I am at a crucial point in my life, a moment when I know, with absolute clarity, that things will never be the same again: Our local Hannaford just debuted online shopping and curbside pickup. I might never go inside a grocery store again.
Honestly, this could be the future of grocery shopping, so I’m calling it now. If my kids stumble upon this column in 20 years, they will either laugh at my Jetson-like predictions, or they will marvel at my wisdom.
But when you realize how quickly the film-processing industry changed, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. My kids cannot imagine the torture of leaving film to be developed. In the 1980s, we had to wait to see how those selfies turned out.
Perhaps someday our kids will tell their kids about a time when people had to actually go into the grocery store.
I’ve never met a mother who enjoyed the old-fashioned way (is it too soon to call it that?) of grocery shopping. It consistently ranks among the top three most dreaded chores, mostly because of the time involved, but also because it is a lonesome (if you’re lucky), monotonous activity that feels a little like being stuck inside a casino without an adult beverage.
The worst part for me is how many times I must handle a grocery item before I deliver it to its final spot in the pantry or fridge. Take a box of cereal as an example. I select it from the shelf (one touch) and arrange it in the basket (possibly another touch). When the basket gets full, I touch it again (third touch) because the gallon of milk never has room and can’t be left teetering on the top. Everything has to be rearranged. Then I unload it at check-out (fourth touch), put it back in the basket (fifth touch), into the car (sixth touch), out of the car (seventh touch) and into the pantry (eighth touch).
By the time that box of cereal is in its place, I despise it. This is why I don’t like making dinner immediately after a grocery run, lest I need to touch an item a ninth time.
When I bought my groceries online last week and picked them up at the curb, the entire trip took 15 minutes. When I unpacked the bags at home, each item was like a surprise. “Oh, I ordered turkey! Let’s have turkey tonight!”
Plus, Hannaford packs all to-go orders in nice paper bags with handles. At first I wondered why a grocery store would use these. Then I realized, when they started packing and storing people’s orders, they discovered what we shoppers have always known: plastic bags are worthless. They can’t be stacked, and they slide around in the back of the car. Once emptied, they make a cloud of blue and brown floating around the kitchen floor. (Props for how good they are at bringing home wet swimsuits though.)
I also think shopping for groceries online limited my impulse buys, which honestly is going to cause problems for advertisers. Much like the publishing and music industries had to modify their business model for online purchases, food companies will no longer be able to cleverly place new items on the end caps or sugary cereals at kids’ eye-level. And what will become of all those checkout-lane tabloids?
Many of the reasons above make online grocery shopping a brilliant idea for new mothers. It’s the next best thing since disposable diapers. Imagine not needing to drag babies and toddlers through a crowded grocery store in the middle of winter, when their car seats and discarded hats and coats take up all the room in the shopping cart anyway, so you need a second one. Imagine completely eliminating the fights over candy at the checkout aisle.
Of course, online grocery shopping does present some problems. Unbelievably, some of my favorite memories of my boys involve them sitting in the shopping cart, their tiny shoes poking out, and them babbling at me as I went up and down the aisles.
Also, if we aren’t going into grocery stores anymore, that means no more free cookie from the bakery. (Possibly a “pro”?)
But it’s hard to judge the size of items online, too. That tiny bottle of clothes detergent I accidentally ordered will last exactly one week in my house, and the party-size bag of cheetos was a little excessive. I also am not sure how often I want someone else selecting my meats and produce. Perhaps in the future, walk-in grocery stores will be small and consist only of those items that people refuse to select online.
Yet, for all the hiccups, I’m definitely already addicted to buying groceries online. Sure, I’ll miss making small talk with the cashiers and seeing everyone I know while I’m in sweatpants and have on no makeup. And yes, this is devastating to my FitBit step counter. But, guys, I really don’t think I’m shopping in the store again.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.