Grocery shopping on the internet
Supermarket shopping is very different to the kind of shopping you do in a clothes store. While there are undoubtedly some people who enjoy the weekly stroll around the aisles, for many our weekly grocery shop is an unpleasantness that we endure out of necessity. For parents with small children in tow it can be an ordeal.
If you've ever stood in a crowded supermarket feeling stressed and overwhelmed, pause for a moment to think how much more stressful and overwhelming the experience can be if you have a disability or impairment such as blindness. You may not be able to access assistance when you want it or miss out on special offers.
When supermarkets began to offer online grocery shopping with home delivery it was no wonder that many people, disabled or not, clamoured to get online and be part of the digital revolution.
So why is online grocery shopping better that going to the store?
Firstly, you are spared the stress and anxiety of fighting your way through hordes of impatient shoppers to find what you need. If you have a disability that means you cannot drive, home delivery is a dream come true. You can usually specify when you would like your shopping to be delivered (how convenient is that?). If you have a condition that makes carrying heavy shopping difficult, delivery to your door is just ideal. The supermarket you use may have trained their drivers in disability awareness so they know to tell blind customers which of the tins contains baked beans and which contains dog food (a mistake no-one wants to make).
It is very easy to find the special offers online. Some supermarkets list all special offer items and ingredients for particular recipes together.
But shopping online isn't without its own special problems. You don't get to choose the produce yourself. If you're a cook with strong feelings about the ripeness of your tomatoes you may not be happy with what has been chosen for you.
There can also be a problem if an item you have requested is not in stock. You will have the option to allow the 'picker and packer' to choose a replacement item for you... which can be a bit of a lottery.
There is a small charge for home delivery which some may prefer not to pay and popular timeslots can attract a higher charge.
While many retailers have developed the design of their websites to make the shopping experience as successful as possible, especially if you have a disability, errors and misunderstandings can sometimes occur. When ordering loose cherries, for example, mistake quantity for weight and you might receive a single cherry rather than a kilo (this happened to a blind friend of mine).
But these problems are small trifles (no pun intended). While orders may occasionally contain items that were not requested (or not intentionally ordered), retailers are very good at putting things right, and the more you use a retailer, the quicker and easier the experience becomes (most sites enable you to compile a 'favourites' list so you can easily re-order the items you need regularly).
Some people find online grocery shopping so vital to their independence that once they've tried it they can't imagine life without out it. For others, a temporary change in mobility, such as an accident, may inspire them to try online shopping for the first time.
I asked my Twitter followers to tell me about their experiences of using grocery websites and got a reply from Sara Christie. Sara was forced to use crutches for a number of weeks following a fall. Unable to get to her supermarket, she decided to try the store’s online grocery service. She said, "the drivers actually took my shopping into the kitchen for me so that I had a minimum amount of hobbling around to do. It made a huge difference to how long it took me to pack away the shopping. They were always incredibly friendly and helpful and when you're stuck at home on your own friendly faces make a huge difference to your day."
Despite this very positive experience, Sara returned to in-store shopping when her foot was better. It is frustrating when an item can't be provided and you have to re-plan dinner. There is no way that the person shopping on your behalf can know what you were going to make with the missing item. Sometimes the substitutions are completely inappropriate.
Grocery shopping is just one of the chores that the internet has made easier and more pleasant. But beware of getting carried away: the real basket on your arm is a lot heavier than the virtual basket on your computer - keep an eye on the running total to make sure you don't order more than you can afford!
Julie Howell established the world's first online community for people with MS. Since then, Julie has written the first British Standard on web accessibility and has led national campaigns to make the web more accessible to disabled people.
For the basics of online shopping, have a look at our video and article.