I loathe grocery shopping. Join me in that, will you? There's nothing to like about it--time-consuming, boring, nasty. I used to do it early on Saturday morning, then realized I could save myself some time by preparing the list Thursday evening and stopping on the way home from work on Friday. Then I wouldn't have to make a special trip on Saturday, with the added bonus of not having an onerous chore hanging over me for the weekend. Though now I had another reason to dislike the process--I was doing it when I was tired after the final day of a full week's work.
Part of the loathing has come from the lack of customer service at grocery stores. The stores keep as few clerks as possible on the checkout lines, and there is rarely anyone to help you in the aisles when you need it. Grocery stores want to shunt you into self-service everything so they don't have to pay someone else to do it. You get your own cart, you get your own groceries, many times you check yourself out, you haul your purchases out to your car, and you return the cart.
When I was a kid, at least, the stores had drive-up service. After you paid for your groceries, the bag boy (he wasn't a "courtesy clerk" yet) put everything onto a numbered cart while pulled your car around to a special door and they loaded your groceries into the trunk for you. But that service ended right quick in the cutthroat, greedy 80s.
Back in the Old Days (before World War II), no one pushed a cart at the store. You didn't touch groceries at the store because they weren't yours! You stopped in and handed your list over to the grocer who peered at it and said, "Yes, we have all these except for the canned peaches. Will pears do instead?" And you said pears would be fine. "Will you be picking these up, or should I send the boy around?" asked the grocer, and you said you wanted them delivered. A couple hours later, a kid with a wagon knocked on your back door, and you gave him a nickel for helping you put your order away. The pick-it-yourself concept didn't show up until 1943, when the owner of the A&P realized all his clerks had been drafted and he couldn't keep up his orders, so he put all the groceries out on the main floor and gave his customers shopping carts. A new era had begun!
And now? Grocery stores find themselves competing with on-line shopping and membership-driven mega-stores like Costco. People are shopping elsewhere. What to do?
Enter on-line grocery shopping!
Kroger started offering this service in my area just recently. The idea is, you register with their web site, assemble an order of groceries, select a pickup date and time, and show up with your debit card. You pay from the driver's seat, they load the groceries into the car, and you're off. The service costs $5, and the first three times are free. (This seems awfully low to me, and I'm wondering if the price will quietly go up if people use it a lot and it becomes a high-demand service.)
I wasn't sure about it at first. Would it work? How would I be able to pick the right products? Would it take longer to assemble the list than just picking it out at the store? But for only $5--free for now--it was worth trying. This, of course, is what Kroger wants, but I hate grocery shopping more than I dislike handing demographic information over to a grocery store, so off we went.
Kroger does have a membership discount system connected to my email and cell phone number, and the store (grind my teeth) does keep track of everything I buy. This information, however, was imported straight into the Click/Pick system when I first used it, which meant items I usually buy popped up, complete with picture and price, ready for selection. This was indeed handy, even if it meant the store was watching.
I had already created a menu and grocery list for the week, so I started selecting from the web site. It went very quickly, and a little sidebar also gave me a running total on the cost. I also skimmed through usual purchases to look for anything I might have forgotten to put on my list, then hit the finish button.
They asked me to select a time and date. The first time I did this, I had a wide selection available. The second time, no slots were available on the day I wanted to pick my groceries up. I'm guessing the service was popular that day, and the slots were all spoken for--there are only so many clerks. Interesting.
At the appointed time, I drove to the store and pulled into a section of the parking lot set aside for the on-line people. Signs everywhere asked me to call a special number and let them know I had arrived, which I did. A clerk promptly answered, asked my name, and said she'd be right out with my order. A moment later, she came out with a portable card reader and a flatbed cart with grocery bags on it. I used my debit card to pay, and she loaded the groceries into the back of the car. All done. Ta-da!
Everything from my list was there, including the produce. In all, it took way, way less time.
I'm a little conflicted. I hate handing over more information than necessary (and even what IS necessary) about myself to companies. I know quite a lot about what they do with it, and I don't like it.
However, I absolutely loved, Loved, LOVED not having to go to the damn store. It was like having little elves scamper about, gathering my groceries for me while I saw with my feet up. Now that winter break is ending, my plan is to enter my shopping list every Thursday evening and have the groceries ready for pickup Friday when I get out of work. I'll barely have to stop at all. Wow. Just wow.
So far I'm a convert.