Auchan has finally launched its online shopping service.

France's fourth largest supermarket chain, Auchan, has finally launched its online shopping service some four months later than planned, into an increasingly crowded market. Building on the experience of Auchan's Spanish online subsidiary, Auchandirect may well prove more reliable than its competitors and offer an attractive shopping channel for the French.

Online grocery retailing has been relatively slow to develop in France. One key factor is that Internet access has been slower growing than in other countries. The existence of Minitel, a telephone based reservation system meant that consumers took longer to be convinced of the advantage of the Internet. At the same time, French hypermarkets are generally very convenient to use and do not suffer from the same traffic congestion as, for example, their British counterparts. Meanwhile the French enjoyment of preparing meals from ingredients means that they usually prefer to choose these themselves.

During 2000, several French supermarket chains realized the potential of online grocery. Carrefour, France's largest retailer has adopted the most comprehensive strategy, rolling out a series of sites for several product markets. Ooshop is its warehouse based online supermarket, run at arms length from its brick and mortar stores. Casino has launched C-mescourses, a food channel from its C-Online site. There is also Houra, a stand alone online supermarket offered by Cora, while Galeries Lafayette has bought up Télémarket, a service originally offered via Minitel. So far the take-up of these service has been slower than expected, with consumers disappointed by the reliability of the service.

Auchan hopes that its later online debut in Paris will be more successful. Its confidence is based on the experience of the online service launched last year by its Spanish chain, Al Campo. Its Madrid depot now receives 80-90 orders per day, each worth $120 on average, far in excess of the average in-store basket value. Auchan has used its experience in Spain to develop a closed store system that can be integrated into its existing logistics infrastructure, providing it with a cost effective solution. By thoroughly pre-testing the service, Auchan may well be able to finally make online shopping an attractive option for the French public.

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