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The Angst of Online Grocery Shopping

October 30, 2014 | by Judy Gruen

Goodbye grocery store, hello newfound freedom!

“Who bought all this stuff?” my son asked in astonishment the other night. The question was not a brazen act of chutzpah. Half the living room was piled with heavy white bags, emblazoned with the logo of Google Shopping Express. Now my guilt was compounded. Not only had I buckled under the lure of another e-tailing enterprise, but during my maiden online shopping expedition, I accidentally ordered duplicates of lots of bulky things. At least I won’t run out of paper plates, facial tissue or laundry detergent till 2017.

“Who bought all this stuff?” my son asked in astonishment.

I had watched with a mixture of envy and self-righteousness as my neighbors began to get their groceries delivered to their door steps in recent months. Our street, normally rather quiet, had become a consumer superhighway. Move over, U.S. Postal Service, UPS and Fed Ex – home grocery deliveries were horning in. Friendly drivers pulled up in colorful vans by Amazon Fresh and Google Shopping Express several times a week with everything from mayo and cereal to industrial-sized bottles of grape juice.

“You ought to do it, Judy,” my neighbor urged. “Delivery is free during the first three months! Why, when I realized I was out of pickle relish, they delivered that alone, for free!”

But I resisted. Was nothing sacred anymore? I had already caved in and started buying books, office supplies, and even shoes online. With free shipping to and fro, what’s the harm? Who needs to drive all over town in heavy traffic, spewing carbon emissions, looking for parking, and then in the store, looking for that rarest of species, a semi-intelligent salesperson not engrossed in a texting session at the register? Besides, the two main players in the grocery delivery service around here are Amazon Fresh and Google Shopping Express. Their parent corporations were already on a seemingly unstoppable quest for worldwide commercial domination. I drew the line at grocery shopping.

Anyway, I like going shopping. In my opinion, nothing beats the grocery store as a source of exercise, news, entertainment, and even opportunities for self-improvement. I mean, how many calories will you burn tapping away at your online shopping cart? I also run into friends I don’t often see at shul or anywhere else, for that matter, since we modern women are so ridiculously busy with work and families. Recently, on aisle 11, where I wrestled with the decision to try a new kind of pre-measured cube of dishwashing soap that promised not to leave spots, I ran into Marci, who told me that her shul was getting a new rabbi next month, all the way from Melbourne. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to whom she confessed this still-secret information.

I also get nachas watching a newly married couple from shul giggling together in the cereal aisle on one of their first shopping trips together. I am frequently amused watching husbands shopping. They are a riot. They are studying the lists their wives gave them like they’re cramming for final exams. Every time they put something in the cart, they call their wives.

“I got four of these long white things. Are those the parsnips? What did you mean by ‘big’? There only seems to be one size.” Or, “I don’t see gluten-free Oatios. Is it okay to get gluten-free Rice-E-Os instead?” I tell you, these guys look paranoid. I think online shopping might be a good idea for them.

Shopping in person is also good for my self-esteem. Total strangers often come up to me and assume I have encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s contents. It’s true: I do. This is what happens after you have walked 10,000 miles of its aisles over the last 20-plus years. I am asked things such as, “If you were a box of raisins, where would you be?” And I know the answer! I am especially happy to help troubled husbands, wondering if the box of pasta they are considering will meet their wives’ expectations, since their wives stopped answering their phones five calls ago. I give these husbands my calm assurance that their choices in pasta are sound. I also give them my cell number in case their wives disapprove and they require some psychological support later on. You know, I ought to go in business doing this.

At check-out, I also get to practice the Jewish value of being patient. Just my luck, when I wheel into the line to pay I am often right behind a very elderly person who still does not use credit cards, or even checks. She is accompanied by a saintly aide who helps her unearth every coupon at the bottom of her voluminous handbag (doubles as carry-on luggage) and is determined to pay for the entire shopping trip with dimes, nickels, quarters, and pennies. She questions the reason for the store not giving her double coupons, though those were phased out two years ago. I want to scream, but my Jewish training prevents me from doing so. I wait till I get back in the car.

Finally, it would be the height of ingratitude to ditch the store, especially after they just remodeled (again) and installed a kosher take-out section and a kosher bakery. (But honestly, I cannot recommend the potato salad.)

So what made me buckle? I’ll answer my own question. I got tired of running out of things, and having to run back to the store an embarrassing number of times a week. My local store also doesn’t have the best prices for everything, and doesn’t even have everything. It takes a lot of time to plan and hunt and gather to keep a household well stocked. Also, I contracted a case of post-traumatic Yom Tov shopping disorder, and realized that despite all the shopping I had done from Rosh HaShana through Sukkot, I still needed to buy more stuff, from three different stores. So I waved the white flag, established my online account and ordered like a woman possessed. I felt triumphant after placing my first order: I had just gained at least six hours! Now I had to make them count.

Of course, online shopping has its dangers. An online shopping cart never overflows, never warns you that you’ve bought enough. You better bet that Amazon and Google are well aware of this. And an online shopping cart doesn’t give you any news, or stroke your ego by assuming your superior knowledge of all things grocery-ish. And my fingers are getting repetitive stress syndrome from all this clicking online. This is a risk I cannot take.

Darn it. It’s lunchtime – how am I out of tuna? Please excuse me; I’m heading out to the market.


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