Delivering Food in the Internet Age

September 23, 2009

The DeliveryDemon hates shopping. Walk round the supermarket spending money on stuff to eat, and you only have to do the same thing a week later. It’s SUCH a chore!! So it came as a bit of a surprise, returning from a holiday in the Lake District, to have a reasonably enjoyable shopping experience. Which, of course lead the DeliveryDemon to wonder why she doesn’t mind picking up foodstuff at Booths in Keswick, while she absolutely hates trudging round each and every one of the local supermarkets in her home area.

And before anyone suggests that the DeliveryDemon shop online to avoid the supermarket experience, think about trust. On a visit to a supermarket you can form an opinion about how the goods are handled when customers can see what’s going on. If an online order is packed in some distant warehouse, that discipline has gone. If you don’t see respect for food in a store, how is food being handled behind the scenes? If, when you come to unpack your order and cook dinner, the veg are unappetisingly wilted or bashed, what do you do? You can complain and return items but by then your meal has been spoiled, and often people find it too much hassle to return stuff. It’s you who has to deal with the quality problem.

So why does Booths deliver a shopping experience which is so different? Certainly the layout is a bit more spacious, reducing the frustration caused by shoppers who stop for an extended chat, trolleys carefully parked to block the aisle. The excellent selection of beers on offer is an attraction, as is the carefully chosen range of local products, but the range doesn’t dictate the shopping experience. The secret is in the way the goods are handled and displayed, something long known to every market trader with a layer of shiny polished apples hiding a stock of poorer quality fruit.

Compare and contrast:

  • A freshly picked carrot with a glazed looking item from near-zero storage,  in its brief orange period between frozen lump and black slime
  • The tight white curds of a trimmed new cauliflower with the brown-splodged, limp-leaf-hidden face of one which has survived a lengthy trip along the supply chain
  • Tomatos with the sharp green smell of the plant, and the green-red, rock hard spheres, picked long before ripeness to prevent bruising in transit
  • A choice of breads from various bakers, each with their own baking method, and a choice of breadshapes all made to the same process and with zero taste variation
  • Glittering fish you need to get up early for because it comes in fresh every day and sells out every day, and dull-eyed specimens dragged from the freezer
  • Large packs of perky-leaved herbs, and niggardly sachets bulked out with parsley stalks and leaf fragments.

When the Delivery Demon stops at Booths she usually heads back south with a full shopping bag. Lakeland plum bread, Morecambe Bay prawns, rye loaf, ‘Cornish’ pasties, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, artisan crisps and some interesting local beers. When she shops in her home area, she comes back with a bad temper and a list of items which were out of stock.

What’s this got to do with the internet age? In the old days, word of a poor shopping experience would circulate in a local community, but lack of convenient options would to some extent protect a poor quality shop from wholesale customer defection. The internet has widened the options. Supermarkets think they have addressed the internet age by offering online shopping and web-based information. Many have still to realise that the web has created a window into the quality of their entire operation.

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