Virtual Reality will put online grocery shopping over the top?

One thing that investors could agree on back in the 1990s was that grocery shopping would be mostly online by now. Who would want to go to the effort of driving to the store and lugging bags into the house if it could all be done in a browser? (And that was before they charged you 5 or 10 cents for each bag!)

Except for perhaps Donald Trump’s hypothetical 400 lb. computer expert, online grocery shopping turned out not to be a lifestyle-changer (two percent U.S. market share in 2016). I’m wondering if this is because it is actually easier to browse amongst the shelves of a physical store than to choose via menus. If you don’t know exactly what you want for dinner it turns out to be easier to go to the store.

Could practical virtual reality systems change this? Run through the aisles virtually. Grab virtual stuff off the shelves effortlessly. Have the physical counterparts show up a few hours later.

Readers: What do you think?

[Separately, a shift to online grocery shopping would add some challenge to what lawyers told us was a standard procedure used by child support plaintiffs in Massachusetts. To bolster an argument for above-guidelines child support profits, a plaintiff will get either a gift card (to be stockpiled for post-trial use) or cashback during every visit to a physical grocery store. The bank statements then show an extra $100 or $200 per week in spending. This can be helpful when trying to obtain more than $40,000 per year (the post-tax guideline amount corresponding to a pre-tax income of $250,000) and/or when trying to get a judge to use discretion to award a larger-than-guideline fraction of a defendant’s income.]

10 thoughts on “Virtual Reality will put online grocery shopping over the top?

  1. You might just have to give it time; things like Instacart and Shipt are only just now starting to take off here in Houston (it seems that only in the past year am I seeing a ton of people running around in their t-shirts that clearly mark them as somebody shopping on somebody else’s behalf).

    Also, just this weekend I witnessed the following: guy in a green Instacart t-shirt at the Whole Foods meat counter, apparently trying to make up his mind about something. Either he was off-shift and doing his own shopping before going home, or he was having to interpret a request from a customer (“get me some nice steaks”, maybe?) and make a purchasing decision. So yeah, what you said about time and choosing from menus (or specifying in enough detail so that you get what you want) seems very appropriate.

    FWIW, I actually enjoy the process of going to the store and seeing what looks good and picking and choosing based on that, but I’m one of those “I live to eat, rather than eat to live” types.

    So much of the modern day app economy (Uber, Instacart) seems to be about bringing the lifestyle perks of the 1% down to the 10%, while giving low-skilled human beings who used to have factory jobs something to do (presuming they are able-bodied enough to be able to drive a car and read a grocery list).

  2. The issue with grocery delivery is that taking delivery can be almost as much hassle as stopping at the store. It only works with innovation in Smart Doors and surveillance cameras such that the deliveryman is authorized to enter your home and stock the fridge.

  3. We thought about virtual reality shopping 20 years ago. It would be quite a hassle compared to entering keywords into modern search algorithms. It would be valuable for grocery shopping to see the exact fruit, see what was bruised, wilted, & brown. It would be a brand new problem of storing fruit in the least space while allowing customers to view the exact fruit they would be buying, then reserving exact items until check out.

  4. This might work for packaged items, but for produce, meat and fish I want to see (and squeeze and sniff) the actual item I am buying. Even a camera image of the actual melon I am buying won’t tell me how hard it is or whether it is fragrant.

    Apparently Amazon is thinking of opening (small) physical stores to bridge this problem. You would pre-order all your packaged goods for pickup at the store and then you might spend 10 minutes there picking out fresh items to complete your order.

  5. Unless your VR system incorporates smell-o-vision I don’t think it would add much. Maybe the service could be augmented with trustworthy minimum-wage retirees who know what a good piece of fish looks like and how it should smell.

    I use online shopping for my weekly shop now and it’s fantastic. You just need to work with the technology not against it. Log in, browse through “All Items I Ever Bought” and get the essentials and specials. Have a quick look at the 1/2 price specials. Search for other items and sort them by unit price. Do a quick web search for a promo code to save $10 now and then.

    It works great for packaged goods, especially bulky or heavy items. Fresh food quality varies, but it’s easy to get a refund with just a phone call. Besides, if you don’t have to worry about all of the big stuff it’s easy to pop in to the butcher or greengrocer after work and get fresh food for the evening.

  6. Grocery delivery was ubiquitous pre-internet. It’s not that hard, but it does cost more than a few cents extra per order.

  7. Grocery delivery is also pretty common overseas. I was pretty surprised when I moved to the US that my parents had to actually go to the store. But there is a large population that does get groceries delivered, illegal aliens who don’t have access to cars. The stores tend to be pretty small and focus on narrow selection favored by immigrants.

  8. You know what, I actually like going to the store. Gets me out of the house. The location and people (at my local Whole Foods) are nice. And I want to pick my own vegetables, not have someone else pick some random ones with bruises or not ripe. This whole “build companies to do stuff for me because I’m a super important and busy person” is so over and going to lose investors money in the long run. It’s like Uber…when they’re subsidizing fares because they have competition (like with Lyft in SF or in China where they lost their shirt) the prices look good, but it ain’t gonna last forever. I was at SFO the other day and Bart was $8.95 vs $11-$33 for Uber and the time to Embarcardero was the same. No brainer.

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