Here’s an amusement: Whilst Amazon makes a grab for Whole Foods, cheapies down its offerings, and turns it into an order-out joint, Aldi is going in the opposite direction: Opening newer and fancier stores, spiffing up the existing properties, and targeting customers who prefer to buy their groceries in brick-and-mortar establishments.
Interesting development, isn’t it? Aldi, according to the report linked above, is betting the farm (heh!) on the proposition that most people would rather shop for groceries in person, especially where fresh products are concerned.
Though it’s a huge risk, it makes sense when viewed in some lights. Given the traditionally low profit margins in the grocery business (typically around 5 percent), dropping your margin to somewhere around 3 percent for the privilege of letting shoppers order online and have stuff delivered has a whiff of suicide about it.
Also, it’s reasonable to suspect that a large number of shoppers may prefer to buy in person, for a variety of reasons. Some may prefer brick-&-mortar shopping all the time; some may find it more convenient to pick up food on the fly some of the time — and they may prefer to do the picking up in a real supermarket with substantial offerings, not in a Circle K.
This may apply to the young and the techie as well as to us cranky old fossils. Last night, for example, my son invited me over for dinner. He kindly made us a pizza, but realized he was missing a couple of items and he didn’t have a bottle of wine. A ten-minute trip to the Fry’s Supermarket around the corner caused these items to materialize… We didn’t have to search for them online, and we didn’t have to wait hours or a day to have them delivered. Obviously, when you order online, someone has to find your items, package them, ship them, pick them up at the warehouse, drive them across the city, and deposit them at your doorstep. That isn’t going to happen in 15 or 20 minutes.
As for us old folks: we’ve been around the grocery-delivery block.
Some time ago, I decided to try ordering up a week’s worth of groceries from the local Safeway. How wonderful, I imagined, not to have to get in the car, traipse through the homicidal traffic, trudge through the store, stand in line to pay, drag the stuff out to the car, and drive back home through said homicidal traffic.
And online grocery shopping would be wonderful. If it worked.
It probably would indeed work for a certain kind of buyer. If you subsist mostly on restaurant food and, when at home, on processed, packaged food, door-to-door grocery delivery would no doubt be highly successful for you.
But if you’re into real foods, unprocessed foods, fresh foods: not so much. The problem is, grocery-store clerks haven’t a clue about selecting fresh fruits and vegetables. What I got when I made the ballyhooed delivery order was under-ripe tomatoes, over-ripe fruit, and wilted lettuce. They don’t eat that kind of stuff, and so they do not know how a fresh melon or a fresh bunch of asparagus is supposed to look.
Nor do they know how to select a decent cut of meat.
Consequently, what you get is not very good — certainly not worth the price you pay for it.
I think the growing popularity of “organic” foods suggests that a number of people — maybe a lot of people — do care about the quality of the food they consume. And possibly that a larger number than you might expect prepare food in their homes.
My son for example, can make a pizza that you simply cannot buy at any pizzeria or grocery counter. Why would he want (for example) a random bag of soggy mushrooms delivered when he’s building a really first-rate meal?
It’ll be interesting to see what develops.
Meanwhile, while we’re watching: what’s your preference in grocery-shopping: on-line or in person?