Enabling the online retail giant to compete with Britain's biggest
supermarket stores and smallest local shops, the deal marks Amazon's
latest assault on a British market already buckling under the weight
of fierce competition and rapid online growth.
Amazon will now add fresh and frozen products to its existing
offering of packaged grocery goods, setting it up against
established online rivals Tesco and Ocado in Britain's advanced
online retail market.
"The advance of Amazon as a participant in UK grocery is a potential
challenge to the whole trade, in time," Shore Capital retail analyst
Clive Black said on Monday. "Any new entrant is, but particularly
the American behemoth."
The tie-up boosted shares of Morrisons, Britain's fourth biggest
supermarket, which had been a laggard in online sales. Since 2013 it
has outsourced logistics for its own online food business to Ocado,
a British purely online grocery retailer.
Morrisons shares rose by 5 percent. Those of Ocado fell 10 percent
on fears the deal would increase competition and reduce the
likelihood that Amazon could one day buy the British online firm.
Market leader Tesco's shares fell by 3 percent.
"Tesco could soon be about to find out what it's like to be David
rather than Goliath," said Retail Vision consultant John Ibbotson.
Morrisons announced separate plans on Monday to extend its own
online grocery deliveries to the whole of the UK, in agreement with
Ocado. It would take space in a new Ocado London warehouse while
Ocado will provide Morrisons with software to fulfill online orders
from its own stores.
For Morrisons' rivals, the arrival in the coming months is likely to
bring yet more pain to a sector which has been convulsed by fierce
competition in recent years, with shoppers turning online and to
discounters and convenience stores.
Amazon launched delivery of fresh food in Seattle in 2007 and has
moved to a handful of other US cities since then. Its expansion into
food in the rest of the world has focused so far just on packaged
goods due to the complexity of delivering fresh and frozen products.
However, it is seen as keen to extend its food offering, just as
supermarkets are increasingly competing on its home turf by selling
more non-food products online.
Amazon has also begun surveying UK customers about their use of
restaurant delivery services, in what analysts said was likely the
first step in an international expansion of a business it rolled out
in the U.S last September.
All of Britain's big four supermarkets – market leader Tesco,
Wal-Mart’s Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons – have seen sales and
profits hit as they cut prices to stem the flow of shoppers to
German discounters Aldi and Lidl.
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At the same time they are having to build the necessary
infrastructure to meet the demand for online deliveries. The British
Retail Consortium predicted on Monday that 900,000 retail jobs could
go by 2025 as the industry moves online.
The UK online grocery market is predicted to nearly double to 17.2
billion pounds ($23.85 billion) in the five years to 2020, according
to industry research group IGD.
Retail analysts have long speculated the U.S. company was gearing up
to launch Amazon Fresh in Britain after it previously tested a small
range of chilled and frozen items in the country.
Morrisons, with a smaller footprint in the more affluent areas of
London and the south east of England than Tesco and Sainsbury's, may
have gambled that it could cope better with the arrival of Amazon
which would typically target those areas.
Amazon has offered some food and drink items to UK customers since
2010, when it launched its Grocery Store, and in November it
launched a packaged groceries offer for Amazon Prime members, who
pay an annual fee.
Analysts at Bernstein said the deal meant Amazon could now target
every part of the retail sector - from the big weekly shop to the
short trip to the local store to buy bread, milk and vegetables.
"Morrisons may feel that Amazon isn't really a threat for its
smaller stores in the North of England; on the contrary on our
recent store visit, we saw a nice new shiny Amazon locker unit for
picking up Amazon parcels," they said.
"This would be a convenient divide-and conquer outcome where Amazon
and Morrisons specialize where they are best and support each other
Alternatively Bernstein said, the deal could be seen as "letting the
($1 = 0.7213 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Peter Graff)
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