Shopping by wire

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SUSSEX COUNTY-It is ironic that new technology is bringing back the days of yesteryears when groceries were delivered to homes. Or at least something close to that. Using the Internet a customer can now place an order for groceries at the Shop-Rite of Byram. The items, which are selected to meet the customer's specifications and directions, are then bagged and loaded into the customer's car, all for a fee of $10, regardless of the size of the order.  Shop-Rite has even marked special parking spaces in the front of its lot for customers of this special service. Once a customer pulls into one of these spots, a Shop-Rite employee walks over to confirm the order, the customer hand them the payment and any coupons and the employee returns with the grocery order. There is no need for customers to get even out of their car. "I can't get over what a convenient thing it is," said Lisa Dreher of Sparta who has done her food shopping this way three times now.  "I don't feel the stress of my food cart piling over the top, of waiting in lines not only to pay but to order my sliced cold-cuts.  It just saves so much time." The area of the store, dedicated to the online shopping service is located on the right side of the vestibule. What used to be Scrunchy's Playhouse, a former childcare service provided by Shop-Rite for its customers, is now lined with cash registers on one side and refrigerated storage shelving on the other.    "This concept is even better than Scrunchy's Playhouse because customers don't even have to bring their children in at all now," stated Kelly Mason, manager of the Byram Shop-Rite. "Most cars that pull up have kids in the back. The response to the service has been so positive. Many customers fear we are going to get rid of it someday. I can assure you, we're here to stay. When it first opened in November, 2004 we had only 30 orders a week, now we're upwards to 200 a week and this service accounts for 1.5 to 2 percent of the store's total sales." Dreher discounts the apprehension some people have of having someone else choose their produce and meats. "There is a section on the Web site where you can put notes about each item you're ordering. I found it helpful and used it for comments like ‘I prefer green bananas.' They also have a return policy if you're not happy with their selection," she said. However, the Sparta mother concedes the system does take some getting used to and has a few drawbacks. "The first time you order, it takes a while to navigate the system. It took me a couple of hours but it was kind of fun. The computer saves your most recent order onto a master list so you can to refer to it for the items you buy repeatedly. It makes it a lot easier and quicker for the next time you order. You also need to be aware of the actual sizes of the containers. One time I was buying laundry detergent and I thought I purchased the largest size, when in fact it was the smaller container. Although I did actually order that size, I misjudged the number of ounces I thought were in it."  Online shopping may not be for everyone. Those who feel they are not computer savvy, those who are more sensory oriented and want to touch and feel what they are purchasing may not see online food shopping as an option. The convenience, which is the main attraction of the online grocery shopping system is also the main reason other shoppers will not use it. "It's an interesting concept, but I just wouldn't use it. I like to see what I'm buying and I make a lot of last minute decisions. I like to see the variety of items offered," said a Sparta resident who requested her name not be used for this story. "Plus, I don't food shop by doing one big weekly order. My routine includes making several stops during the week to the grocery store for smaller orders." According to a report on, age is also a factor on who uses online grocery shopping services. The study found that people between 18 and 29 years of age are the most comfortable with the idea of ordering their food items through the Internet, while those in the 50+ age bracket are the least likely to utilize the service. In any case, online grocery shopping is filling a niche in the market, and the trend is only expected to grow. Online groceries will see sales of $2.4 billion in 2004, 0.4 percent of the total grocery market of $570 billion estimates Jupiter Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans in the article. By 2008, Evans said, online groceries are expected to be worth $6.5 billion That's just 1 percent of the estimated total market of $641 billion, but it amounts to an annual growth rate of 42 percent. Ronetco Shop-Rite owner, DJ Romano agrees that online shopping will never completely take the place of regular food shopping. For Ronetco Shop-Rites, he explained, it's all a matter of service.  "The purpose of this," said Romano, "is to make things more convenient for our customers who are pressed for time. I see it being a viable option for those families with two parents working that don't want to spend their weekends shopping, allowing for more family time."