April 15, 2014, 12:45 PM

Which online grocery retailers really deliver?

FreshDirect earns top marks in a comparison of eight online grocers, outshining such big names as AmazonFresh, Google Shopping Express and Peapod in a study by Wells Fargo Securities and web design firm Fluid.

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Although there are innovative features among online grocers, most companies struggle with translating the offline experience of buying groceries to the web, according to a report by Wells Fargo Securities and digital design and development firm Fluid Inc. Despite being an e-commerce giant, Amazon.com Inc. has not been able to replicate its e-commerce success in the grocery space, the study authors conclude.

In order to rank the online grocers, Fluid bought nearly $1,000 in groceries—in two orders from each company—and ranked the interaction based on user experience; grocery-centric design; personalization and reorder; content and features; selection; delivery and pickup options; and mobile optimization. Each of these categories were graded on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being “severely below expectations” and 5 being “significantly exceed expectations.” Of the retailers analyzed, four were online-only and four were extensions of bricks-and-mortar grocery chains.

FreshDirect LLC  No. 75 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, received the highest marks of the eight online grocers analyzed, with a score of 4.14. The online grocer was the only one to get a score in the “surpassed expectations” range. Tied in second place were Safeway (No. 121), and Google Shopping Express with scores of 3.42, within the “met expectations” range. AmazonFresh followed closely behind with a score of 3.14. Peapod LLC (No. 55), Walmart To Go, Harris Teeter and Whole Shopper—a one-store test from Whole Foods—received scores less than 3. Walmart.com is No. 4 in the Top 500 Guide.

Fluid attributes the low scores to the challenge of translating to the web the familiar experience of grocery shopping at a physical store. “Grocery shopping sites should be designed for, well, grocery shopping,” the report says. “Yet none of the experiences did much to accommodate that paradigm, in our view. Shopping for a meal or week’s worth of groceries is different than buying a shirt.”

The lowest overall category score was 2.38 in content and features, which ranked the grocers on additional content, such as recipes and diet-based recommendations. The leader in this category is FreshDirect, with a score of 4. Coming in last was Peapod, with a score of 1. The highest-ranking category was selection, where Harris Teeter and Whole Shopper both received a 5, despite their low scores in other categories.

AmazonFresh struggled with a grocery-centric design and providing enough detail of its grocery products, says Bridget Fahrland, vice president of client strategy at Fluid. “AmazonFresh has great selection and quality, but you wouldn’t know its great quality until you buy it and taste it,” she says. The lack of detail in grocery items is in stark contrast to other product categories on Amazon.com (No. 1).

Peapod’s web site needs work, the reports says: “The use of tabs, underlined product names, and thumbnail images does not leverage best design practices and makes the site feel somewhat like a rundown grocery store in need of a remodel.” Safeway also came up short with user experience, but it got high marks for using its loyalty card to allow a shopper to see her shopping history that includes items bought online and in store.

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