Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Click and shop, but less choice in the aisles

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The customer is always right. So then, there's nothing wrong with an online retail giant like Amazon going into the grocery business.

But such a move, although it might seem convenient for some buyers, certainly has the potential to change the landscape drastically for consumers.

Amazon, originally known for selling such goods as books and entertainment items online and shipping by mail, has just launched its latest line, aimed at competing in the grocery business. While obviously the offering won't include perishable products, it aims to supply customers with a wide variety of canned, packaged and bottled goods.

It's not hard to see how that method of shopping might be tempting for someone living in an isolated location, with the nearest town at a fair distance. Depending on how good prices are -- and consumers are ever vigilant -- it could be enticing as well to any shopper anywhere.

This move by Amazon follows some big shifts in the grocery and related retail business. Sobeys this past year bought the Canadian assets of U.S. grocery giant Safeway, to help expand its presence in the West.

Loblaws is working on a deal to buy Shoppers Drug Mart.

People watching these transactions often toss in phrases such as "price war shaping up." But even as the companies we think of as our traditional grocers expand, they are experiencing competition in their field from big-box stores, such as Walmart. Even some Canadian Tire stores in parts of the country have begun including a food section.

Seeing Amazon step into the mix now is a reminder of the trend being noticed in recent years around Christmas sales: Traditional stores struggle to offer deals because they have to compete with the convenience of online shopping.

Buying things online does have its advantages. But consumers should think hard about the ultimate possible outcome: that is, having fewer places in their town where they can walk the aisles and see and touch the product they're trying to find.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2013 A7

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