Monday, August 28, 2017

Voice-first shopping? My mother was ahead of her time

Somewhere in passing I heard that the rising generation of consumers want to consume content that’s video, and consume everything via voice. Personally, I’m not enamored of video content. If I click on a story title of interest, and I find a video on the other end, I’m disappointed. And won’t view the story. Give me the written word. But, then, personally, I am an old geezer. I’m less anti voice-first apps. I use the Comcast/Xfinitry one when I want to find something on TV that’s not on one of the stations with a number I’ve taken to heart (MSNBC: 901; HG-TV: 832; NESN: 851…)

Still, I rue the day when everything will be video and voice. And I worry about what this will do to the brains of those who never read or write anything. And I worry about whether this is how we’ll end up with Huxley’s alphas, betas, et al. Ruling alphas will learn to read, and will have access to a vast store of knowledge. Betas will just be able to call up the videos containing whatever the alphas want them to view.

O, Brave New World.

Whatever my misgivings about voice over the written word, I was intrigued to read about Walmart’s enabling its shoppers to buy-away by speaking to/through their Google Home devices. So while the elites are using Amazon’s Alexa to order their groceries from Whole Food, the people of Walmart will be able to get their guns and butter the new-fangled tech way.
The companies announced the partnership in separate blog posts on Wednesday.
‘‘We’re thrilled to partner with one of the most popular stores in America to help make your shopping faster and easier,’’ wrote Sridhar Ramaswamy, a senior vice president for Google.
‘‘This is just the beginning,’’ added Marc Lore, president of Walmart US eCommerce. ‘‘We will continue to focus on creating new opportunities to simplify people’s lives and help them shop in ways they’ve not yet imagined. (Source: Boston Globe)
Yep, that’s what Americans need to do. We don’t have enough crap already. Let’s make shopping easier and faster. Not that I don’t use Amazon. It really is ultra convenient. And it really does have everything.

And I really don’t want to shop in ways that are not yet imagined. Perhaps because I am singularly lacking in imagination when it comes to ways in which to shop that go beyond brick & mortar, flea, catalog, and online.

Anyway,perhaps because the article mentioned a couple of grocery items – Tide PODS and Gatorade – it brought to mind how my mother – that leading edge embracer of all things nouveau – ordered groceries when we were kids.
Yes, she was assisted by a long written list, but she ordered groceries, from Morris Market, using her very own voice.

Until I was well into high school, my mother didn’t drive. This was not all that much of an oddity. A lot of women didn’t drive, and most families – at least in our neighborhood – had one car (if that). And that car was driven by dad to work.

This was an era, of course, when kids weren’t chauffeured around. There weren’t a ton of organized things for kids to do – we were more or less free range – but if you did have organized things to do, you made you way to any activities you participated in pretty much on your own. The only exception was in high school, when dads dropped off and picked up kids at sock hops.

If you lived in a city – as we did – there were plenty of places you could get to without a car. Within a couple of minutes walk of our house, there was a pharmacy, a barber shop, a dry cleaner/tailor, a hairdresser (Paree Beauty Salon), a couple of convenience stores (which in Worcester were called spas for some reason), an electrical repair shop, a laundromat, and a double-wide three decker that sold gravestones (samples displayed in their front yard). And then there was Morris Market, the last standing grocery store when Kaplan’s closed.

There was an A&P a bit further away (15 minute walk), and a Stop & Shop (20 minute walk), but we shopped at Morris Market.

Morris Market was convenient. Plus it reminded my mother of her father’s grocery store/butcher shop back in Chicago: an old fashioned, non-chain, wooden floor store with a butcher-owner. Morris Burack = Jake Wolf (my grandfather). On occasion, the older kids in our family were dispatched there mid-week when there was something my mother needed. But she was pretty thorough in her weekly grocery ordering, and we did have a bread man (Cushman’s bakery) and a milk man (Blanchard Dairy: my father’s cousin Ellen was married to a Blanchard, so they were “our” dairy, even when most of the neighborhood went with Hillcrest). So there weren’t a lot of interim visits to Morris Market. I do remember going over there with a jar of spoiled pickles to return. And another time I was sent over with a couple of pounds of hamburger meat that smelled funny. Turned out, they’d just painted the store.

Mostly, my mother got a week’s worth of groceries delivered on Friday afternoon.
The order would have been called in on Friday morning, and delivered about 3:30 p.m. I’m not sure whether this intentionally coincided with us being home from school, but my sister Kath and I were charged with unpacking all the cartons of groceries, and checking them off against my mother’s hand written (but voice-activated) list to make sure that everything she’d ordered had been delivered.

Bad enough we had to check off the groceries – tedious enough, giving we’re talking groceries for a family of seven that ate out once a year. But no, we had to make sure that we weren’t overcharged or undercharged for any item.

This was before the era when you could look through your grocery receipt and see an item name next to an amount. Back in the day, the register slips just showed the amount. So Kath and I would have to take an item out of the grocery carton, find the price on it, and then search through the register tape looking for something that matched the price. When you found it, you to cross through it – a moment of triumph.

It is really hard to explain just how crappy a chore this was. We both hated it. But my mother was a complete stickler, and a frugal one at that. She needed to know that she got everything she ordered, and that she was charged the correct amount. (I remember one time being sent back to Morris Market to give them a dime because she’d been undercharged on something like a can of Campbell’s soup.)

It is a testimony to what little goodie two shoes Kath and I were that it never in a million years would have occurred to us to just make sure that everything had been received, and forget about the crazy price check. Even though our mother never reviewed our work to make sure we weren’t cheating, we never did.

My mother eventually got her license. She really didn’t have much choice. My father became ill when I was 14, and was sick off and on for 7 years before he finally succumbed to kidney disease. And my mother knew that her drivers – first Kath, then me, then Tom – would be going off to college. She needed to learn to drive.

I don’t remember when she stopped shopping at Morris Market and switched to a “real” (i.e., chain) supermarket just down the hill. Morris Market had diminished over the years, unable to keep up with the competition from those “fancy” chains. Eventually, it closed up shop.

But I remember my mother, sitting there in the kitchen, on the phone, calling in her long grocery list. She was not, of course, talking to an Alexa. She was talking to Morris Burack’s wife. Or his son-in-law Paul Bornstein. Or Paul’s wife Sylvia.

But Liz would have known just what to do with a Google device. Read the list off, then, once it was delivered, check – or, better yet, have your girls check – to make sure that you’d gotten everything you’d order, and that the price was right.

Ah, too bad she didn’t live to see it!

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Our mothers were certainly cut from the same cloth, weren't they?