The online grocery shopping scene in the UAE is relatively new, with the earliest online groceries starting in 2006. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: For many like Sharuque Moideen, a 24-year-old Indian social media strategist who works and commutes for long hours, online grocery shopping is a welcome respite from the chores of daily life.

Moideen said that he tried online shopping for the first time in 2013 and since then has it has become an essential part of his routine.

“My working hours leave me [with very little time] to do my groceries. I work from 9pm-6pm and reach home at around 8pm, so what’s better [than having] your groceries delivered between 8-10pm?”

He said he found out that online grocery shopping was available in the UAE while browsing an expatriate forum. Moideen said he still prefers to shop at malls during the weekends, but due to his busy schedule during the week, he shops online to save time.

He likes to keep watch for deals on merchandise, not just groceries online, and has only tried Geant Online for his groceries, he said.

“I have been to other websites as well, but was not satisfied with the product range they offer. Initially, I was worried about buying frozen stuff online, but when I received my first order, my assumptions were [proved] wrong. It was packed and delivered perfectly,” he said.

The online grocery shopping scene in the UAE is relatively new, with the earliest online groceries starting in 2006.

Cornelius Durm, managing partner at Early Bird, a family-run business in Al Quoz, said that they were the first online grocery shop in the UAE when they launched in August 2006.

At the beginning, Durm explained, they had just a few customers as online shopping was not common in the UAE back then.

“People initially did not trust that they [could] really get their goods delivered when they ordered over the web; building that trust was a major task in the first couple of years.”

Durm said that they have witnessed a significant growth in customers, with numbers accelerating over the last two years.

“On average, we do a total between 6,000 and 8,500 deliveries per month, of which 28 per cent are placed online, the rest come through traditional channels...we have above 10,000 active customers.”

However, he said, compared to developed e-commerce markets like the US or Europe, the UAE still has a lot of room for growth. Durm said that he expects their online sales to go up by 25 per cent in the next two years.

Sajid Azmi, head of e-commerce at Geant Online, which was launched in June 2013 said that “month on month there is a significant rise in grocery shoppers online and also [an] increase in average basket size from regular customers.”

Azmi said that online grocery shopping is a growing business that has the potential to outgrow supermarket sales with less investment and higher average baskets than a supermarket.

As for the type of goods that people mostly buy online, Azmi said that they “see complete grocery baskets focusing on customers’ monthly needs and recurring orders [for] weekly needs.

“For customers who are still not able to drive, mothers with small kids, working mothers, bachelors working late night and having long [commutes] this is a convenient way to shop, which takes away the time and effort to load and unload heavy groceries and also beats the long parking waits,” Azmi said.

Another overlooked benefit of online grocery shopping, Durm noted, is that it gives one better control of their budget.

“You can see at any time the value of your shopping cart and can easily remove or add products with a click. It saves time and money, as you can see all the promotions at one glance and benefit from better prices without searching for bargains in a supermarket.”

Omar Awwad, CEO of Trolley Trading (trolley.ae), which was launched in February 2011, explained that as the majority of their shoppers are expatriates, which was also the case with Geant online and Early bird, there is a marginal drop during school holiday seasons.

Durm from Early Bird explained that they have also noticed seasonal changes in the different product groups. “During the summer, the demand for water and soft drinks are higher, and in the winter months products like tea, coffee, chocolates, crisps sell better.”

He added that they have also noticed peak times for deliveries.

“We are very busy in the morning...and then it slows down a bit between 12pm-4pm and increases again up to 9pm.”

Durm explained that on Early Bird, one can pay online or on delivery.

“Our delivery men have credit card machines and always carry Dh3,000 in change, so there is always change for whatever amount you pay.”

Geant too, offers the same payment options

Most of the online grocery stores only deliver within Dubai, with a few that have other emirates on their delivery routes.