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Tag: online shopping

Why I May Never Visit a Supermarket Again

Eating sour grapes can be a powerful motivator in how to source your food. The question is whether you need to physically go the market to maintain a sweet experience.

When I was a kid growing up in New York City, my mother often took me along when she shopped at the supermarket. During those little excursions, she taught me that you had to touch the produce to make sure you were getting the freshest and tastiest pieces. Green grapes were a family favorite, but I always thought it was a little strange when I saw her pop a grape in her mouth in the middle of the fruit aisle to make sure the bunch was sweet. But then I saw other ‘experienced’ shoppers doing the same, and I quickly learned that stealing one grape was okay (but not two).

This very hands-on grape-selection process clearly requires an in-person presence, one that online grocery shopping simply can’t provide. This early lesson set my perspective on how to shop for my groceries for decades.

Early Doubts
When services like Peapod cropped up, I wasn’t interested. I figured it would be unlikely that a stranger would gather up the best-quality produce for me.

And I also couldn’t integrate the hit of the delivery cost with the benefit of time saved not shopping and not waiting on the check-out line. It just didn’t align with the value system that I had learned growing up.

But like so many things, the pandemic changed all of that.

I Became an Online Grocery Shopper
Last year, in my total focus to practice social distancing, I tore up my shopping rule book and turned to the web to source my family’s groceries and supplies. I shopped online at FreshDirect, Whole Foods Market and Stop & Shop. Of course, because so many others were practicing the same strategy, it was especially difficult to find open delivery slots.

Eventually, even though the pandemic continued on, grocery shopping websites seemingly became more adept at handling the demand. And I eventually found it much easier to schedule deliveries whenever I needed them.

Recently, I visited Whole Foods online at 6:30am, because I realized that we were low on eggs. On the check-out page, I spotted an open 12-2pm delivery slot. By 1pm, the neatly packed bags of groceries were on our doorstep. And by 1:10pm, the eggs were safely in my refrigerator.

The cost for this emergency egg delivery?

Zero.

That’s because I’m an Amazon Prime member. I only added in a tip.

Wow. Right?

Pleasantly Surprised
And no eggs were cracked! While that may not seem like much of an accomplishment, it does support my general finding that online items actually show up in really good shape.

We typically shop weekly at FreshDirect, and the apples, pears and bananas have been top quality.

That said, some of the red grape orders have been disappointing. When grapes start to go out of season, you can taste it immediately. Unfortunately, there’s no ‘pop-a-grape’ button to press on the website. You’ve just got to go for it.

Yes, you may not get exactly what you want when you shop for your food online, but grapes notwithstanding, I’ve found that it’s been pretty darn close over the past year.

My Prediction
I certainly understand that many people continue to shop safely at the market by wearing their masks and practicing social distancing. I’ve simply chosen a different practice, which was first (admittedly) prompted by fear. And now, I’ve become accustomed to this new shopping mindset, which works really well for my family. And I figure since I’ve come this far, why take the risk?

But one day (hopefully soon), herd immunity will take that concern off the table. And this leads to the obvious question. Will I eventually go back to the market after the pandemic is over?

Predicting future behavior is always tricky. But I’m going to say… no. Certainly not as a regular practice.

I think the pandemic has permanently changed my grocery shopping from the physical to the virtual.

Sure, I might need to run in to the market for something I can’t wait a few hours to have delivered. (Writing that sentence would feel entirely absurd to me a year ago.)

But when it comes to my weekly patterns, I don’t believe visiting the supermarket will return to my schedule.

Sour Grapes
Yes, there’s the loss of the social factor. Sometimes it’s nice just to get out and see a few people. Maybe run into someone you know at the market.

But aren’t we already on Zoom, 24/7, being exposed to a seemingly limitless supply of human faces? Why would anyone feel the need to go out into the physical world? (cough)

Sometimes, tasting a few sour grapes reflects the pleasures of the larger journey. And those moments don’t need to be confined to the produce aisle.

There’s a whole world out there that hopefully we can return to soon… and be free to source our next sour grape. It’s the journey that matters.

4 Ways Tech Helps Me Adapt During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced me to reevaluate my relationship with my technology. Here’s how I’ve adjusted my focus.

I’m so happy there’s light at the end of the tunnel now that Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out. And while there’s still a long road ahead, I can begin to think about how some of my technological adaptations during the pandemic might continue into the future.

