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How does the grocery shopping experience differ by retailer and device?

By Chris Elliott

Barclays estimates that UK shoppers spent £9.7 billion using mobile devices in 2014 and it predicts this could increase by 231 percent to £32 billion by 2019.

If these predictions are correct, mobile will be the fastest growing retail channel – online sales are predicted to grow by 44.5 percent and retail sales as a whole by 8.1 percent.

Of the estimated £9.7 billion sales in 2014, grocery accounted for £2.6 billion of mobile sales; this is expected to rise to £8.8 billion in 2019.

Barclays highlighted the benefits of mobile shopping to customers as “being able to shop and build orders on the go” and stated that this would likely be the “principal driver of online growth in this sector over the next five to ten years.“

Retailers will have to ensure they are prepared for this drastic rise in mobile sales. Richard Lowe, Managing Director and Head of Retail & Wholesale at Barclays, commented “The question every retailer should be asking themselves is what they are doing about it to not only satisfy today’s consumer but also tomorrow’s”.

Grocery mobile websites

The big four grocery retailers have been quick to recognise the potential of the mobile market and have designed mobile specific websites which mimic the layout of their mobile apps.

All four mobile websites are similar in layout for product listings; all favour listing items one by one as opposed to the grid format employed on the standard website.

Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco mobile websites May 2015


An advantage of this layout is that it allows for a greater character length for product descriptions.

The Tesco desktop website limits the product description length to 47 characters which means some descriptions are abbreviated. For instance, the Robinsons Apple and Blackcurrant Fruit Shoot is abbreviated so that the pack size details and phrase “No Added Sugar” are removed.

The omission of “No Added Sugar” could be important for the sales of this product, as parents searching for a healthy drink for their children may potentially not return this product in their search. However, the mobile site can handle longer product descriptions and so the listing contains the whole product description.


robinsons-fruit-shootTesco desktop website May 2015
                 Tesco mobile website May 2015


Asda also has a larger character limit on its mobile website and the Sainsbury’s mobile site, like its desktop site, does not abbreviate any product descriptions. However, the character limit of the Morrisons mobile site is five characters shorter than its desktop site.

Ten Tesco listings for Robinsons contain the abbreviated brand name “Robs”, presumably so that the product description can include more information. Importantly, this shortening of the brand name greatly affects the product placement.

If a shopper was to use the search term “Robinsons squash” these products would appear after all other Robinsons products and if a shopper was to search for “Robinsons” these products would place on the third page of results, behind two books written by authors with the surname Robinson.

The product descriptions used on the Tesco mobile website and app are the same as those used on the retailer’s website. The extra character length available for product descriptions on the mobile site and app mean the products that are labelled “Robs” need not be shortened and could be named correctly.

tesco robinsons
Tesco mobile website May 2015


The manufacturer could have a conversation with the retailer about using a different set of product descriptions for the mobile site, this would help ensure better search result placement and brand awareness. Product naming and description can really affect the visibility and appeal of a product to a shopper, read our blog “Does the abbreviation of product names affect shoppers’ online experience?” to find out more.

Grocery tablet websites

The Tesco tablet website is similar to its desktop website and employs a grid system for search results. The tablet website however only displays three columns, compared to the five on the desktop website.

tesco tablet
Tesco tablet website May 2015


The tablet website is limited to the same character length constraints as the desktop website, so some product descriptions remain abbreviated.

Placement on mobile sites

The one product per row layout of the mobile websites means that less products are initially displayed in the search results. This means that good product placement is critical as shoppers are likely to purchase an easily visible (perhaps competitor) product, instead of scrolling through lots of results to find the specific product they were searching for – especially if promoted products are forced to surface first.

Asda and Morrisons return the most number of immediately visible results on smartphones because both include the search option in the top banner whereas Sainsbury’s and Tesco place it below.

table search results

Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s also save space by including the promotional detail into the listing, as opposed to Tesco which devotes space to promotions below the listing.

As mobile shopping becomes more prevalent it is likely that these top two or three places will command a significant premium as they are the first products the shopper will view.

Asda and Morrisons also display more immediately visible products on their tablet sites compared to Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Both retailers have four products per row whereas Sainsbury’s and Tesco display three.

Sainsbury’s starts to display the next row of products at the bottom of the page, but they are mostly obscured, however, it is likely this is enough to entice shoppers to scroll down further to see what these products are.

Sainbury’s and Asda tablet websites 11 May 2015


A top eight placement in Asda will ensure a product is visible without scrolling on both the desktop and tablet sites. However, placing seventh or eighth in Sainsbury’s and Tesco means the product will not be seen without scrolling on their tablet websites. To maximise sales, awareness and consideration of product placement on a variety of devices is crucial.

Maximising sales potential

As shoppers become more reliant upon digital devices both manufacturers and retailers will have to pay special attention to each specific online channel.

Sales via smartphones and tablets are often put together under the umbrella term m-commerce. However, as demonstrated, retailers are treating the two very differently; some retailers are creating bespoke sites for smartphones that offer a completely different experience to that of tablets.

Bespoke mobile sites can offer manufacturers and retailers greater control over how products are displayed as they allow greater character lengths than the desktop and tablet sites.

Understanding shopper behaviour by device is critical. Shoppers using a smartphone are more likely to order impulsive purchases of products they have just seen. High product placement is therefore important as many shoppers will not sift through results to find a specific product and instead may opt for a more visible alternative.

Tablet shoppers are more likely to spend time browsing. They are likely to be using their device at home in their spare time and will spend longer sifting through results to find the product they desire. In this way, shopping with a tablet is much closer to that of shopping on a desktop site than it is to the smartphone experience.

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