Upping the Online Shopping Game

The pandemic caused swift changes. Some retailers had to move their businesses online practically overnight. They also had to rethink processes about getting goods to customers. And for many of them, their online resources were lacking.

Shopping online is not new. What is new is how normal this is becoming. Retailers need to offer better and more robust online experiences. In addition to improved search options, photos of items and information should be readily available. Better yet, maybe retailers could offer a virtual reality shopping experience.

Grocery Shopping Online – The New Normal

In the early weeks of the pandemic, it was impossible to schedule a grocery pick-up. Time slots were booked solid weeks in advance. Going to the store in-person meant long waits. Or risking exposure to a virus. This was before we knew much about it and how it was transmitted.

Without a lot of great options, we shopped online at the grocery store. It took longer than if I had gone in person. Poor website construction and miserable searching options were the cause. It took hours to find all the items on our grocery list.

Searching on the websites was challenging. Grocery stores contain thousands of items. Being able to narrow down a search is essential. However, the websites offered few options to accomplish this. For example, I usually buy alternative milk, i.e., soy, rice, oat, etc. Shopping in-person for this is easy. I go to the aisle containing all the options and make a selection.

Online shopping, however, turned this into a lengthy process. I was unable to view all the different types of milk at once. I either had to search by brand or by type (e.g., soy, rice, oat). But for people like me, who alternate between all the types, it was challenging.

I’m a Label Reader

It’s true. I read labels for everything. Labels are important. They tell us, as consumers, a lot of information about what we’re buying. For example, clothing labels indicate washing instructions, the country of manufacture, and the materials used. This is all information I care about.

Now that I’m forced to shop online for most things, finding this information is difficult. In many cases, I had to contact retailers and vendors directly to discover where something was manufactured, or what it was made out of.

Consequently, the online experience ended up taking more time than going in person.

The Paradox of Technology

The allure of technology is that it seduces us into thinking it makes everything easier. However, that is not always the case.

I love my many technological devices. In some ways they have improved and simplified my life. Yet in other ways, they have made my life more complex.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. Therefore it should be simple to use. Yet, I’m always amazed at how many times I feel challenged by small things. For example, my friend and I tried to have a video call the other week. Naturally, we didn’t use any of the same apps. After a lot of back and forth, involving regular phone calls, we finally connected through video. And then the video stopped working. It was very frustrating.

Tethered To Technology

I rely on my devices, primarily my smartphone. To be completely honest, it borders on an addiction. I use it for almost everything, especially when I’m on the go. By everything I mean email, phone/video calls, directions & maps, looking things up, shopping, etc. While it is awesome to have so much available at my fingertips, the downside is I always need a power source.

My mother recently lost power and internet due to a storm. The electricity was restored before internet. For a brief moment, she wished it had been the other way around. We’ve all become so dependent on the internet and being “connected”, it’s hard to imagine living without it.

Learning New Skills

Perhaps the most perplexing part about using technology is the assumption that it’s easy to use. Or that younger people are naturally good at it. Learning how to use technology is a skill that requires education, like any other skill we learn.

Younger people are usually more comfortable with technology. They’ve been exposed to it from a young age. But they still need to be taught how to use it effectively.

Along with learning how to use technology, comes the added task of learning how to protect yourself. By protect yourself I mean safeguarding your passwords, personal information, sensitive financial or health information, etc.

Many of us are not taught the most basic skills to adjust the settings on our devices. (Read about it here.) Or how to do privacy checks on our devices. Or why these things are important.

Covid-19 and the Big Data Dilemma

We have all faced the same burden since the pandemic started in March. We have too much information and not enough of it. Living with both scenarios might sound strange. However, that’s the dilemma we’re in.

Tons of data is being generated, collected, and analyzed. Yet, some questions are never answered. Sometimes the answer changes. Other times the answer generates new questions.

Too much data with too many discrepancies and different variables creates challenges. Equally challenging is having an abundance of data, but not the right data. Many questions are still unanswered.

The Challenge with Too Much Information

Each country has their own method for testing and reporting on Covid-19 cases. Within each country, testing/reporting differences sometimes exist between states/provinces. Or variations at local levels.

Additionally, lots of other data is being generated or collected on issues related to the pandemic. One example I found interesting was a decreased number of babies being admitted to the NICU, in some places.

A lot of data is available, but it can’t be analyzed accurately. For example, several countries have started reopening their school systems. However, each country used a different method and reported on various elements. Some countries did more testing. Others did a more phased approach. Others are using a mix of online and in-person education.

Countries looking to reopen schools must review the wide range of options available. Then try to create a policy and propose a plan to keep children safe. But couldn’t this be simpler if some common elements existed between all the data sets? Or if some of the collection methods were standardized?

Basing decisions on available data comes with risks, especially when there are inconsistencies in the data creation process.

The Challenge with Too Little Information

We still don’t have enough information yet to answer important questions. For example, how long are people immune? What percentage of the population is asymptomatic? Do we still need to wash our groceries? Or transfer takeout food to different containers? Why can’t we do a better job of tracking and distributing PPE to people who really need it?

The challenge of having so much data available is making sure the right data is being collected. Otherwise, we’re all just trying to make sense from all the “noise.” Too much information and not enough of it is useful to give us the answers we need.

The Problem with Doing Business by Email

I’m amazed at how relevant email is with so many alternatives available. Doing business by email is still the status quo. This is true even when exchanging highly personal and sensitive information. Better and safer options are available. Why don’t we use them?

