Online grocery: getting personal with your fruit and veg

The importance of the care shown by the last people to handle your shopping will be the acid test of a gig economy grocery shopping service.

A co-worker once admitted to me they had never shopped for online groceries. Here in the UK, where online shopping has been available for around 20 years, that struck me as just plain weird.

Why would anyone prefer to push a trolley around a busy supermarket? It’s time-consuming and sometimes – if the merchandise has been moved – it can be confusing too. Then you have to wait in line to pay, wondering if you should have chosen a different queue, wondering why the person in front of you seems surprised to be asked to pay, as they only start looking for their wallet after everything is packed away and then can’t seem to find it.

When I put this to my colleague, his answer was “I wouldn’t trust a stranger to choose my broccoli for me.”

Now, I like broccoli. It’s one of my favourite vegetables. But I don’t think I have the kind of intense relationship with it that my associate seemed to have. You see – weird.

News from Italy, that Supermercato24 has raised €13 million in Series B funding, reminded me of that conversation. Supermercato24 is a gig economy service for online groceries where the person doing your shopping is not a supermarket employee, but a regular member of the public – someone making money from their free time. They’ve signed up to the Supermercato24 platform, and will do your shopping for you.

I like it. It’s a great idea. But it could be open to criticism.

Here in the UK, I’ve ordered groceries from Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, and Ocado. And being the creature of habit I am (by which I mean ‘quite boring’) I tend to order the same kinds of thing all the time. No matter who I order from, the prices are all broadly similar, the range of products too. The two biggest areas of difference tend to be the cut-off point for making changes to the order, and the care with which the shopping is picked and packed.

The last person to touch your shopping before it is delivered to you is the person who chooses what you will be eating. If they aren’t doing their job properly, with the kind of care and attention to detail you would use yourself, you’re going to notice – whether it’s cans with dents in them, bread that’s about to go out of date, or cellophane wrapping that’s been torn, if you wouldn’t choose it for yourself it’s unacceptable that someone is choosing them for you.

That’s the burden of responsibility the supermarket assumes when it does your shopping for you.

If Supermercato24 – and others like it – can’t carry that burden, or more appropriately if the people signed up to its platform can’t, there may be trouble ahead.

Who has spare time and needs to make a little extra cash? Is it people who take their time and care greatly when shopping for themselves? Is it people who feel responsible for ensuring you’re happy with the items they choose?

If the answer is yes, you are likely to have lots of happy customers. But if the answer is no, then there’s a problem. And that applies as much to the big players like Tesco or Carrefour as it does to innovators like Supermercato24.

Now, I should stress that I have no reason at all to think that the Supermercato24 customer experience will be anything other than absolutely fantastic. After all, who cares more about the quality of the food they choose than the Italians? I’m sure it will be great, and I hope it’s an amazing success for involved. But the importance of the care shown by the last people to handle your shopping will be the acid test of a gig economy grocery shopping service.

So, if you’re thinking of setting up a gig economy styled grocery shopping business of your own, ask yourself the following question before you hire anyone as one of your personal shoppers… would I trust this guy with my broccoli?

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