Are we going back in time by having our groceries home delivered for the sake of convenience? Or do shoppers have to catch up with trends and technology? Online grocery shopping with home delivery services are becoming more prevalent among consumers and vendors of all types.
Having groceries delivered to you is not as unusual of a concept as it may sound. Remember milkmen or bread, meat or ice trucks who sold fresh products door to door? You may even recollect the fictional small town, general store from the famous 1993 film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, where a teenager delivers orders all over town. There's been a trend arising and more and more people find it convenient. It's called online grocery shopping, and it's not just through your local chain store either. People are double clicking for a variety of different reasons nowadays besides being hungry. Looking for an unusual ingredient? A rare brand? A hypoallergenic or natural product? Registered nurse Clara Montanez shops online because it is "quick and easy".
"Why would I go drive and wait in line when I can wait at home?" she said. "They come about every other week."
Montanez places her orders online through Vons.com, owned by Safeway. She regularly uses the same shopping list which the site stores for her in her secure online account. Her regular order includes fresh dairy products like large brown eggs and organic 2% reduced fat milk. Her local Granada Hills Vons manager who prefers to be called Brian, says the ordering process is pretty self explanatory and has grown in popularity among a variety of local shoppers.
"Trend wise I think that the Vons.com size has increased," he said. "Oh yeah, it's been going for years. Since 2002 here." When asked about the types of people who use the service, Brian said it included everyone. "The base of customers is pretty diverse base. I don't think it's anything quite in particular."
Although this Vons didn't notice a pattern. A nearby Hows Markets, owned by former Hughes grocery executives, did. Shelby Beeson used to deliver the groceries to clients herself from the Granada Hills Hows and says clients were unique.
"For the most part, 99% of the customers who use it are elderly." she said. "There are some customers who when delivered to really like to talk. They tell us about their family and stuff like that, and it seems like a lot of them just like to have someone to talk to."Beeson adds that customers even requested certain delivery employees after getting to know them. The service may have recreated something that isn't very common anymore in the hustle and bustle, fast paced superstores that can aim to help as many as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Among other unique clients is another local woman to whom online shopping is a necessity.
"Oh I've done it about a dozen times. Sometimes they [deliverymen] even put the groceries away for me once they see I'm in a wheelchair." says Karen Dinger who is physically disabled. Dinger hasn't driven since the 1970's and has limited dexterity and grip as a consequence of advanced Friedreich's Ataxia. The rare genetic disorder progressively deteriorates motor function among other things that impair movement and feeling. Despite her rare condition, Dinger shares something in common among other online shoppers, lack of transportation. Randall Degges, now a lead software developer, says he used the service in college just for that reason.
"We didn't have a car. As walking to the grocery store was extremely difficult, it was much easier and cheaper for us to have them delivered without leaving our apartment."
Although Degges now has a car, he says he would shop online again if he didn't work from home.
"I just tend to want to get out of the house and go do stuff. Might as well go to the grocery store. I work at home and get cabin fever."
People without forms of private transportation have created a consumer base for online shopping, especially when it is a regional occurrence. In New York City, carrying groceries on public mass transit is difficult and not everyone uses taxis. This has given way to several virtual competitors in the region such as Peapod.com and NetGrocer.com. Netgrocer.com has a modern look to its website and sells organic, natural and kosher foods in addition to traditional products. What used to be an exclusive and costly Pink Dot-like fancy is now becoming an industry.
Some virtual grocery stores, including NetGrocer.com have expanded to cater to customers on a national basis. They and MexGrocer.com both ship anywhere in the United States. Southern California based MexGrocer was created in early 2000 and offers Mexican foods through a well developed website. In a posted video online, President Ignaciosays why they aim at a cultural base. "Mexican Hispanics in the U.S. have all the same purchasing power of all the country of Mexico." For those looking to make food without a clue, the site sells cookbooks and tools like a molcajete. The stone and stone bowl are a mortar and pestle traditionally used to grind spices, mash guacamole or blend salsa. Other competitive practices of virtual markets include frozen food delivery, bulk sale, and same day delivery with DVD rentals.
Amazon.com is a popular site for all kinds of buys and yes, even groceries-by the case or the can. Manufacturers have caught on to the trend and even provide coupons for exclusive online discounts through Amazon. Amazons' middleman-like take on vending allows for all sorts of companies to make a profit. Unusual companies like Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods offers coupon codes specifically for its brand name products in bulk. The employee-owned company prides itself in old fashioned stone milling of whole grain flours including hard to find gluten free products. Coupons and rarities sell. Amazon even has a sister site called AmazonFresh that deals fresh groceries to its local counterparts in Seattle, Washington.
The trend however is not catching on everywhere however. I surveyed shoppers outside a Ralph's grocery store in Northridge, California and found that most shoppers shop traditionally because they find it the most convenient. They questioned delivery and shipping charges. Others saw the idea as completely unnecessary and the majority of those surveyed had never tried it. It is these loyal and traditional customers who keep the important business of in person grocery shopping booming. The Supervalu and Cerberus owned Albertsons grocery chain has had to limit it's online shopping services. An Albertsons corporate customer service representative said delivery services were discontinued six to nine months ago. In fact, the Albertsons store that disabled Karen Dinger uses has canceled its home delivery and now only offers in-store pick up by ordering online or by phone. Dinger has been spending some time navigating the Vons.com which offers home delivery in her neighborhood. She may call in an order to Manager Brian very soon.