Grounding the Virtual: The Material Effects of Electronic Grocery Shopping

Geoforum, Vol. 38, No. 5, pp. 941-953, 2007

25 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2008


This paper addresses the materiality of computer-mediated retailing. The paper uncovers the hidden geography of e-commerce, considering how the seemingly simple act of doorstep food delivery is explicated in urban form, and in transportation and communication infrastructures. The paper categorises electronic grocery shopping (EGS) enterprises into three types: bricks and clicks, pure-play and the infomediary, and examines how each type of operation has been materialised in the urban landscape, and the infrastructure upon which each draws. The paper then considers the strategies EGS operations have used to offset the killer costs of logistics for electronic commerce. The paper concludes by considering how electronic grocery shopping is embedded within broader trends in consumer behaviour, and how these trends are manifested in the materiality of urban life. The paper argues that online grocers are in the vanguard of ventures habituating customers to the remote ordering and delayed delivery of products to the home. Through controlling this green mile, online retailers hope to extend the product offer to higher-margin and more problematic products, which are in themselves unprofitable to distribute direct to the customer, but which can be profitably combined with a grocery shop.

Keywords: Electronic commerce, internet, retailing, urban, infrastructure

JEL Classification: L81, O31, R12, R41

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Andrew J., Grounding the Virtual: The Material Effects of Electronic Grocery Shopping. Geoforum, Vol. 38, No. 5, pp. 941-953, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Andrew J. Murphy (Contact Author)

Massey University (Auckland) ( email )

New Zealand
64 9 414 0800 (Phone)


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