Email took root in the workplace over 30+ years ago. It quickly became a default way to do business. Yet decades later, email is still the “go-to” solution. This has become more apparent with the pandemic.

In some cases, the suddenness of the pandemic required employees to work from home overnight. Employees relied heavily on email when proper information infrastructures weren’t in place. Even when email wasn’t a good fit. For example, people use email attachments to work collaboratively. Or using email to send sensitive information.

Working Collaboratively with Email

Working collaboratively on documents through email attachments has never been a good solution. Multiple people editing an attachment means multiple versions will be created. Changes are made without seeing what others modified, resulting in duplication of effort. Even worse, someone must compile all the changes. Nobody wants to do all that tedious copying and pasting.

Consequently, changes may be missed, or worked on unnecessarily. The process is cumbersome and more prone to errors.

Assigning an editing order is a quick way to resolve some of these challenges. Ultimately, the best solution is investing in software that allows editing the document from one place. This eliminates the need for compiling changes. Also, people can see edits in real time.

Alternatives to Email for Sensitive Information

I can’t understand why so many businesses still receive personal and sensitive information through email. It’s 2020! The alternatives offered are even worse. Usually they include things like faxing or delivering paper copies. So many great high tech options exist. I’m astounded that email is still the first option.

Email is a poor way to share personal or sensitive information. The method may seem secure because the sender can control who is receiving it. Email seems safe and private. However, once sent, there’s no way to track where the information ends up.

The attachment could be forwarded. Or downloaded and saved on a public computer. Or saved in multiple locations or devices. Tracking all these “copies” becomes problematic.

Investing in a portal is one solution. This allows clients to seamlessly upload sensitive documents directly. No messy attachments. No unnecessary copies made.

Social Media: Fanning the Flames

When social media started, it was different from how it is now. Social media was a new way for people to communicate. To share ideas, disagree with one another, and have open discussions. Facebook, for example, was for people to connect with one another. People could easily maintain contact, get updates, and make “friends”.

As more people used social media, the scope of it expanded. People formed groups, advertised business, influenced others, shared photos, etc. Some people presented an ideal portrait of their lives, giving rise to FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out.”

What started out as a platform for connecting and sharing different perspectives quickly devolved into something else entirely. Instead, social media has become a place for people to maintain or promote narrow viewpoints. To gain support for them or use them to influence others.

Social media companies compete for an important commodity, our attention. In order to keep us engrossed and addicted to our accounts, a number of tactics have been used.

One strategy is to use algorithms to show us content we’re sure to like. The algorithm might be based on our past selections. Or by displaying content that others “like” us may have viewed.

I know lots of people who love this personalization. Why would anyone want to spend their time sifting through irrelevant content? Or posts not aligned with their interests?

However, the downside of this system is people are never exposed to anything different. Or content that is contrary, challenging, thought provoking, etc. Whatever you like, social media companies make sure you get more of the same.

Algorithms push people into self-reenforcing content. It’s easy for people to always see the same types of things. As opposed to being exposed to a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints. This is problematic.

I often read articles about misinformation, disinformation, and hateful content promoted through social media. The “solution” is for social media companies to discover and eliminate this type of content, by using algorithms. However, it doesn’t really solve the problem. Instead, it pushes these viewpoints to other platforms. Places where they can grow and gain mass followings under the radar.

Perhaps instead of pushing out “banned” content, the algorithms could be readjusted to offer a diverse range of viewpoints instead. Give users something to consider rather than spoonfeeding them more of the same.


I’ve loved ladybugs my whole life. Cheerful red bugs with distinctive black spots. Their folded wings are an engineering feat of nature.

Until recently, I thought of them as “friendly” bugs. Pretty to look at and not interested in biting me. And then I got an aphid infestation in my balcony garden. Two years in a row! If you’ve never had or seen aphids, they’re like plant lice. Completely disgusting.

Ladybugs, I discovered, are natural enemies of aphids. Last year I couldn’t find any ladybugs for sale. So I filled a spray bottle with a mild soapy solution. I diligently sprayed the infected plants twice a day with the sudsy water. I convinced myself it was working. It wasn’t. Those horrid aphids were everywhere.

This summer I decided to make the balcony garden really nice because of the covid-19 staying-in-place requirements. Once again, the aphids appeared. Just a few at first. I immediately concocted the soapy solution and started spraying. And spraying. And spraying.

The aphids kept spreading. First infesting my zinnias before reaching the johnny-jump-ups and eventually traveling across the balcony to my salad mixes. My salad mixes were so lousy with aphids I couldn’t eat them.

This year I purchased 1000 ladybugs for $30 from a local nursery. One thousand seemed like a lot, but given the flight risk, I figured it was better to have extra.

I had read some myths about using ladybugs to combat aphids. The main reason ladybugs won’t work is because they fly away. However, I was counting on a sacred law of nature to disprove this theory. No animal will turn down free lunch. My plants offered the ladybugs a 24/7 buffet of tasty, plump, and abundant aphids.

We released the first batch over the weekend. I was immediately impressed by their fierceness. Over in the johnny-jump-ups I watched a ladybug gobble up an aphid in her pinchers. We cheered her on! The next morning, we checked on the team. Within minutes we saw the cheerful, red spotted insects crawling diligently over the infested areas.

Every once in a while I find myself astounded and amazed by something new. Watching these tiny, but mighty troops eat aphids is really incredible.

Sometimes we’re so busy in our lives, running around, worrying about big things, we forget about the power of small things. I feel humbled by, and extremely grateful for, these ferocious, carnivorous predators.