I Rewired my Hunting and Gathering Instincts
I used to think that spending extra money for online grocery delivery was an unnecessary luxury. We’re genetically encoded to hunt and gather. So spending decades going to supermarkets had seemed like the natural way to acquire food.

But since the pandemic began, I’ve relied on FreshDirect for the bulk of our weekly grocery needs. I know folks go to the grocery store wearing masks and practicing responsible social distancing. I simply went in a different direction.

Sure, there are other online options for grocery delivery, but when times were especially tough at the beginning, and open delivery slots were hard to find, FreshDirect came through for me more often than the others.

And even when the pandemic is over, I plan to continue using FreshDirect. I’ve already signed up for the $129 annual membership (DeliveryPass), which unlocks free delivery.

Whole Foods technically offers a better deal, because free delivery is already bundled into my Amazon Prime membership. That said, finding an opening in the limited two-day delivery windows can still feel like you’re playing the slots in Vegas.

No, it’s not like I’ll never walk into a grocery store again, but there’s real value to having the bulk of your groceries regularly delivered to your doorstep. (I’ve also appreciated the time saved from not having to shop and wait on line at checkout.)

I Learned to Live without Two-Day Shipping
Once upon a time, it felt so empowering being able to shop online and receive purchases within one or two days, often for no additional shipping costs. How convenient was that?!

But there was a hidden tradeoff. I no longer had to be especially organized. Whenever I ran out of something, I could almost magically have a replacement quickly show up.

But when the mail slowed down and two-day delivery became ‘you’ll get it when you get it,’ it created a shock to my system. I realized that I suddenly needed to plan more… like I once had to.

So, I built back that muscle of self-reliance and tracking my own supply chain. It’s felt good being more conscious of the specific resources that my family requires and when.

Blurting out to a Siri or an Alexa that I need more milk when I’m holding the empty carton maybe isn’t so empowering after all. Not when you’re already out of milk.

Free two-day delivery is great. Two-hour delivery is incredible. Drones dropping boxes from the sky at my every shopping whim feels like a future shopping nirvana. Who needs to worry about what you need if you can have more of it within hours?

Well, remember that now, maybe you can’t have it for a couple of weeks or months. And you’d better not forget how to live that way. 2020 was a cautionary tale in so many ways.

I Forced Myself to Keep my Webcam On
I don’t have to tell you about the isolation. The loneliness. The feeling of being cut off. In many ways we’ve been living in our own little bubbles.

Of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Our little webcams are one of the few safe ways we are able to break out and communicate face-to-face, if only virtually. My iMac’s webcam is my lifeline to my outside world.

Sure, it takes effort to be ‘on camera.’ And you should always put those Zoom best-practices to use, no matter who you’re Zooming with.

Yes, it’s easier to turn off your webcam and communicate via audio only. But I say it’s a bad tradeoff. You’re losing so much without sharing your face and your visual cues.

So, if you’re concerned about really staying connected with those who matter, use that webcam and let them see you!

I Paid for More Bandwidth
Did you also face a barrage of complaints from family members that your home Wi-Fi network couldn’t handle the increased load of endless Zoom meetings, online learning and Netflix streaming?

The culprit is probably not your home Wi-Fi network. It’s your Internet service plan. So, go check it and then upgrade your bandwidth to the next level. That should do the trick.

I was paying for the base plan of 100 Mbps. So I spent $10 more a month to double it. That stabilized the Lester family really quickly. (There are faster plans, but I say that you should buy only what you need.)

I Focused on the Essentials
If there’s a lesson here, it’s realizing the true value of technology when life gets turned upside down.

It’s not so much about the conveniences. It’s about how technology can support the essentials like food and communication.

If your technology is supporting your fundamentals, you’re on track! The rest is just a distraction.

Seven Tips for Online Food Shopping during COVID-19

The coronavirus has affected how we need to shop. I’ve got a few suggestions on how to get what you want delivered to your doorstep as quickly as possible.

I think it’s clear that if you’re able to stay at home during this COVID-19 pandemic, then you absolutely should. And for me, that includes an ongoing attempt NOT to go to the supermarket to buy food and supplies. I know you could debate whether my choice is too extreme, but it certainly isn’t hurting the larger problem. In fact, in my small way, I’m happy that I’m doing my part to help flatten the curve.

My wife and I successfully stocked up on our essential needs three weeks back before the coronavirus in the U.S. changed life as we knew it. And I felt great that we had enough food and toilet paper to keep us comfortable for over a month.

