Here at The Takeout, we’ve been talking a lot about pandemic grocery shopping: when to go to the store, how to grocery shop online at not-Amazon, the massive strikes at online grocery shopping companies. The coronavirus pandemic is certainly changing the way that we buy our food, and though the crisis is temporary, it’s sure to have some lasting effects. That’s what Ian Bogost at The Atlantic believes, anyway. His piece, “The Supermarket After the Pandemic,” outlines the way that technology and our shopping habits may evolve post-COVID-19, and, shockingly, it’s fairly bleak.
The major way in which coronavirus has changed our shopping habits is that we’re doing it on the internet now. Online grocery shopping was only at 3% before the pandemic (compared to online shopping for books and music, 50%; electronics, 40%; and clothes, 30%). But amid the lockdown, online shopping is way up. While it probably won’t stay as ubiquitous as it is mid-crisis, it’ll probably stay in the double digits, some experts predict. No one likes online grocery shopping—looking at one carrot on a white background is such a surreal experience, never mind that you don’t get to make your food selections on your own. But the pandemic is forcing us to get used to grocery shopping via apps like Instacart.
So, we’ll all keep grocery shopping online. Bogost posited one optimistic outlook, that “internet-grocery fetchers might come to be seen as the small shopkeepers of the turn of the century, or the community-supported agriculture services that deliver fresh, local goods at small scales today.” In other words, there could be a version of Instacart where the shoppers are actually valued as experts, fetching artisanal goods from smaller vendors across town. Though, he concedes, this is “probably a fantasy.” Cool!
Instead, The Atlantic writes, supermarkets will probably just get bigger. They’ll retain a grip on online shopping, and grocery employees’ jobs might change: more deliverers, fewer checkout workers. “After the plague, that industry will be even more colossal,” Bogost writes. “Its small shops and workers may suffer. Its big companies may triumph. And Americans will keep shopping, as they always have.” What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes—yikes. Read the full piece here, and remember to tip your grocery deliverers generously.