Human interaction on aisle three
What can’t you buy online these days?
Cars, clothes, electronics, medicine — even groceries — can be purchased without leaving your living room. You don’t even have to use a computer. Just shout at your smart speaker and it will order for you.
It’s convenient for sure, but something is lost when everything is done online.
The latest blow to traditional shopping came last week when Amazon announced it was buying Whole Foods, an Austin-based health foods store. I once shopped at a Whole Foods in Texas, and for someone accustomed to Piggly Wiggly it was quite the experience — and not in a good way.
Milk for $7? You have to be kidding me. $6 bread? I don’t think so. I left with a $3 bottle of water and haven’t been back.
But Amazon obviously thinks it can revolutionize the grocery business much like it has done with books and just about everything else.
I don’t shop for groceries often, but when I do I prefer to touch and feel what I’m purchasing. Is that tomato too ripe? Are those bananas ripe enough? Those kinds of things are difficult to judge based on a photo online.
The same goes for meat. Does that ribeye have too much fat or not enough marbling? Again, I need to pick it up and look to see.
Groceries are not books. A hardback copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the same no matter where you’re buying it. Produce is not.
Amazon isn’t the only retailer moving in this direction. Walmart offers online grocery shopping, too. I’m sure others will soon as well.
But I’m hoping not all grocery stores take this route. I still want to stroll down the aisle to pick up items. I prefer to browse. If it looks good, I buy it. If not, I pass. How do the steaks look this week? You don’t know until you go look. What bakery item is dangerously close to being stale and is marked down accordingly? That’s what I’m after.
My wife, on the other hand, shops with a list and a mission. She knows what she wants, where it’s located and heads straight for it. Maybe online grocery shopping appeals to someone like her.
There’s also the social aspect of visiting the local grocery store. You see people you know, chat with the cashier and, in general, behave like a normal, socialized human. That’s hard to do online. Plus you can’t impulsively buy junk food stashed at the check-out counter while shopping online. You certainly can’t smell the lunch counter from a computer.
Shopping online is great, but it can’t become the only way we shop. We still need those human connections to feel like a human. A grocery store website — even Amazon’s — can’t provide that. I wish Amazon all the luck with its online grocery endeavor, as long as it stays away from my Piggly Wiggly.
Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at email@example.com.