Web Extra

March 20 - 26, 1997

By Liz Garone

So the "bone-in chuck roast" that I had ordered for a friend was on its last "sell by" legs and placed in the same bag as my Azumaya blocks of tofu. And the Ben and Jerry's nonfat cappucino yogurt was nowhere to be found.

So what? I was actually buying groceries on my PC, a Bashas' delivery man personally transporting the food and sundry goods to my front door. And all without my wasting so much as a single calorie pushing a shopping cart or hefting a box of soap.

Online grocery shopping has landed in the Valley. You may have seen the billboards promoting Bashas' "Groceries by Phone" during your freeway commute. According to Marc Sobelman, market manager for Shoppers Express, which is offering the new service in conjunction with Bashas', ordering groceries via the Internet is more than just another geeky fad. One in five Valley denizens who orders his or her groceries in lieu of making the trip to the store is already doing it online, he says. Sobelman sees his biggest market for online shoppers among "mobility-impaired" individuals and "two-income affluent" families.

I placed my order on the infoexpresslane rather easily. I pointed my Web browser to www.shopx.com, the Shoppers Express/ Bashas' home-delivery Web page, checked a box specifying method of payment (personal check or credit card), and began scrolling through the virtual aisles ordering units of fresh produce, dairy, frozen foods, sundry items, paper goods and pet supplies (parakeet mirror, $1.89). But the best part of all is no embarrassment at the check-out counter where you might have to surreptitiously slide the Tampax and condom boxes by the pubescent 14-year-old boy bagger.

The only surcharges are a "small shopping and delivery fee" and the tip, of course. "It's the same price whether you order a single toothpick or a whole month's supply of groceries," says a cheery voice at the other end of the phone when I call to question the $26.87 bill I was expecting to be somewhere around $19. (Turns out that the "small" delivery fee is actually $7.95.)

Everardo Rodriguez, in his signature Shoppers Express maroon polo shirt and black pants, has been delivering Bashas' groceries for three months. Of the four orders he delivered on a recent Monday morning, all were placed on the Internet. "I can see why people would order this way," says Rodriguez. "It's fun, and it's easy, and you don't have to go anywhere." True. But there are still a few bugs to be worked out of the system. For one thing, forget about late-night munchies: Orders take a minimum of six hours, and there are no deliveries after 9 p.m. weekdays or after 2:30 p.m. on weekends. And the nutritional information and photographs that Shoppers Express promises virtual label readers are still under construction.

Still, like ordering a late-night cheese-smothered pizza, there's a certain guilty pleasure about buying groceries via the Internet, a Marie Antoinette-ish kind of decadence. Let them hyperlink cake mix.

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Delivery man Everardo Rodriguez on time at 10:03 a.m

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