On Google+, Chris Pirillo asked the question:
What are your tech predictions for the year 2021? Yes – over the next ten years.
Tad Donaghe took a crack at answering the question, and offered a number of future predictions, including predictions about the acceptance of driverless cars. (Did I mention that these conversations were taking place on Google+?)
But one of Tad’s other predictions intrigued me.
Most physical grocery stores will begin to go away as most consumers will prefer to receive deliveries by robotic delivery services – think UPS vans that pull up to your house full of the groceries you didn’t have to shop for. You’ll bring them in the house.
At first glance, it seems like a fairly strong prediction. After all, several years ago we thought that Amazon would never take off, and that people would insist on going to a real bookstore like Borders and looking at and buying real books. Now Borders is history and Amazon sells Kindles. So if such a sea change occurred in the book world, why can’t I buy Hamburger Helper and cereal online?
However, whenever one talks about online grocery stores, we have to remember that we went down this path before, in the initial dot.com boom.
By 2001, the biggest player in the online grocery market space, Webvan, was bankrupt:
On Monday, the Foster City, California, company said that it closed all operations and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In the announcement, which came just a year and a half after Webvan’s remarkably successful IPO, the company said it has no plans to re-open.
The cause? Rapidly disappearing cash reserves.
But why did Webvan have rapidly disappearing cash reserves? Unlike some other companies from that era that I won’t name right now, fraud wasn’t the issue.
Webvan’s problems never really had much to do with its customers. It was the lack of customers that was the trouble.
Back in those days of 2001, the Wired article quoted analyst Ken Cassar’s statement that Webvan “may well have been 10 or 20 years ahead of its time.”
Is now the time? Personally, I’m skeptical, as I noted in Tad’s Google+ thread.
I’ll grant that packaged foods easily lend themselves to online purchasing, but I think the jury’s still out on things like fresh food and vegetables. And I’d personally even be leery of buying frozen or refrigerated foods from an online service – how long has the delivery van been driving around before it gets to your door?
But, as I acknowledged in the thread, I could be wrong.
Or perhaps you’d want to get your groceries from the Nigerian equivalent, BuyCommonThings.com.
Hmm, Tad may be right on this one.