Look at Life: Online Food Shopping

8th April 2016

Debating the Merits of Online Shopping: Luxurious and Liberating, or a Recipe for Lazy Loafing?...

By Jennifer Lipman

I used to think that being able to hand-pick my fruit and vegetables was a dealbreaker. Who in their right mind would allow some spotty teenager in a warehouse to select which pears and plums would grace their fruit bowl? Who would rely on delivery men to ensure that their tomatoes were plump or that their spinach was not wilting before its time? Who would be so lazy as to not bother to do their weekly shop in person?

That was then. These days I am fully converted to the virtues of online supermarket shopping, so much so that the thought of actually having to cross the threshold of one of those soul-sucking stores fills me with dread.

It started with a party. Planning a New Year’s Eve bash, I fretted to my sisters about whether the supermarkets would have all the items needed to make my soirée a success, especially so soon after Christmas. What if I couldn’t get the plastic cocktail glasses at my local store, or they ran out of the lychees for the martinis; what if they didn’t have the pomegranate seeds for my ‘just something I pulled together’ salad? Order online, they said, looking at me like I’d only just discovered I could buy pre-sliced bread. And, reader, I did.

I’ve not looked back since. I now have a ‘delivery pass’, enabling free provision at any time. I book the good timeslots early, and plan my meals around when the next shop is arriving. I don’t pay for bags because everything comes in a crate, meaning I save money and feel good about the environment.  

I’ve become a master online orderer, smugly knowledgeable about how long offer cycles last, talented at bringing an order to just pennies over the free delivery threshold or remembering to key in the code for the double-points voucher. I’ve mastered the art of saving those big store cupboard items until I need to fill up an online shop, or holding off on purchasing any non-urgent stuff when

I’ve already spent too much. I still shop at the small convenience stores every so often, for fresh goods, but I had to do that beforehand too.

Sure, there have been mishaps. Products sometimes don’t arrive, which is frustrating and often inexplicable (are you really telling me the local warehouse is out of apples?). I’ve learned to avoid substitutes – no, I don’t want limes instead of lime washing up liquid, or a different brand of butter – and there was the time the driver failed to bring in the stacks of loo roll I’d ordered, only to return with it when I was out. More than once I’ve had to send back wounded eggs or poor quality veg. And I recognise that the menace of the delivery van blocking the road is not to be understated.

If you’re someone for whom there can never be enough to do lists, it can drive you crazy. You lie awake at night wondering when to arrange this week’s shop, and you can get obsessive looking at the offers in a way that you simply cannot if you shop in store.

But oh, the time I save. I can plan and complete my online order in minutes – in my lunchbreak, or while watching television, against the hour it took to do the whole shebang in person. I can compare nutritional values of different brands at the click of the button. And I can do it with the recipe book in front of me, meaning I buy the right amount of whatever I need and thus cutting levels of food waste.

The ability to add items as the week goes on is priceless; my frozen food is never thawed by a traffic jam and, unlike when I go shopping with my husband, I can control the precise quantity of unnecessary ‘treats’ added to my basket.

Online supermarket shopping, you might argue, is a feminist activity; a way of liberating women (let’s be honest, it’s still mostly women) from a task that takes up huge swathes of time. It’s about making one of life’s main requirements – keeping yourself and your loved ones sufficiently fuelled – more efficient, or simply cutting the ratio of household jobs to leisure activity.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about the days when the milkman would leave fresh bottles on the doorstep and everyone shopped at the village store. But few of us live that bucolic life anymore, and unlike with other online pursuits – digital music downloads, say, or reading news coverage online – there’s simply little to mourn about the demise of the physical shopping experience.

Now, did I remember to add ketchup to the list? 

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