As you know from my last blog entry, for the past month I have been engrossed in learning about the e-commerce segment of the industry. The funny about writing a story on e-grocery is that I have never actually ordered groceries myself.
Well, that is not entirely true. Once my roommates and I ordered groceries during grad school. I was living in England and the four of us stocked up on groceries from ASDA, a UK-based Walmart subsidiary. For four students without cars living in a city, the £5 delivery cost was a miniscule expense for the convenience. Everyone was impressed, but we—and since then, I—never bothered with it again.
Three weeks ago I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot. In addition to being forced to put the NYC marathon on life’s back-burner, the news made everyday life—like walking to the grocery store and carrying bags of groceries back to my apartment and up three flights of stairs—difficult, to say the least.
The irony of this is that almost every interviewee I spoke with for the article included “an injury” as a common driver to experimenting with online shopping.
Jason Ackerman, the CEO of Fresh Direct, even asked how I could write the article without having used such a service?
So the night after I finalized the article I sat down to browse the virtual aisles of Fresh Direct. They company had emailed me a coupon code to use for my first order so I decided to go all out and make it a big one.
I played with the website’s navigation tools—browsing categories, searching for specific items, flipping through the recommended items. It took some getting used to but I found most of what I wanted. I selected my produce according to its quality rating and some sale prices.
Then I placed my order—and get this, because this is my favorite part of the whole experience—to be delivered between 6:30 and 8:00 am the next morning. It was about 6:30 pm, and it was noted by the delivery options that I must place an order by 7 pm for the 6:30-8:00 time slot to be available. Perfect timing!
The next morning I woke up to my 6:30 am alarm, as I usually do, and jumped out of bed to anticipate my food. At 6:42 the door buzzer went off and a few minutes later I had a very polite—and winded—delivery man standing at my door with three big boxes of groceries that he had lugged up three flights of stairs. I excitedly signed for it and sat on my kitchen floor to explore.
The first box had a whole watermelon, as I had ordered.
The second was boxed goods, cheeses, cans, etc.; all packed according to size and shape.
And the last box was all produce – bags of kale and red lettuce, bunches of cilantro, carrots, celery, a head of cauliflower, garlic, ginger, lemons, apples, pears. It was all there, and it was all packed according to size, weight, etc. Nothing was squished or spoiled.
(I can honestly say I couldn’t have packed the boxes better myself—and packing lots of stuff into small spaces safely happens to be one of my life skills.)
The one thing I remember my mom complaining about when she toyed with grocery delivery back when it first launched was the quality of the produce. The company was great about refunding her, no questions asked, when something was not up to par, but receiving bad produce meant she had to go to the store to replace the item in order to make dinner. And no mom with three little kids wants to deal with that.
Since the angle of my article was about e-grocer’s focus on the fresh categories, I naturally had my eye on the green stuff.
The verdict? I was impressed. Every item I ordered was in good shape, nothing was under or overripe. Yesterday’s salad for lunch and juice for dinner tasted as fresh as could be. I rarely find everything I want in perfect shape at the store, so this made me smile.
The second thing that receives a prominent place in the “pros” column is convenience. (Duh!) I would never buy a whole watermelon in the store—how the heck would I get it home? So being able to not only order everything I want, but have it arrive at the crack of dawn, was amazing. Absolutely amazing.
To be unbiased though, I will say there were a few frustrations in the ordering process. One was the time it took to find what I wanted on the website. In the grocery store I rarely reference my list; I just walk the aisles and wait for my favorites to catch my eye. There is none of that on the world wide web. I guess it will get easier as I become familiar with it and create a list of favorites in the system, but there were a couple moments in the process where I wanted to click the little “x” and just walk to the store. (Oh right… broken foot! Damn!)
My unfamiliarity with the system also made it time-consuming. It seemed to take a lot longer than I thought it should.
Funny enough, I received a press release today that showed me that I am not alone in this. A recent survey shows that 44% of consumers would shop online more if it was faster.
Other findings include:
- The vast majority of shoppers expect an online transaction to be completed in five minutes or less (84%);
- 72% of consumers agree that the overall experience of surfing the web could be better, while 39% agree that many of the websites they visit feel outdated;
- Younger consumers (aged 18-34) are more likely to strongly agree (29%) that the overall experience of surfing the web could be better, when compared to those ages 35+ (18%), and male consumers are more likely to strongly agree with this than women (25% and 16%, respectively);
- Overall, 93% of US adults indicate that they shop online.
That last one says a lot… 93% of consumers shop online and 72% of those think it could be better. The angle of my story discussed the impact of online grocery shopping on brick-and-mortar retailers and challenged them to adjust to the changing landscape—whether by selling online themselves or differentiating themselves in a competitive way.
Online is giving them some competition. But apparently the online guys also have some challenges ahead, such as keeping their websites and systems up to date.
As for me, my first Fresh Direct experience was a pleasurable one and I will definitely do it again… but probably not as often as I will go to the store. I may be a Millenial, but there is still something about the smells and the sights of the store that I find inspiring.