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Outside the box

Grapes worth waiting for

Text: Thomas Masuch, 17 Februrary 2024

Not long ago, I was waiting in the checkout line at the supermarket behind an unassuming fellow who looked like was well into his retirement years. “Do you have our app?” the friendly checkout clerk asked him. “No, and I don’t plan to get it, either. You just want my data!” the elderly man snapped before launching into a tirade about how useless the digital world was. 

This made me wonder what kind of critical information an app might gather on such a person, but at the same time, I could understand his point of view. Like the rest of his generation, he had managed to get by without apps for most of his life, and had perhaps even had more fulfilling years than some young whippersnappers do today. Maybe this type of nostalgia is also part of the reason why some digital developments are progressing at a snail’s pace here in Germany.


Illustration:, iStock / jemastock
Illustration:, iStock / jemastock

“Oh, I don’t think that’s true,” replied the clerk, who remained astoundingly good-natured and professional. “Our company is only interested in how you shop.” Soon enough, it was my turn, and I pulled out my phone to have my app scanned. I’m happy to share information about my shopping habits; I like getting good deals on avocados now and then, and I’m interested in finding out what a supermarket’s AI thinks of a person who mostly buys fruit, vegetables, milk, and butter. 

However, the app has now started to send me coupons for bacon and meat salad from nearby regions that I don’t usually visit. Can you really call that intelligent customer analysis? Or did they just make way too much meat salad? I could always ask the checkout clerk next time...

My wife, who’s much savvier when it comes to the digital world of shopping, recently set up an account with the delivery service of another supermarket chain. That makes her part of a very small minority in Germany, where just 2.9 percent of people bought their groceries online in 2022. 

While we haven’t actually received any food yet, we did get number 973 on the waiting list. At first, I thought this was a clever marketing ploy: Limited availability does make something seem more valuable, after all. It’s like with every release of a new Apple product, when eager fans start lining up outside the stores in the early hours of the morning. Instead of the latest iPhone, however, we’re talking about onions and broccoli.       

Four weeks after registering, my wife had climbed all the way up to number 970. The delivery service’s app presented her with coupons for grapes and a jar of strawberry jam – to “make the wait a little sweeter”, it said. If things keep moving so quickly, we’ll be thrilled to get those delicacies at a discount in just 323 months, which isn’t even 27 years. And who knows? Maybe we’ll get a few more coupons in the meantime – for meat salad, if we’re lucky! If not, I’ll be the retiree waiting in line at the supermarket, just waiting to tell the friendly checkout robot that I’ve had enough of the digital world. 


  • Outside the box