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When internet grocery shopping was a growth market

In 1996, the IGA grocery chain in Quebec offered a change in how people did their shopping.

IGA chain in Quebec was the first to offer online click-and-deliver shopping

Grocery shopping at the 'Cyber Market'

25 years ago
2:51
In 1996 Quebec, grocery shoppers have a new way to stock up: by pointing and clicking. 2:51

With two young children to feed, Jenny Davies of Dorval, Que., used to "dread" grocery shopping, said CBC reporter Mark Kelley in the fall of 1996.

But she'd discovered a way around store aisles and long lineups.

"Customers with a computer and access to the internet can do their food shopping right at home," said Peter Mansbridge, introducing Kelley's report on CBC's The National.  

In Quebec, the grocery chain IGA, which had innovated the concept, even had a name for its online destination.

The Cyber Market

Jenny Davies said she could make an online grocery order in 10 minutes after her kids went to bed. (The National/CBC Archives)

Davies and her two boys were seen contemplating an empty fridge before consulting a store flyer.  

"Now she prepares her list, heads over to her computer, and lets her fingers do the shopping," said Kelley. "This is the Cyber Market."

The service was "the only one of its kind in North America," said Kelley.

"Here, Jenny Davies can cruise the aisles without leaving her own home," he explained, as Davies browsed pasta shapes.

She could even specify that she wanted her ham sliced thin by the store's deli.

Extra charges, but worth it

A crew of store workers collected groceries off the shelves after internet customers clicked to order. (The National/CBC Archives)

Online customers paid a surcharge of $3 (equivalent to $4.81 in 2021) for using the service, and a further $4 to have the order delivered to her home. 

But to Davies, the extra fees were worth paying.

"Groceries are very boring and monotonous, and I'd rather stay home and play with my kids," she said.

Instead of Davies doing the work, a crew at the local IGA took on the task, filling a cart with her choices and ringing them through a scanner (itself an innovation a decade earlier).

Fresh opportunities

Internet grocery shopping was unlikely to appeal to customers who liked to smell their food before buying it. (The National/CBC Archives)

"In two months, 2,000 customers have gone cyber-shopping," said Kelley.

And IGA's Pierre Sévigny said that number could "easily" rise to 100,000 in "two, three years from now."  

To Kelley, that number was "optimistic," considering only four per cent of Quebec households were actually "hooked up to the 'net."

Besides, a lot of people liked going to the store in person.

At the store, a woman told Kelley a tomato had to "smell like a tomato," or she wouldn't buy it. A man was seen inhaling the scent of a package of cheese before putting it back in the refrigerated display.

To grocery stores, the advantage to getting into internet commerce was capturing shoppers who could afford both a computer and internet service. 

"That's a very high-income group," said analyst Anne Lavack. They're a group who tends to spend a little more lavishly on groceries, and so it's worth it to supermarkets to go after that segment." 

"After a long day at work, Jenny Davies' groceries arrive at her door," said reporter Mark Kelley. (The National/CBC Archives)

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