Supermarket chains closely guarding e-store turnover figures

Shelves in a warehouse for an online supermarket.
Shelves in a warehouse for an online supermarket. Source: Merilin Pärli/ERR

The online stores of supermarket chains operating in Estonia are reporting successive increases in turnover, however none of them will reveal actual revenue figures. According to pollster Kantar Emor, Selver's online store has the biggest clientele, followed by Maxima's e-store Barbora.

Selver, which is topping Kantar Emor's latest grocery e-commerce rankings, increased turnover by 55 percent and the number of orders by 64 percent in Estonia last year.

Selver communications manager Rivo Veski told ERR that behind this significant growth were the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, of which the largest impact on e-commerce dated back to this time last year, when all stores beyond essential ones were closed for business.

"This sharply increased demand for e-commerce as well," Veski said. "Last year, Selver was — and remains — the only e-supermarket offering nationwide home delivery of the supermarket's assortment.

Last summer, Selver expanded its delivery area to include all of mainland Estonia plus the major western islands of Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu.

Maxima-owned Barbora, which according to Emor data has the second-largest clientele in Estonia, announced this week that their online store turnover increased 40 percent to €141 million last year. This figure reflects the total turnover for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland combined, however.

"We've agreed internally that we will not specify turnover by country," Barbora communications specialist Anna Maria Naanuri said.

Such is the case with other e-supermarkets operating in Estonia as well.

Rimi Estonia e-commerce director Helen Lednei said that ICA Group rules don't permit them to publish all data. Their online store's sales turnover increased nearly 300 percent last year, as Rimi launched its online store in 2020 and likewise got a boost from the COVID pandemic.

According to Kantar Emor data, Rimi's online store has risen to third in clientele size in Estonia, surpassing eCoop.

Kantar Emor research expert Kersten Jõgi said that while Rimi's online store results have remained steady on year, eCoop's position has yielded somewhat.

Jõgi noted that eCoop had a notably lower percentage than their competitors of loyal customers who consider it their main store.

Fifth in popularity is ePrisma, which according to Emor figures has already been surpassed in clientele numbers by market newcomers Bolt Market and Wolt Market.

Prisma Peremarket's total sales revenue increased to €235.1 million last year, however, according to Prisma's communications and corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager Kristiina Tamberg, they likewise don't publish ePrisma's financial results separately, as it is an integrated component of Prisma's store networks.

Tamberg noted that the volume of online orders has steadily increased over the past two years, with an increase in growth of 35 percent last year. The chain also significantly expanded its delivery area last year, including to parts of the country without their own brick-and-mortar Prisma store, such as in Pärnu, Märjamaa and Viljandi.

As of the end of 2021, more than 300 people worked for e-Selver, and 250 for Barbora. Rimi's online store operations employ some 140 people, although the exact number depends on demand — according to Lednei, employee numbers are higher in spring and fall.

Grocery deliveries not very profitable

According to Bank of Estonia data, Estonian e-stores' combined turnover totaled €2.5 billion last year. Compared with 2020, this marked an increase of 50 percent.

Estonian e-Commerce Association CEO Tõnu Väät told ERR that online grocery sales have grown exponentially, and that a significant portion of last year's e-commerce growth was attributable to groceries specifically.

Offering grocery deliveries, meanwhile, means a lot of additional expenses for companies, including a dedicated distribution center, order bundlers and delivery drivers.

"These expenses are so great that this is not very profitable," Väät acknowledged. "It is more profitable for merchants to sell from their stores. This is a volume business; they need large volumes to earn money. Nobody is making big profits here."

Väät estimates that online store purchases account for some 10 percent of retail chains' turnover, a figure that could very likely increase to 15-20 percent by 2030. Growth figures of several hundred percent can't be expected to continue, however, as these were tied to recent years' COVID restrictions, under which e-commerce was the only option for shopping.

"Grocery delivery will also surely continue to develop, be made faster and more convenient, and surely we'll see some more growth there, but that market is relatively saturated," he noted. "Lidl also now entered the market; for Estonia's small size, there are quite a lot of major retail chains."

Väät added that he doesn't deem the entry of more newcomers into the market likely, but further smart transport options will likely be added going forward.

He considered supermarket chains' refusal to publish e-commerce turnover figures to be moreso a silly policy, although there are understandable reasons for it.

At the same time, the companies aren't keen on oversharing other data either. Selver's parent company Kaubamaja Grupp, for example, is a listed company, and it is typical for such companies to publish exactly as much information as legally required, as publishing any further figures doesn't benefit their business in any way.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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