I hate online shopping. There. I’ve said it. I especially hate online grocery shopping.

Of course, it’s convenient to have the shopping delivered. And of course it’s better to stay at home and not enter crowded supermarkets in the midst of a pandemic.

Online shopping was more or less invented by Amazon in the 1990s. The idea was that you could pick a book, add it to your cart, pay with your credit card and have it delivered a few days later. But buying books and buying groceries are very different. So why is the online shopping experience for books and groceries essentially the same process?

Bookshops encourage browsing, sometimes by having coffee shops inside the shop so that you spend as much time as possible there. Online booksellers try to mimic the browsing experience by recommending other titles related to the book you just bought, and allowing you to read bits from inside the book. People want to spend lots of time in bookshops. They want to spend as little time as possible in supermarkets.

Individual books are expensive — between R250 and R400 for a single book. And we’ve all wasted more time than we have to spare before deciding that the book we’ve started reading isn’t worth finishing. So we’re prepared to invest a lot of time in making the right decision when buying a book.

Groceries are cheap. I looked at a receipt for my groceries the other day. It listed 47 items at around R31 per item on average. Despite these differences, it’s actually a lot more work to buy a R70 bag of filter coffee than it is to buy a R500 book. For the book, I find it, add it to the cart, and pay.

For the coffee I have to find the right make of coffee, then decide on the right blend, and finally select the right size before adding it to the cart. That’s three different decisions, each with its own thought processes and mouse click. It’s time to re-think the whole online grocery experience.

In the physical world I write a list that says “carrots, coffee, cake mix”; when I go to the shop I pick up the right quantity of carrots, the right blend of coffee and the right brand of cake mix. Easy. To do that online takes something like 20 mouse clicks. I shouldn’t have to make that many decisions to complete such a simple process.

The online grocery shopping experience is broken. An app is not going to fix it. The companies who get closest to the offline shopping experience are going to be the winners in the retail industry.

Rory Moore

Associate Director – Innovation, Accenture Africa

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