M&S online food delivery service will be no piece of cake

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Soon available from the comfort of your armchair?

Couch potatoes everywhere are licking their lips as two High Street giants prepare to enter the crowded market of online food orders for home delivery.

Middle-class shoppers could soon find it easier to order high-end treats from home as Marks and Spencer prepares a trial online grocery service.

Humbler tastes are catered for too, as McDonald’s unveils a pilot fast-food delivery service in the London area.

But as existing players already know, the delivery market is no pushover.

In the case of MS, the move comes as part of a wider push into the food sector that involves opening 200 new food-only stores.

MS currently has 959 UK stores, of which 615 are food only.

The retailer is being cautious about its plans, saying that it wants to undertake “a soft trial in the autumn”.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “The economics of food online are not straightforward and it is not something that we are going to rush into until we have substantial customer insight and a better understanding of what is right for MS and right for our customers.”

Luxury items

However, it’s not clear that MS has the muscle to take on the big supermarkets, which in many cases have spent years honing their online offer.

Industry sources say the average Tesco stocks 40,000 different products, whereas an MS food outlet has just 7,000.

Of course, MS has carved out a distinctive niche for its mostly own-label nosh, with TV advertising stressing the exclusivity and luxury nature of its food and drink.

Consumers are less likely to go there for baked beans and more likely to seek out speciality items.

The MS website’s food section features a large section headed “Dine in style”, including the blurb: “From decadent roasts to dinner parties, we’ve got the expertly sourced joints and carefully prepared meals you need to impress without the stress.”

This kind of food can already be ordered online from MS on a click-and-collect basis, while the chain also already offers office lunch delivery under the Lunch To You branding.

Takeaway challenge?

So maybe it’s the takeaway food outlets that should be quaking in their boots. After all, if all that stress-free, expertly-sourced food can be delivered to your door, perhaps you might prefer it to a curry or a pizza.

But there again, retail insiders aren’t convinced that MS can pose a challenge.

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Shakes delivered to your shack?

They don’t see much crossover with big players such as online food order and delivery service Just Eat, which operates as an intermediary between independent take-out food outlets and customers.

The general view is that MS shoppers are not necessarily Just Eat’s core consumers.

On the other hand, maybe Just Eat might be more worried by the other big name that’s mulling an entry into the market: fast-food firm McDonald’s.

The Big Mac purveyor is set to be quicker off the mark than MS, with a June start date for its London-based trial service.

“We will start with a delivery service from the right number of sites that gives us scale,” McDonald’s UK chief executive Mr Pomroy told the Telegraph.

However, the signs are that the Golden Arches chain will be working with the existing system, not trying to disrupt it.

The actual deliveries will be carried out by an external firm, which means that it might be Deliveroo or another such company bringing your Chicken McNuggets to your door.

At this rate, there may soon be no need to leave your home at all – another blow to the High Street as bricks-and-mortar outlets look increasingly old-fashioned.