There’s a blog title I never thought I’d write. Stick with me on this one. I was listening to Eddie Mair in the car on the way home from work this evening (on the radio obviously, he wasn’t actually in my car) and he was running a short segment about the growth of online grocery shopping. Introduced with a line about how increasing numbers of people no longer actually visit their supermarket, Mair proceeded to introduce two guests (binary alert!), one celebrating online shopping (think it was one of those Trinny/Susannah types – for brevity I’ll refer to her as Trinnyanna) and one celebrating visits to the store. And this is where it got interesting (I know, not like it wasn’t interesting already, right?).
The arguments put forward by both sides were very…familiar. The one arguing in favour of visiting the shops (the non-Trinnyanna) talked about how online shopping tended to result in less experimentation when shopping. Instead of browsing around and picking up something that maybe you hadn’t had before, the tendency would be to just go straight to the items you always buy out of habit. No browsing. No checking out something different or unusual. Just routine shopping. She also pointed out (and I agree entirely on this point by the way) that by shopping online you are not able to check out the produce that you are intending on purchasing beforehand. Instead of having the chance to root around the fruit and veg to find a nice firm item, you could end up with something that turns to mush as soon as you pick it up to put in the fridge. Seriously, this does have a point to it. I’ve not taken to suddenly blogging about grocery shopping. Not yet anyway.
The argument in favour of online shopping was also interesting (if a little wishy-washy). According to Trinnyanna, what makes supermarket shopping so tricky is that it is confusing (seriously) and hard to find the things you want (sound familiar?). Not only that, but often you end up buying the ‘wrong’ things (again, I am serious here). Seems to me that rather coincided with what the supporter of ‘real’ grocery shopping was talking about – the random purchase of items you would not necessarily buy.
Basically, strip out the grocery element of the discussion, and they could easily be talking about libraries. The tendency to experiment, the ability to browse, being able to examine an item before deciding whether to take it home, the confusing layout, the accidental taking home of an item you didn’t really want… Are supermarkets turning into libraries at a time when libraries are trying to turn into supermarkets (well, bookshops at least)? In the future, will we see the supermarket threatened in a way that libraries are today? Will the ability to get everything you want online make the supermarket on the high street (or, more likely, out-of-town development) redundant? Who knows? But then, who thought libraries and supermarkets would have so much in common?