Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips today revealed the look, feel and services which will make up the grocer’s much anticipated online launch, but will it stand out in a crowded market?

Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips today revealed the look, feel and services which will make up the grocer’s much anticipated online launch, but will it stand out in a crowded market?

Firstly, let’s tackle what’s different. The Morrisons service will allow shoppers to log in via Facebook; import their online favourites from other grocers; receive a text letting them know they’re on their way; a one hour delivery slot (in Warwickshire);  ensure low substitutions; and use various devices to access the service.

All of these services can, to some extent, be accessed in the market already, albeit in the majority of cases by partner Ocado which, to be fair, helped design the Morrisons’ service.

In terms of the truly unique elements of the online grocery offer, which launches in Warwickshire on January 10, there are several interesting elements.

At a presentation to the media in a former fish factory overlooking the Olympic Stadium in Stratford today, online food managing director Simon Thompson demonstrated receiving an order from a Morrisons’ delivery driver (questionably dubbed a Customer Service Team Member or CSTM in management speak).

Thompson demonstrated the process of rejecting a fresh item if a customer was not happy with its quality, known as a ‘doorstep check’. Morrisons idea is to offer the money back and an emailed voucher to the product’s value if a customer rejects a product.

While acknowledging that the service is liable to fraud by repeat offenders in some cases, Philips will be pleased to offer an interesting and eye catching idea.

This is backed up by online freshness ratings and special packaging, such as bananas in bubble wrap, to prevent damage to fresh products.

But it is only when combined with value that Morrisons’ fresh proposition works so those sceptical about its online launch will be pleased to see simple pricing of £1, £3 and £5 delivery charges depending on the time of day. Philips claims the market average charge is £3.40-£3.50 making its offer extremely competitive.

Today’s presentation – complete with live video streaming from its meat processing plant in Yorkshire – offered up a new, slicker Morrisons.  Philips is trying to update Morrisons’ systems and mentality and drag it into the 21st century.

This was further evidenced at the IGD Convenience Retailing conference this afternoon – following a dash across the capital – as convenience boss Gordon Mowat outlined future plans for a 500-store chain with fresh food as its heart.

Morrisons’ focus on fresh feels the right one; it’s an area that customers have shunned – favouring top-up shops of items easy to inspect and carry – and the retailer has put the assurances in place which should appease some customers.

But with no immediate plans for a click-and-collect service, a scrap on its hands, particularly with Asda, on price and accomplished fresh food online grocery businesses including Ocado and Waitrose to compete with, Morrisons faces an uphill struggle. To compete against multichannel retailers who, in Tesco’s case, can even order from an own brand tablet, will be quite a task.

Profitability will also be a challenge with labourious services added into the supply chain but Philips claims Ocado’s distribution experience and its vertical integration will offer up a healthy margin. However, with far from all of its fresh food coming from its own farms, whether the margin is really robust remains in question.

Philips has acknowledged that its supermarket business remains the “engine room” of Morrisons and it will be some time before this move makes an impact on total sales.

Morrisons  has to ensure its offer will truly be unique and a combination of fresh food at low prices could well prove the simple missing link in an increasingly sophisticated market.