You may recall the original social distancing recommendation was for a two-week window. In hindsight, of course that was way too short.

Navigating the New Uncertainty of Online Shopping
Over the past days, I’ve come to the realization that since our new reality is going to last some number of months, the only way to access ongoing essential supplies without visiting brick-and-mortar stores is to buy your food online.

But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that finding an open home delivery slot is really difficult and a lot of perishable inventory is sold out. I’ve also found this to be true for important non-perishable items that can simply be shipped out.

The other variable when shopping online is whether the items you’ve successfully ordered are still going to be available when it’s time to deliver them.

There are many unknowns, and the situation is likely to remain extremely fluid.

Extend your Supply Chain
So, it’s clear me after considering all of this, that you’ve really got to plan ahead! And that means rethinking how you’ll go about buying your food.

I’ve quickly come to the realization that this challenge is similar to how a company might source and manage its own supply chain. In fact, I think that’s exactly what it all boils down to… how to extend and maintain your own personal supply chain.

So, if you’re using online ordering as your primary method to bring in your home supplies, here are seven tips to help improve your haul.

#1
Set Up Several Home Delivery Choices for your Perishable Foods
I’ve put in place:

  • Peapod
  • FreshDirect
  • Instacart (a couple of markets I use rely on this service)
  • Whole Foods Market (Amazon)

#2
Maintain Multiple Website Vendors to Ship Non-Perishable Items
I’ve got:

  • Amazon
  • Jet
  • Costco
  • Boxed

#3
Snag Your Delivery Timeslot!
Finding an open delivery slot is the most important piece of the equation. You can usually adjust your order up until the day before your delivery. But if you can’t claim a specific day, your food will just sit in your cart.

#4
Expect Inventory to Vanish at the Last Minute
So, to avoid disappointment, you should order the same items across your different supply chains. The worst that can happen is you’ll receive more than you need. If it’s perishable and you can freeze your extra inventory, great. If not, then you’ll just need to figure it out. It’s a better problem to handle than not having enough food, right?

#5
Plan Out 2-4 Weeks
I’ve found that delivery windows are usually booked solid and only show availability 1-2 weeks out. So, to keep your supplies stocked, you’ve got to think further into the future than that. For me, it’s an entirely new way to ‘hunt and gather.’
(Yes, what’s old is new again.)

#6
Check Available Delivery Slots Several Times a Day
You’ve got to catch new slots shortly after they become available and before they’re scooped up. Keep trying!

#7
Remain Flexible and Tenacious
Today, I happen to be a bit annoyed with Fresh Direct, because I’ve not been able to find a delivery slot for two days. And I’m also pleasantly surprised that I was able to catch a same-day delivery opportunity from Whole Foods Market via Amazon. That said, I couldn’t find most of the produce I wanted. Still, I received part of what we needed in three hours, not two weeks.

It’s all relative. We’ve simply got to apply a different mindset to shopping now. Forget about ‘one-stop-shopping’ convenience. That’s so 2019.

When I was a kid, my mom would proudly talk about visiting several supermarkets in our New York City neighborhood until she was able to find everything she was looking for… exactly the way she liked it. I’m not sure I’m going to be getting anything exactly the way I like it, but applying my mother’s mindset of ‘tenacious search’ should serve me and my family well in the months to come.

Specialty Food Companies
Another supply-chain option is identifying online businesses that specialize in sourcing and selling specific foods direct to you.
(Think seafood or fresh produce.)

I’m still exploring this. More thoughts soon…

Ethics
So, I know there’s a ‘slight’ ethical snag to this whole system. It’s all based on someone else going shopping for me or working onsite at a company that’s shipping me my supplies. And that means they’re not at home protecting themselves and their families like I’m trying to do. By taking less risk, I’m necessarily transferring some of that to someone else.

It opens up huge economic and social questions. I’m doing my part to flatten the curve, but I know my actions will still create ripples into a much larger pond with endless repercussions I will never know about.

What’s for Dinner?
These are scary times, and there are few easy answers. Considering everything we’re dealing with, if we can take advantage of technology to help us put food on the table while keeping us and our loved ones away from the coronavirus, I think that’s essentially a good practice.

You’ve just got to put together a dependable supply chain online with multiple sources and keep track of it all!

And then stay tenacious… like my mom.

Now, it’s time to get to work.

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