Thursday, September 14, 2017

Would You Go to an Overglorified Vending Machine Instead of a Local Grocer?

A new Silicon Valley startup is looking to replace the corner store.  The company, called Bodega, a slang term for a corner store owned by immigrants, is looking to put their unmanned boxes in more than 100,000 locations so there is a Bodega within 100 feet of your location.  The Bodega only carries nonperishable goods. These boxes would service customers through AI and apps that you can use from your smartphone to unlock the boxes.  It would then charge your credit card for any purchases you might make.


Who is Behind the Bodega?

The genius behind this new way to shop are two former Google employees.  Like so many things becoming automated, they hope to automate your purchases.  Given that nearly everything we buy comes from somewhere else -- and the process is largely automated --  does it make sense that customer service should be the one hold out?

Naturally, this has caused a backlash within the immigrant communities who see this as a way to replace them.  One of the founders of Bodega claims he got the name from his grandfather who ran his own Latino bodega.  But owners of mom and pop shops aren't so sure. They believe that the founders intend to eliminate their stores by providing a convenient shopping experience.


What's Next?

The Bodega, itself, isn't particularly innovative -- the company's marketing campaign and strategy is where the innovation lies.  Imagine if you were running out of sugar and needed to buy some -- would you go to the local store or to a vending machine on the same floor of your apartment and purchase it?  You may say the store, but let's use another scenario:let's say it's Christmas and the stores are closed. That vending machine is looking mighty tempting now.

Our culture is one that values convenience.  We see it in our foods, our stores, and our lives, so it is obvious that there is a niche for the Bodega machines.  But maybe in the not too distant future, we may be looking at stores with perishable items without employees, where you don't know whether your food came from the United States, China, Argentina, or Canada.  Most people may not care, and that is what big agriculture is depending on.  But if you do care about where your food comes from, perhaps it is important knowing who is stocking your shelves and with what items.

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