The rumour mill is grinding: Aldi is apparently considering moving into online retail in the UK. But even if there is a grain of truth in the hearsay, it probably won’t come to pass any time soon - it just doesn’t really make sense right now given Aldi’s low-cost, ultra simple model and fast bricks and mortar expansion.
The discount supermarket, along with fellow German upstart Lidl, has avoided moving online so far (apart from selling alcohol in Australia since 2013), deeming it too tricky to turn decent profits what with its already paper-thin margins and all the investment it would need in infrastructure and complex logistics.
But it’s been ‘considering various options’ in the UK, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, Aldi Sud is looking at ecommerce in its patch of Germany (the south - who'd have guessed), according to trade journal Lebensmittel Zeitung. And Aldi Nord is thinking about Spain and Portugal.
(Aldi has a very unusual structure - it was broken in two by late founding brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht in 1966, but still has a joint website. There are also rumours Aldi Sud, which runs the chain in the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, Slovenia and the US, could soon take over its weaker sibling, which has north Germany, Denmark, France, Benelux, Poland, the Iberian peninsula and Trader Joe’s in the US.)
If it was to move into online retail, the UK would be a good place to start. Ecommerce was 4.4% of the £175bn grocery market last year, more than anywhere else in Europe, and that’s expected to almost double to 8.3% by 2019, according to researchers IGD.
But Aldi is racing ahead here on bricks and mortar alone: sales jumped 19.3% from last year in the 12 weeks to March 1, according to Kantar Worldpanel. And it’s planning to open more than 70 new British stores this year, taking its total to more than 600. (Tesco has more than 3,000, although 43 unprofitable ones are closing or have already shut up shop.)
‘It is not an immediate focus for Aldi, which currently has the best performing business model in the grocery sector,’ a UK spokesperson said. ‘However, it is an area we monitor as part of our customer-focused approach.’
Aldi probably has been looking at online retail, but plenty of businesses keep a beady eye on the future, however distant. Otherwise the next Aldi might just pull the rug out from under them.