The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has brought long queues in supermarkets and high demand for delivery slots from the big players like Tesco — which could mean plenty of customer demand in Belfast for Amazon Fresh.
The online retail giant has conquered many markets, from the online sale of books to TV and film production, as well as cloud services through its Amazon Web Services subsidiary.
Its subscription service Prime, which charges customers £79 per year for perks including free delivery and access to movies and TV shows through Prime Video, has lured millions of subscribers around the UK.
Grocery delivery is a well-established add-on to Prime but up until now has only been available in some postcodes in and around London.
The service will offer same day delivery for orders placed before 9pm in some areas.
There will be free delivery for orders of over £40 — a big draw for those used to charges for delivery by other supermarkets.
But bringing the service to Belfast would mean a huge investment in vans, recruitment of drivers and a cool store for storing fresh goods before delivery.
Earlier this year the company announced it’s opening an 80,000 sq ft delivery station in Titanic Quarter’s Channel Commercial Park — doubling the size of its existing centre.
One logistics expert said the space would be “more than enough” for the addition of a cool store.
However, Amazon itself is tightlipped on whether Belfast is on its list for the Amazon Fresh.
A spokesman said: “Amazon hasn’t revealed any cities/areas to which it will be rolling out the service as yet.”
He reiterated a previous statement referring to the service reaching “millions of Prime members across the UK before the end of the year”.
“Unfortunately we can’t confirm the details for the national roll-out as yet but there will be more announcements in the coming months and we will be sure to update you if and when there is further news relating to Northern Ireland,” he said.
The goods sold through Amazon Fresh include everything you’d buy on a visit to the supermarket. There are branded goods as well as products from Whole Foods, the chain of health food shops which Amazon bought three years ago.
Richard Hyman, a retail expert at Richard Talks Retail, said Amazon regards grocery delivery as a logical extension of services to Prime customers.
“Food is the biggest retail market there is. It’s amazing Amazon as become as big as they have in our lives and they’ve only really tackled half the retail market.”
He described food as a “much more complicated market to address but history shows that Amazon will iron out the issues”. “They have all these Prime customers spending significant amounts of money on things like food which Amazon doesn’t sell, so that’s a huge opportunity,” he said.
“I’m sure that for Amazon, it’s a matter of when it takes Amazon Fresh to Northern Ireland Prime customers, not if.”
He described Amazon as another challenger to the market after years of dominance by Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. He said that the big supermarkets have already responded to the challenge of the discounters, such as Lidl and Aldi. Now Amazon Fresh is the next challenge they face. “The discounters have carved out a really significant share of the market and taken share from the incumbents, and that’s going to happen with Amazon. It doesn’t mean Amazon is going to take over the food market, but they will establish a significant presence, and they will take that from the main supermarkets.”