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Would you buy groceries online? - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Would you buy groceries online? [Apr. 30th, 2008|11:58 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Pretty much the only positive thing for me about physically going to the grocery is the dating potential. Other than that, I buy the exact same healthy shit every single time, and I'd much rather do it sitting at home than wasting half an hour at the checkout counter. In other words, if there were a reasonably priced online grocery serving my area, I'd sign up in a hurry.

It's a tragedy that everybody's favorite whipping boy Webvan was started at the height of the dot com boom; that doomed it to failure. I'm pretty sure that if Webvan were founded today, they'd have a real shot at success, because a number of things have changed since then: higher web penetration, better inventory management systems and tech like RFID, and most importantly, much better recommender systems and targeted marketing technology that would offer a valuable secondary source of revenue through the web interface.

Even given that Webvan was founded in '98, it could still have succeeded had it not made some spectacularly bad decisions. From the wikpiedia page:
Webvan placed a $1 billion (USD) order with engineering company Bechtel to build its warehouses, bought a fleet of delivery trucks, purchased 30 Sun Microsystems Enterprise 4500 servers, dozens of Compaq ProLiant computers and several Cisco Systems 7513 and 7507 routers, as well as more than 80 21-inch ViewSonic color monitors and at least 115 Herman Miller Aeron chairs (at over $800 each).
They poisoned that market for everyone—nobody is going to fund an online grocery startup for perhaps the next decade or so. There are a number of small players left, but none that can reap the benefits of the economy of scale and compete with brick and mortar chains. And they all have crappy web-1.0 era style interfaces that hurt my eyes.

Would you buy from an online grocery? Why or why not?

[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2008-05-01 05:31 am (UTC)
I find grocery shopping relaxing and I like impulse buys while shopping for totally random exotic things. So no, wouldn't use online grocer.
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2008-05-01 05:33 am (UTC)
One of the activities that I do for fun when I am bored is wondering around supermarkets. I did this more in upstate NY than I do now in NYC though.
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From: fixious
2008-05-01 02:28 pm (UTC)
Same here.
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[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2008-05-01 09:04 am (UTC)
A couple of things really... first of all - webvan was not alone... that kind of money was spent by *all* the dotcoms - I was there, I saw it with my own eyes.

And one of the reasons they all failed was that no one knew how to do the stuff they needed done... idiots were running the asylum a lot of the time. There was an online delivery company called cosmo.com - same sort of excess. It happened with ALL those companies. As I said I was there, I saw.

What killed webvan was that it tried to reinvent the entire food distribution network outside of existing infrastructure. Aeron chairs didn't kill it. Didn't help, but didn't kill it.

As to ordering groceries online, a lot of supermarkets have online ordering now - here in LA it's Vons.com... But, there's been grocery ordering capacity ever since time immemorial... whether online, from a catalog, or just back in the day when ladies used to ring up the greengrocer on the telephone.

All webvan did was bring notoriety to the practice. And a friend of ours' mother lost a ton of money investing in webvan.

I think the real deal was that the web (as in community) had to find its place. There is a happy medium: finding ways to do things online better, or accomplishing service and connection options that could not have been possible prior to the intarwebs... vs. just trying to do things 'online' because they could.

Car culture went through a similar growth/reassessment in its day. At one time every city had drive-in restaurants with car hops, drive in movie theaters, drive in churches, and so forth... all of which are dead or dying conventions today.

Edited at 2008-05-01 09:11 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-05-02 02:03 am (UTC)
thanks for your insight!

i see your point that reinventing the distribution network was stupid. however, i do think there is a bigger market potential than small individual groceries.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-05-01 10:55 am (UTC)
In MA, shop and stop sells groceries online through www.peapod.com. I've shopped with them and its pretty decent. I don't go to them often because they're slightly more expensive than the local grocery chain and there's a delivery charge and tip involved.
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[User Picture]From: sunson
2008-05-01 12:55 pm (UTC)


... well, there is Amazon Fresh.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-05-02 02:04 am (UTC)

Re: err...

yes, limited to seattle.
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From: kupamanduka
2008-05-01 02:15 pm (UTC)
Its difficult to be home when the mail arrives. And my apartment complex has neither an office nor large enough mail boxes. I have been troubled enough by guys that need my signature to deliver stuff.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-05-02 02:04 am (UTC)
they should deliver it at night when people are home. fedex delivery is not a good option for groceries.
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2008-05-01 04:14 pm (UTC)
i live in india
here stuff like vegetables, etc. are of inconsistent quality. so i definitely see and touch and feel what i'm buying

as for normal groceries, i get it delivered home. call up the local guy and read out a list of stuff i want. and he sends them home in half a day types. and i know the delivery guy. and then i go pay the bill at his store (he knows me so gives me one day of credit)

actually i'm loving it that the retail revolution hasn't really taken off here. good things about "kiranas" is knowledgeable shopkeepers and short checkout. i just hope the metro cash nad carry types get their things in order before the food world types get too big
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-05-02 02:09 am (UTC)
ironically, the repeated touching by customers is a major reason why stuff goes bad on the shelves. tragedy of the commons :)

even otherwise, they could maybe charge you 25% extra for the service of discarding the stuff that's gone bad.

my parents get normal groceries delivered at home too. the delivery guy also collects your money, so they dont even need to go there to pay.
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[User Picture]From: patrickwonders
2008-05-01 11:51 pm (UTC)
Here in Minneapolis, Simon Delivers has a thriving business. I never checked their pricing because I am too picky to let someone else choose my produce. But, I should try them sometime.
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From: ext_103893
2008-06-25 02:17 pm (UTC)

Online grocery startup

Personally, I don't mind going to the grocery and ticking off my shopping list. I do know that my boyfriend and his fellow tech-heads don't fancy dealing with the grocery people, don't really monitor when food expires. I don't even know how to shop for meat really. :D It can be useful but I don't see it as a necessity just yet... then again how different is it from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) revolutionizing shopping for books?

PinoyWebStartup | Marie (http://www.pinoywebstartup.com)
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