Groceries: electronics strikes back

The joy of choice.

There is one amazing thing that you can miss when living in a huge megalopolis like London or Paris: mass consumption! Convenience forces you to do your groceries in small outlets like Tesco Express, and the result is that you don't have the same kind of variety as consumers who live in smaller towns and shop in hypermarkets...

Don't get me wrong, I am totally aware of the hassle to visit such impersonal places where queues are the length of an fully-grown anaconda and chavs are legion... But on the other hand, it is such an experience to see the width of the product offering that you can find in such outlets. And I am not the only one.

Having exchanged on the topic with friends living in Paris, we have realised that every one of us enjoys the same simple pleasure when going back home, at their parents for instance. They light-hearted accompany their relatives in their shopping adventures and feel like children in front a well-garnished Christmas tree: overwhelmed by the number of shampoo references, stunned by the diversity of cheeses in the refrigerated aisle, amazed by chocolate biscuits they have not even heard of, etc.

The internet revenge.

The alternative for these urban consumers is the internet. Diversity at your finger-tips, one click away... The main supermarket chains like Carrefour, Casino or Leclerc actually offer almost their entire catalogue online with the extra bonus to deliver at home, a blessing when like most Parisians you live in a 5-story building with no lift. But yet, this is not the same experience. You don't have the visual impact of a cornucopian shelf bending under the weight of these goods. A click will never totally replace the manipulation of a king-sized cereal pack in an attempt to identify the free goodies hidden inside.

The wired urbans try to compensate their consumption frustration by the claim that they are more modern than the Burberry-caped sheeps who push their carts in oversized retail outlets (note: in France, the indigenous cattle tends to wear three-band jogging with white socks and leather shoes and in some instances a Lacoste polo shirt).

e-Groceries on premise.

But this privilege is about to vanish, leaving the pretentious Bo-Ho in dispair. I have indeed visited one of these Hypermarkets during my last stay in France, and was amazed to see how the shopping experience has evolved. Hi-tech is to be seen everywhere... Here are just a few items that were highly visible: plasma screens among carrots and leeks to promote the 5-a-day diet, digital price tags which can be altered on-the-go depending on stocks or promotions, individual scanners to check-out whilst droping the items in your cart...

French smugglers.

On this last device, as for self check-out which is already implemented in my favourite Tesco, I was really surprised. French are indeed well-known for their shrugging, grumpiness... but also their greed and ability to trick the system. Over there rules are made to be bent, especially if one can make a profit out of it (please note that I am speaking of rules, not laws, but the reader of these lines will acknowledge that the difference between the two is very slim).

Since the self check-out relies on honesty and self-discipline, I sincerely thought that we would never see such devices in my country. But it seems that the French are evolving for the better... But cynical I was, and I remain. So before I confirm the assumption of a honest France, I will wait for the first stats about these practices. After all it is a matter of balance between the costs of technology and mischief and the savings linked to the reduced staff at the cashier.

In the meanwhile, I will try to behave like a well-educated shopper, and finally go and fill this empty fridge which is desperatly crying for healthy food.

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