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The UK grocery business: towards a sustainable model for virtual markets

Ray Hackney (Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)
Kevin Grant (Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK)
Grete Birtwistle (Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 1 April 2006




With the emergence of enabling internet technologies and increased competition between UK supermarkets has led the “big four” – Tesco, J Sainsbury, ASDA and Safeway/Morrisons – to develop grocery operations online. The objective of this paper is to evaluate and present best practice strategies employed by major retail organisations concerning these deployments. The paper argues that Tesco's superior performance can be identified through five critical factors. However, continued success using existing models and thinking is problematic and that future advantages will rely on taking a complex adaptive systems view of the deployment of E‐Grocery systems.


The methodology employed is a conceptual synthesis of current knowledge, based on theoretical constructs and empirical observations.


There is evidence of varying degrees of progress and lessons learnt, from adopting strategies and internet technologies, with new ways of conceptualizing and managing virtual retail operations. The research challenges existing thinking and makes sense of the plexus between this technology and the market place.


The essential contribution of the paper is the identification of five key elements for online retail success and the development of a proposed “online sustainability” model which is perceived to offer contemporary insights into competitive virtual environments.



Hackney, R., Grant, K. and Birtwistle, G. (2006), "The UK grocery business: towards a sustainable model for virtual markets", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 34 No. 4/5, pp. 354-368.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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