A couple of weeks ago, while I was putting away the groceries that I had ordered online earlier that week, and which had just been delivered to my house, Child 2 asked something to the effect of “When you were my age, did you ever imagine that you could order groceries from the comfort of your chair, and have them delivered to your house?”
My answer was that, yes, I could easily imagine that, because it was something that actually happened, then.
When I was growing up, we spent some summers in my father’s Godmother’s house. About once a week, she would call the local grocer’s and place an order. The order would be delivered a few hours later. The amount would be added to her ongoing tally, and the bill would be settled at the end of the month.
There were some differences between that experience and mine, of course.
For a starter, the medium: we don’t “call” the shop to place an order. I was going to say that we don’t use the phone, but we do – we can order our shopping through an app, on our phones. Likewise, I was going to say that we don’t use our voice, but we can still do that: it is possible to order our groceries via our voice-based virtual assistants (Alexa, etc…).
The other big difference is the provider. I had ordered from a large supermarket. For my father’s godmother, this service was only available from the local grocery store, not the larger competitors. Moreover, this service was available for a limited range of products, only; whereas, today, I can get pretty much anything delivered to my door.
But, other than that, my grocery shopping experience was not really “new”.
This exchange reminded me of an interesting podcast episode from the Conversation, and the associated article entitled “How the future of shopping was shaped by its past”, by Rachel Bowlby. The author says:
“(S)hopping history never moves in one single direction or all at once. There have always been regional and chronological divergences from mainstream developments. There are also retailing modes that fall by the wayside and then return at a later date in new guises or with new names. They often have every appearance of being newly invented”
Bowlby shares numerous examples of previous incarnations of retail phenomena that we think of as ‘modern’, such as fast-fashion, pop-up shops, virtual shopping, chain stores and, of course, home delivery. It’s a really interesting article, and a very entertaining podcast episode. Do check it out.
What other “shopping innovations” strike you as not being a novelty at all?