A New User’s Reflections on Online Grocery Shopping

I am old enough to remember the initial Tesco home shopping trials in Gateshead in the early 1980s (Gateshead Shopping and Information System) when home shopping via Videotex (look it up if you don’t know) was seen as being a future help for those unable to get to the shops (a nice short summary from one of  (Michael Aldrich) involved can be found here). Fast forward 35 or so years, via the invention of the internet and the smartphone and all the rest of the supply infrastructure, and no-one bats an eyelid at home or online shopping.  That initial experiment and thought has come a long way.

Like so many, I’ve been seduced by the lure of Amazon and the convenience it creates, but am trying to wean myself off it.  We’ve used online sites for a variety of clothing and other purchases, but not perhaps to the extent that so many do. I just like (some) physical retailing.  And up till now we’ve never used a regular grocery home shop, despite seeing delivery vans all over the place, including the street on which we live.

But, my recent mishap on Orkney has rendered me house-bound and immobile and thus unable to do bulk grocery shopping.  Local shops, the nearby Lidl and Stirling Farmers’ Market have provided some of what we need, but we have succumbed to online grocery over the last few weeks, signing up to Tesco and having now used it three times.  So what is our experience and the good and bad elements?

tesco groceries

Signing-up looked easy, until the system said I was already signed up.  How?  Then it refused to recognise my Clubcard and so had no record of my history.  Phone calls ensued and it all worked out, but not the easiest or smoothest start.

The system itself was easy to use and it does learn what you buy, but that I found rather problematic as it routinises everything and choice edits.  You don’t get the feel of range without quite some effort. The ordering does work well though and slot booking and order amendment work fine. It is straightforward in those respects.

What we did notice however was that a lot of products were ‘currently unavailable’, which confused us somewhat. You look the next day and they are often available.  I assume this is a store based issue but it was disappointing that so much was not there.  Delivery performance was good though with deliveries at the start of each booked slot and almost no substitutions (which does say something about on shelf availability).  It is slick and easy, but rather ‘soul-less’; we still prefer looking, touching and selecting products. I can though see how I’d use it for repeat/regular bulk items and then “top-up” locally with the “good and interesting” stuff. Though I doubt I’ll become a permanent convert.

A final observation: at a time when price promotions of ‘unhealthy’ food are under debate, it was noticeable how many banner ads were pushing such products.  These are not our normal purchases, so this stood out.  It does make the case, as we have argued in our FSS report of last year, that any restrictions on promotions have to apply in virtual as well as physical space. As an aside, but in a similar vein, watching S4C on satellite the other day I saw a Lidl World Cup advert for alcohol, using Welsh but not Scottish post-MUP prices, Obviously, of course;  why would they not reflect the different systems. But it does point to the porosity of modern media and the flow of information across boundaries, whether physical or virtual. Retailers and consumers will have more to think about and deal with.

No doubt for many, there is nothing new in this blog, but for us I has been an interesting experiment.  As befits a Professor of Retail Studies though I can’t wait to be mobile enough to visit some ‘real’ shops again.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Availability, Consumer Change, Food Retailing, Gateshead SIS, History, Internet shopping, Local Authorities, Online Retailing, Retail Change, Service Quality, Supply Chains, Television, Tesco and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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