Does it even have a future?
When the Internet first came around in the mid-90s, TV tech shows couldn’t help enthusing over how now, take-out restaurants and supermarkets could have websites and you could just order stuff right from home. In fact, buying groceries online was supposed to be the next big thing in retail when the dot-com boom occurred back then. In fact, if you remember, there were huge online grocery store operations that came out then hoping to become the next Amazon. They went public, and then bit the dust shortly after. In the 00’s, this happened again; and again they went bust, more or less. There are just a few places now where buying groceries online appears to be a robust business. Elsewhere, it’s fallen quite flat. Why is this so? Why does online shopping seem successful with everything, but not groceries?
The thing is, with lots of other kinds of purchases – in books, electronics and so on – a good part of the sale happens to be giving people a nice family experience to get into. You’re supposed to go to the store, talk amongst yourselves and pick things out. In many places, the grocery store is a place for single people to hit it off. It’s a social experience, and people don’t like that it’s being taken away from them.
You could argue that buying books was a kind of social experience too – you actually get to see what the people around you are interested in. Now while that’s true, buying books online really brings you close to the real physical buying experience. There’s not a whole lot that you miss going online. Buying groceries online though, you miss out a lot in the touch and feel department. You can’t look produce over to see how healthy it is, for instance. And when it comes to buying meat, people want to be able to look closely to find out how fresh something is. They want to be able to smell it.
What on earth do you do for bread and other baked goods? People will often show up at four in the morning for the freshest loaf. That’s how much people care about this kind of thing. There is no telling how many hours it takes a loaf of bread after it’s baked, to get to you, when you order online. And fresh produce that doesn’t get to your fridge immediately just isn’t the same.
And finally, people usually like to be able to save money with special sales coupons when they shop. At most online merchants, the in-store sales aren’t reflected on the website, and your coupons aren’t welcome. Buying groceries online can be a good idea for some people – hyper-lazy college students, elderly people who find it difficult to make it all the way to grocery store, and so on. But it is certainly not for everyone.