An Insta-observation.

For the past three months I have been working at the Whole Foods Market in Hingham. Derby Street attracts a certain clientele including those who have educated themselves in good nutrition and overall wellness. Besides the typical affluent stereotypes, I see many who are honestly trying to feed their families and themselves better food. Lately however, a new type of shopper has silently risen in the midst of lululemon yoga pants crowd. This new type of client has the potential to impact the way we buy our food in a huge way. They are The Instacart shopper.

It has been described to me as “similar to Uber, but for groceries.” When these personal shoppers first began to appear in my aisle, they would verbally identify themselves as ‘Instacart’ and I would need to input a PLU to indicate this transaction was a specific one. When I asked the Shopper what the job entailed, she explained to me that she received orders from customers to shop at various stores, and then she would deliver them the groceries. I turned to look at our store’s personal shopper and delivery person. “You mean you do what our shopper does?” I admit there was a little snarkiness behind the comment since I wanted our person to get the increased business. I figured both Instacart and the Shopper got a piece of the order. I was right.

Yesterday afternoon a woman came through my line with an Instacart lanyard on. I typed in the Instacart PLU number and began to process the order. As I scanned each item through, I began to smell cigarettes. I haven’t detected this odor with many customers so it is unusual to smell it at Whole Foods. Even the Team Members who do smoke make sure the scent doesn’t stay on them or in their clothes while at the register.

I continued to scan the order through and saw a non-dairy dessert that was being purchased. Sometimes, if I see something a customer buys and know we have something that is both similar and better-tasting, I recommend that product to them to try. It’s a part of my job that I enjoy- discussing and recommending different products to our customers that I love. It allows me to relate my personal experiences with the food and to connect with the customer. I bent forward to say something and realized quickly that this shopper wasn’t really my customer. I also realized that she was the source of the Ashtray odor.

According to the company website, “Instacart is building the best way for people anywhere in the world to shop for groceries. Every day, we solve incredibly hard problems to create an experience for our customers that is absolutely magical.”

Magical? I didn’t realize that part of the magical experience includes unwashed, stinky cigarette hands touching organic produce. It made me shudder thinking that this person had been touching this other person’s food. I certainly would not have wanted her to touch food that I was spending money on.

Here is how the magic happens (according to Instacart website):

  1. Customer shops on Instacart from local stores’ inventory
  2. Expert shopper picks order
  3. (provides) Finishing touches on order
  4. Delivery to homes, offices, everywhere!

Nope. No stinky, unwashed, cigarette fingers included in the above.

Every day more states, cities and towns are added to the growing list of locations where Instacart is available. My concern with this lies with the growing disconnect between the consumer and the products. Stores are going out of business in record numbers because ‘convenience’ is outweighing the experience of hands-on shopping.

One reason why I think our store is so popular, is that people come for the experience. They get to taste, touch, and ask questions about products they are interested in purchasing. We chat with them as they move through our lines and bag according to their specifications and/or needs. We assist them in placing the groceries in their car if they need an extra pair of hands. We provide ice in case there are cold items that need to be kept cold.

Humans are still social beings. Our drive to interact with each other has not lessened because we have found more ways to shop ‘efficiently’. We still need to connect with each other, and studies show that people tend to live longer when they have consistent contact with others. Sure, having your groceries delivered is a nice convenience but there is something to be said for doing your own shopping in person. Plus, you know where your hands have been.