What makes online grocers work? A case study analysis of factors contributing to online grocery store profitability

William David Lucky, Florida International University


This research examined the factors contributing to the performance of online grocers prior to, and following, the 2000 dot.com collapse. The primary goals were to assess the relationship between a company’s business model(s) and its performance in the online grocery channel and to determine if there were other company and/or market related factors that could account for company performance. ^ To assess the primary goals, a case based theory building process was utilized. A three-way cross-case analysis comprising Peapod, GroceryWorks, and Tesco examined the common profit components, the structural category (e.g., pure-play, partnership, and hybrid) profit components, and the idiosyncratic profit components related to each specific company. ^ Based on the analysis, it was determined that online grocery store business models could be represented at three distinct, but hierarchically, related levels. The first level was termed the core model and represented the basic profit structure that all online grocers needed in order to conduct operations. The next model level was termed the structural model and represented the profit structure associated with the specific business model configuration (i.e., pure-play, partnership, hybrid). The last model level was termed the augmented model and represented the company’s business model when idiosyncratic profit components were included. In relation to the five company related factors, scalability, rate of expansion, and the automation level were potential candidates for helping to explain online grocer performance. In addition, all the market structure related factors were deemed possible candidates for helping to explain online grocer performance. ^ The study concluded by positing an alternative hypothesis concerning the performance of online grocers. Prior to this study, the prevailing wisdom was that the business models were the primary cause of online grocer performance. However, based on the core model analysis, it was hypothesized that the customer relationship activities (i.e., advertising, promotions, and loyalty program tie-ins) were the real drivers of online grocer performance. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Marketing

Recommended Citation

Lucky, William David, "What makes online grocers work? A case study analysis of factors contributing to online grocery store profitability" (2008). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3388199.