Grocery shopping goes back to the future, despite Amazon’s arrival…

Unlike many of the marketers in the packaged goods industry, I’ve some hands-on experience in the grocery category.

Back in ancient times, the early 1980’s, my family bought a suburban supermarket in Sydney. Every day we’d arrive early to collect the milk and dairy products outside the store before the sun hit them. And every night we’d shut up shop and head home, somewhere around dinner time.

It was the first time I knew the meaning of “putting your feet up”. That’s because if you’ve been on your feet for 12 hours, up and down ladders, carrying and unpacking boxes and taking bags of groceries out to customer’s cars, all you want to do when you get home is put your feet up and enjoy a cold beer – which we did each night.

An actor portrays me helping a customer…

In those prehistoric times we provided a home delivery service. (my mother also used a similar service when I as a wee lad) Here’s how it worked.

Customers would write their shopping list on a piece of paper and drop it into the store. Or they’d call us on the phone and we’d take the order. Some customers had standing orders each week and only called us to change the order. They’d pay us in cash, or even a cheque, to settle the account.

So our customers would send us their shopping list, we’d pick n pack it, then deliver the groceries to their home. It was amazingly old-fashioned dear reader. We also delivered goods from other stores on our shopping strip, like the butcher or baker, as part of the service.

Another actor portrays me delivering groceries…

But jump forward to 2017. Amazon is coming! The sky is falling. Online sales are growing – mainly because that’s what happens from a standing start, sales grow.

More importantly though folks, thanks to amazing digital disruption, customers can order their groceries on a website or app. They just enter their order on a keyboard, use their credit card to pay for the goods and the grocer delivers the groceries to their home.

Unbloodybelievable. How far have we come thanks to digital disruption? Whereas customers once used a pen and paper to write their order and the grocer delivered the goods, now customers use a keyboard to enter the order and the grocer delivers the goods.

This is such disruptive behaviour, it’s obviously a reflection of something going on in society. It seems some of our old habits have a long tail. Students of marketing will be well aware of the consumer behaviour of the 19th century – ordering goods remotely through mail-order catalogues and then having the goods delivered to your home.

It appears this same behaviour is catching on again. Amazon used to rely on this, but now they’ve bought retail stores too, so customers can go shopping in the stores, not just get home delivery.

So roughly 160 years since the early mail-order catalogues and thirty-something years since my family did home delivery, people’s behaviour is, well, it’s the same as the 19th century. Very little has changed. Surely there has to be a digital buzzword for this phenomenon of things remaining the same?

Gotta go now. Have to do the grocery shopping…where’s my shopping list?


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  1. We lived 10 miles outside town on a farm. Mum would phone her order into the grocery business, and when she went into town, her order would be picked and packed in a slot, for want of a better word, on the wall behind the grocery counter.
    And of course it would be in those big paper bags, but then the “activists” decided they were destroying too many trees. It appears we’re now going back to them.

  2. Here’s an update.
    For my sins, I chair the Clarence Valley Business Excellence Awards in NSW. Last night, we held out annual Awards Night. We have a wide range of categories, the winners from which the Clarence Valley Business of the year is selected. Last night, it was Spar Maclean, a supermarket, who operate their business from rather old, unprepossessing premises.
    Despite operating from a small town, I understand they are the largest Spar business in NSW. Why? Customer service. There are many facets of this, but one everyone remarks on, they will not just cart your groceries to your car, where-ever it is parked (their parking is limited), but they will also home deliver, if that helps their customers.
    A great business.

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