Online grocery shopping is expensive for stores and increasingly hard on workers

Millions of Americans turned to ordering groceries online during the pandemic, spurring the demand for grocery store “pickers” to fulfill orders for curbside pickup or delivery. But the technology that makes it possible to have your milk, eggs, bread, and other kitchen staples delivered to your doorstep is expensive for grocery stores, and increasingly taxing on workers, reports Sapna Maheshwari in the New York Times. In-store shoppers must work quickly to meet productivity metrics more typically associated with warehouse jobs, and they are often penalized for factors beyond their control, such as out-of-stock items or long lines at the register. While grocery stores are beginning to create their own automated centers to meet demands, most chains still rely on workers, who are given handheld devices loaded with software that maps out their shopping routes and tracks their speed and accuracy. Labor experts worry about the worker surveillance built into these tools. Even as more people return to doing their own shopping, grocery stores and workers will likely continue to grapple with these questions and concerns: According to a recent survey from Coresight Research, more than a third of current online grocery shoppers said they plan to continue to use grocery pickup and delivery services, even as the immediate threat of the pandemic diminishes.

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