Why watching TV is not just a matter of convenience

This week, Ocado, the online grocery service for Waitrose shoppers, announced that it is finally making a profit at "an operational level".

It has been going for seven years, has had over £277m-worth of investment and is still losing money at a pre-tax level.

I rely enormously on Ocado and I suspect most of its profit comes from my weekly order. As a busy chief strategy officer with a second job as a busy mum (both jobs are fairly full time most of the time), I use Ocado as a very low-maintenance personal assistant.

The thought that without online grocery shopping I might have to drag round a supermarket each weekend, as I had to when the children were small, is very unattractive. I have better things to do.

But this is not the case apparently for most grocery shoppers. Despite the convenience and in fact the greenness of online grocery shopping, web sales account for only £2 in every £100 spent on groceries. Overwhelmingly, most people I know and most of the women we encounter in research groups still do their main grocery shop in person.

This is because grocery shopping - however inconvenient with young children - is a major part of how a busy mum sees her role. It is her job as a housewife and a mum to go around the shop herself.

This goes back to our hard wiring from the Stone Age and it's a deep-rooted thing - if you're not out hunting (i.e at work), then you had better be out gathering (i.e in the supermarket). People, in fact, have a strong aversion to change.

People seek convenience, but they also resist change. When these two are opposed, you can't follow logic to know which one will win. So, if forced to choose, will I take the more convenient option or will I keep things the same?

People will often choose the latter option and reject change. This raises an interesting question about the development of online media, for instance online viewing of television. Online viewing certainly offers more convenience - what you want, when you want it - but represents a fundamental change in how you watch.

Faced with this choice, most people may well choose to keep things as they are now and TV schedulers may well have more job security than logic would dictate.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom, sue.unerman@haymarket.com.

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