Grocery Shopping Part 2

July 31, 2009

I know I’m very lucky to have studied in the UK, and one of the advantages is that I get to compare KL and London, and try to bring home the good technologies, products or any developments. Or at least make Malaysians more aware of them.

One of the simple differences is grocery shopping. In a whole year in the UK, I probably visited the supermarket twice a year. For the occasional oh-no-I’m-out-of-sugar moments or how-do-I-make-omelette-without-eggs debates.

The rest of the time I get it delivered to me. I don’t even have to leave the house, or even move a muscle (OK, maybe just a finger). Every fortnight or so, I’ll make a list of things that have magically disappeared into my stomach or things that need replenishing. With that list, I sit on my couch, my laptop on my lap, Rules of Engagement on TV, and I just browse the Sainsbury’s website.

Picture 1

Every grocery item you can think of is organised into very clear sections, from fresh fruits and veg to toiletries and my friend, Mr. Muscle the kitchen cleaner. They list out every single brand they have, you’ll spend hours just browsing!

If you can’t seem to find what you want, there’s always a search box at the top which is what I use when I want to find some Malaysian brands. No, they don’t sell Maggi Tom Yam cubes or Kicap Masin Cap Kipas, no matter how many times you search.

Everytime you click on an item, it gets added to your basket which appears on the right hand side of the screen, so you can keep track on what you buy and the cost. This is especially good for me, because I can get carried away when I see food onscreen. I’ll start being sensible after a while and think I guess I don’t need 20 onions, or white bread, brown bread and wholegrain bread, or both kitchen cleaners from 2 different companies because I can’t decide which cartoon looks nicer on the label. Let’s face it, I don’t even like cleaning.

After you’re done, you get to choose your own delivery time, and some handsome guy will show up outside your door with bags of grocery with your name on them. I lived on the third floor and once, the lift was out of order. The guy carried the bags and heavy water bottles up the stairs, making a few trips back to his lorry, without even complaining or asking for a tip.


I didn’t have to do anything, except order online and dump everything in the fridge.

So, I started to think, can this work in KL?

I got a little doubtful after a while.

This system works in London because people have very busy lifestyles there and driving to the grocery store is such a chore! During winter, it gets dark by 4pm and by then, you’re ready to curl up in bed feeling extremely lazy and tired.

Also, not many people have cars there because for one, the public transport is super efficient (people take the tube and bus everywhere) and second, to maintain a car is very expensive there. Cars may be cheaper in the UK, but driving is very costly. Parking is expensive and to drive in central London during weekdays, you’ll have to pay £8 congestion charge every single day. Thirdly, driving in London sucks because the roads are very narrow and it’s so hard to find a spot to park. The traffic wardens are like hawks; you leave your car for 2 minutes to go buy something, and you’ll come out to find a ticket.

I’ve gotten a ticket for parking on a single line at 6.28pm (you can only park on single lines after 6.30pm). Boy, was I pissed off. Dean has gotten a ticket delivered to his house because he went to buy a kebab take-away one night and parked in front of the kebab shop for 3 minutes. The next day he got a love letter from the Police asking him for £60. They even attached pictures of the car taken from a road camera and if you look closely, you can see Dean carrying his kebab into the car. It’s hilarious.

OK, so basically, my point is: driving in London is super annoying, and most people avoid it as much as they can.

Since no one likes to walk home carrying heavy Tesco bags, the delivery system works in London.

In KL, nobody walks. Almost everyone owns a car or a motorcycle, or a vehicle of some sort. And for some reason, Malaysians like to go out and be seen. Going grocery shopping is like a little fun trip, where you can reunite with all your neighbours who happen to be “just running out to get some apples”, coincidentally wearing the nicest, most expensive clothes, toting the biggest, most expensive bags.

Also, a lot of people have maids in KL. They would gladly go to the supermarket whenever you’re feeling lazy. That’s their only chance to meet their friends or prospective husbands, and it would be inhumane to deprive them of the freedom.

Sadly, too, not many Malaysians trust online purchases and have not embraced the online shopping phenomenon fully. Our parents, especially are not tech-savvy and to teach them these things take time. God knows how many sessions I had to give my mom and dad when teaching them about the Internet.

My mom wakes me up in the middle of the night sometimes because “something is wrong with her laptop, she can’t watch her Malay dramas“. Turned out that she just typed the title of the drama into the URL box. She still doesn’t know how to go on YouTube, but my dad on the other hand, has mastered it and cannot stop using YouTube. He even found a video on “How to Make Chapati” and my poor maids had to watch it over and over to learn how to make it for him.

So, my amateur mind tells me online grocery shopping would not be popular here. Maybe it would be for busy working people who have no time whatsoever. But for old-timers like mom and dad, or for cheapos who refuse to pay delivery charges, going to the supermarket and choosing the best oranges would be their first choice.

Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to introduce this system in KL. If the cost of setting up the website and hiring delivery guys can be borne by the revenue the supermarket gets, then I don’t see why we can’t have the choice to either go to the supermarket or be lazy and have frozen food delivered.