What I want to know is, where’s my automated supermarket? Okay, here’s what I want. I want to be able to drive up to a computer screen in front of a supermarket, click on the food items I’d like to purchase, pay for the items, drive around to the front and pick up my food. I do not like the way present-day supermarkets are laid out or operated. I am tired of trying to get past the lady who has been standing in front of the Campbell’s soup section for, oh, two months or so. I’m tired of trying to bypass the excited, happy group of five or six ladies – with shopping carts – in the produce section, chatting about their kids and grandkids. I think supermarkets are an exercise in frustration for many customers and employees. There has to be a better way.
Supermarkets have been wrestling with a way to automate their services for some time. Apparently the major problem has been in making such efforts profitable. And a few stores have made the effort to become semi-automated. There’s a store in Cleveland by the name of Buehler’s where you can order your groceries online, then drive up shortly afterwards and pick them up. (After receiving your order online, a store employee runs up and down the store aisles and gathers your order for you, which must be entertaining to watch.) Of course, if the customer doesn’t own a computer (and many people don’t), they will be at a disadvantage with Buehler’s. But at least there are stores out there experimenting with the techno-supermarket concept.
And it’s not like there haven’t been efforts to improve on the grocery distribution principle. The fully automated supermarket would probably be Amazon.com, although you can’t buy perishables there. If you order online, Safeway will bring you your groceries – for a fee, of course. The problem is being home when your order arrives.
Maybe I’m being selfish, and the automated supermarket is not the way to go. The United States has come a long way from the open-market stalls full of fresh meats, fish and produce, and that is both a wonderful and a terrible thing. Those stalls were (and in many parts of the world, still are) a way for the lady of the house to catch up on the news and gossip. To find out who has come upon hard times and may need some help. To learn about local politics. To trade recipes and cooking tips. You can still find farmers’ markets everywhere, and maybe this is an opportunity to keep some sanity in our lives (and our produce nourishing and tasty). I’m willing to allow that this may be the case. And I’m a big fan of the Slow Food Movement. I do think we need to take more time to cook and make healthful choices about what goes into our food. So maybe I’m on the wrong path here. Maybe we just need to dedicate a bigger window of time to gathering and preparing food, and that’s that.
So supermarkets need to either go back to the market stall concept, or factor in technology and give me my automated supermarket. Or both would be nice … Just change them, please! Before I lose what’s left of my mind!
http://blog.cleveland.com/business/2008/11/medina_store_debuts_online_gro.html (more about Buehler’s)
http://www.openair.org/ (the World-Wide Guide to Farmers’ Markets!)
http://www.slowfood.com/ (information about the Slow Food Movement)