Online scope for to become more personalised following overhaul, says ecommerce boss

Waitrose ecommerce director Robin Phillips is confident the worst of the grocer’s website problems are over as it gears up for the next development phase.

Phillips admitted the overhaul of the website, which hadn’t been updated in 12 years, had led to more customer criticism than expected, but it is on course to become a strong growth engine for the grocer. He said online sales account for between 3% and 4% of total sales and he wants to double that figure over the next three years.

Phillips told Retail Week: “The new website really was pulling us out of the 20th century and into the 21st century so we always expected some teething issues, but we definitely got a bit more noise than we expected.”

But he said the website is now “much more stable” and that “many of the key bugs have been addressed”. He said the development of the site has now moved to a much more “normal phase” after Waitrose carried out several “hot fixes” – rapid updates to quickly fix bugs.

Since the launch in March, Waitrose has had 3,963 comments on its forum with many criticising the speed and functionality of the website. It has taken 626,000 customer orders and had over 12 million visits to the site.

Since its relaunch it has achieved year-on-year growth of 33%.

Phillips said: “While we take all comments very seriously and are grateful for the feedback, it is only a small number of customers who sadly have had a bad experience.”

Waitrose online customers are using the site for a large shop, then using their local store for top-up shops. Phillips said this multichannel approach means that those customers are now spending more with the grocer – up from £1,000 to £1,800 a year on average.

He said over three quarters of its online customers are now taking less than an hour to complete a full shop, compared with some complaints at launch reporting it was taking over two hours.

He said many of the customers who had complained had returned to shop again with the grocer so while it is “vital that we get it right for the customers” he said “they also want us to get it right and are loyal in that way”.

In October Waitrose will open its dotcom ‘dark’ store in Acton in London to fulfil London orders, and include its non-food offer and services such as entertaining.

Phillips said that Waitrose now covers all London postcodes and last week it took 2,200 orders in the capital. He expects that to double with the opening of the dotcom store.

He said there is plenty of growth for Waitrose and Ocado within the M25.

The website will become more personalised in the coming months, according to Phillips, who said the combined changes should “feel like a natural evolution” for customers.