Competition between online supermarkets is fierce, but nonetheless, most customers in Estonia are still buying their food from brick-and-mortar grocery stores, and ordering groceries online is moreso a convenience service in the country's bigger cities. According to Estonian E-Commerce Association estimates, within the next few years, some bigger online supermarket revenues may reach just 10 percent of total revenue at best.
As is the case in food commerce in general, competition between online supermarkets in Estonia is quite fierce, representatives of bigger retail chains confirmed to ERR. The latest newcomer to this market is Stockmann, which has also begun offering grocery home deliveries in Tallinn.
Estonian E-Commerce Association CEO Tõnu Väät said that supermarkets don't generally want to disclose their e-commerce turnover figures, but admitted that e-Selver is definitely the one with the highest turnover.
"After all, Coop stopped grocery deliveries because it was unprofitable, and Selver is the only one that offers home delivery absolutely everywhere across Estonia," Väät acknowledged, adding that that's also rather an image thing.
"Food is a basic need, and all people in Estonia have to buy food," he continued. "Grocery turnovers are high, but the share of online groceries isn't that big."
The association chief noted that if someone is willing to order groceries for home delivery, they don't want to pay more for it, but for online supermarkets, offering grocery deliveries means a dedicated warehouse or distribution center, someone has to pack grocery orders and a delivery driver then has to deliver them. Thus grocery delivery is a volume business.
"Coop didn't achieve a high enough turnover quickly enough for it to pay off, but it absolutely had the volumes," he said. "On the flip side, Selver has made a business decision to deliver to every part of Estonia."
Väät estimates that online grocery sales surely only account for a single-digit percentage of total grocery turnover, and if one chain or another should manage to boost this share to 10 percent within the next few years, that would constitute a very good result.
"It certainly won't become dominant; this is still moreso a Tallinn and Tartu thing," he said. "This opportunity doesn't exist in rural areas, which account for a large share of grocery purchases. This is a convenience service in the big cities."
Grocery delivery is likewise offered by Bolt and Wolt, platforms that chiefly deal in restaurant and cafe deliveries but which also have their own online grocery stores as well.
Väät noted that while there has been a huge increase in ready-to-eat delivery orders, considering Estonia's small size, he doesn't foresee a huge leap in business for such grocery deliveries.
Selver: Free delivery not viable
The online supermarket with the largest delivery area is Selver. Depending on location, however, the delivery fee can range from €2.90 to €12.90.
Selver business accounting director Kristjan Anderson said that more remote rural areas have brought with them higher delivery mileages, but also a stable clientele and higher numbers of repeat purchases.
"On some days and in some areas, the service may dip below the break-even point, but at the end of the day, by optimizing, we can still manage to offer this service with a slim profit," Anderson said.
Growing numbers of offers for free home delivery have hit the market by now, and Anderson acknowledged that these affect usage statistics of their online store to an extent. He believes, however, that free deliveries wouldn't be economically viable, considering the resources that go into delivery.
"Our goal is to keep [our grocery delivery] service self-sustaining and not pay for it," he explained. "While ordering online on more favorable terms is rather a legitimate expectation when it comes to online manufactured good stores, then in the case of online supermarkets, taking the costs associated with the service into account, it certainly isn't."
This year has been a stable one for Selver's online grocery business. They can't claim an exponential increase in the number of orders, but according to the business accounting chief, their e-commerce has seen slightly faster turnover growth than that of their brick-and-mortar stores. The growth in turnover has also been boosted by the overall increase in the price of groceries.
Either way, current demand doesn't compare with that of the COVID-19 pandemic period, when the turnover share of e-commerce at times reached nearly 10 percent.
"It's currently lower than that, but if you compare this year with 2019, for example, then we can talk about a more than quadrupled volume of orders," Anderson said. "Now the use of the online [grocery] service is more casual, and driven more by convenience than need."
He did acknowledge, however, that their online grocery service has significantly greater potential, highlighting that around 700,000 regular customers a year shop at Selver's physical stores, but less than a quarter thereof have used their online grocery service.
Editor: Aili Vahtla