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JANICE WELLS: The golden age of shopping

I read that a super chain has unveiled a delivery model where workers actually get house keys and load your fridge unattended.
I read that a super chain has unveiled a delivery model where workers actually get house keys and load your fridge unattended. - 123RF Stock Photo

Sometimes I feel like I am so slow at going forward that I’m going backward. I’ve just finished reading an article by a Clint Rainey called “Golden Age of Grocery Shopping”. God love Clint; for a second, I didn’t know from the title if he was talking about today or 50 years ago.

But, of course, he’s talking about today. I’m not such a Luddite that I miss the days when we couldn’t have corn on the cob and mushrooms unless we had a can opener.

The general theory is that because of competition and technology we get better food, lower prices, and more convenience. The one I’m not so sure of is lower prices.

Competitive stores are offering yoga classes and live music. I can personally tell you that live music works. There is a “made right here” chain that sometimes showcases local talent and makes me happier as soon as I walk in the door. There I was one day, on a day I planned to get in and out the store as fast as I could, lingering around the produce so I could hear the end of a favourite Johnny Cash song, and picking up more produce than I had intended so as not to appear creepy. I made it as far as the bakery when “Your Cheatin’ Heart” lured me back towards the front and I ended up with a rabbit pie.

Competitive stores are offering yoga classes and live music. I can personally tell you that live music works. There is a “made right here” chain that sometimes showcases local talent and makes me happier as soon as I walk in the door.

On the other hand, seeing people engaged in healthy activities like yoga might shame me right back out the door and off to another store. Of course, the yoga classes would probably take place out of sight, but the thought alone would take the joy right out of the chip aisle.

There’s a chain in North Carolina that is planning to add on an on-site brewery. An on-site winery would have a certain novelty attraction, but a plain old liquor store is better for those of us discriminate drinkers who like variety.

Another “new” thing that makes this the golden age of grocery shopping is the “grocerant.” the term for free-standing restaurants inside (or adjacent to) grocery stores that add that hangout factor. The old lunch counter had that hangout factor. I would like a grocerounter.

At the other extreme, how does this sound? Robots “check for low stock or misplaced items by snapping high-res pics of every square inch of shelf space as they traverse aisles. The benefit for customers is the 3-D map that’s generated. It gives you X, Y, and Z co-ordinates of every product within a few centimetres.” Good grief. That sentence alone is enough to make me boycott a store like that. But it can also simply tell me that the product I’m looking for is the third item on the left side of Aisle 5, Section 3, Row 2. I have to admit not many humans could do that, but what if you like that stroll around the grocery store? What if it’s about the only time you get out and see people?

Home delivery is starting to become a big thing. Don’t go saying we’ve had home delivery forever from local stores; we certainly couldn’t order from Amazon with its hundred different kinds of tartar sauce and we couldn’t ask Alexa to add items to our order and have her confirm each new item and keep asking, “What else?” until you’re done and if you just say ‘bread’ she knows what kind you want “from your order history and purchasing behavior.”

I don’t like cashier-less checkouts, and yes, I do know how to use them. It is a slippery slope for human beings and I am trying to stay on top as long as I can. I’m not looking forward to driverless delivery vans or drones. I would say I don’t like any of it but then I read that a super chain has unveiled a delivery model where workers actually get house keys and load your fridge unattended.

Maybe that’s where robots could come in.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. She can be reached at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca

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