from the original stall, where no one had time to answer the phone between selecting and filleting fish for customers. The new store, however, offered the opportunity to do proper packaging for deliveries, and to have staff handling the phone and orders, as well as messengers delivering around town. With minimum orders of NIS 200, business is brisk, and what’s made the difference is marketing on Facebook, said Dahan. But not to worry, all this newfangled selling won’t change the business of fresh fish. “The identity is David Dagim,” she said. “We’re just trying to improve the purchase.”
P.S. Another Mahane Yehuda stalwart, Basher Fromagerie, is also adding deliveries to its repertoire, and with two stores in Jerusalem as well as in Raanana and Tel Aviv, there are customers to be gained. But this isn’t a streamlined web-based service; it’s ordering the old-fashioned way, by telephone, with a NIS 150 minimum.
4) If the big boys are playing ball, you can be sure that upstart Rami Levy Hashikma, the discount supermarket entrepreneur, will want in on the game. Levy told The Times of Israel that he decided to go online a year and a half ago, and now the chain’s online system brings in 20% to 25% of all sales. Levy reportedly had some troubles with the online system at first, until he brought in a dedicated staff to work solely on the online orders and deliveries.
His prices include the same discounts offered in the Rami Levy chain of stores, unlike his “competitors who sell at higher prices,” said Levy.
“We give good service and good quality and we don’t do it with higher prices,” he said. “If we sell a lot, we’ll earn a little less, but we’ll get more customers and that’s our advantage.”
The online experience at Rami Levy certainly involves fewer shopping cart collisions, and there’s no hassle over parking, a particular peeve for shoppers in the Jerusalem stores. Overall, the site is similar to those of Shufersal and Blue Square, and loads more easily at times, offering a better experience than in the store. But Levy doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his stores. “Each month we just go up in sales,” he said. “People wouldn’t come if they didn’t like the prices.”
With 27 stores around the country, another 10 in 2014, and expectations for a total of 50 stores by 2016, Levy said he’ll have a million and a half customers by next quarter, not including those buying online.
“You can buy online with us, but there’s nothing like shopping in the store,” he said.
5) Finally, there are smaller purveyors offering very personal service. That’s the concept of My Makolet, run by Jason Sugarman, a Wilmington, Delaware, native whose brother-in-law initially launched the idea. “They did everything from scratch,” he said. “It wasn’t beautiful, but it worked, and it had everything.”
The everything was shopping out of a makolet; now it’s out of a small supermarket in Romema that carries a wide range of “upper grade” hechshers that are important to the My Makolet clientele.
“We know our customers and 90% of them want those hechshers,” said Sugarman. “The majority of our goods are Mehadrin. We offer what the store offers.”
With service in Jerusalem and its outer “boroughs,” including Beitar, Efrat and Maale Adumim, My Makolet is currently offered only in English and has more than 2,000 customers, said Sugarman. Its ultimate goal is to become a local Amazon, offering a pharmacy section, catering, flower shop, children’s clothing and other retailers, as well as eventually translating the site into Hebrew. My Makolet is 5% to 8% more expensive than other online supermarkets, said Sugarman. He pointed out that it can take three hours to do a supermarket shop.
“People have to decide what those three hours are worth,” he said. “Online buying has to be for someone who sees that it’s worth it.”