Now introducing the concept of place-based commerce. That is the idea of putting relevant products in the just the right place for busy consumers who can buy them with the swipe of a smartphone. The bet for projects such as Bodega is that busy millennials will be willing to trade convenience for the social interaction of traipsing to the corner mom ’n’ pop store for a late night shopping spree.
Bodega, founded by two ex-Googlers, starts with what is basically a cabinet-based vending machine. But, instead of loading it with sugary soft drinks and microwave popcorn, it dispenses goods related to a specific location or purpose. A Bodega placed in a health club might have sports drinks and protein bars; one in the lobby of an office building could have healthy lunches and a Bodega in the lobby of a college dorm would sport anything from handheld devices to personal hygiene products. To keep things secure, the company uses a set of techno future security measures in which the customer opens the Bodega with his or her smartphone. After selecting a product, an AI-powered camera captures the purchase and debits the user’s payment method. The camera also collects crucial data on what was purchased, when and by whom. The resulting information is a goldmine for Bodega as a planning tool for inventory replenishment and for future system improvements.
From concept to name, Bodega has not been given a front row seat on the welcome wagon.
First, there’s an issue with the name. Bodega has come to mean a small grocery store—one that often features Hispanic products. Hispanic leaders consider naming the new concept after such a proud institution in the Hispanic community as an insult.
“It’s sacrilegious to use that name, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to fight this,” Frank Garcia, chair of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, told the Guardian. “It was devastating to find out … and it’s not fair to the local bodegas now that don’t have the angel investors that these guys have.”
Paul McDonald, one of the Bodega’s founders claims the company name was thoroughly vetted and was not met with any resistance by the Hispanic community.
McDonald told the Guardian that the company surveyed those who live in relevant areas to see if the name was an issue. The survey asked “(If the) Latin American community… felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations” and said 97% said no.
There also is some question about Bodega’s business model which does not compensate locations (such as a health club) for placing the unit in their facility. The new company’s logic is the autostore is a benefit to the location and acts as a customer draw.
Beyond the possible racial implications, there’s a matter of possible wiping out the countless small convenience store businesses that rely on local customers. Organizations that support local retailers are upset over Bodega’s rollout which depersonalize the relationship between a community and neighborhood businesses.
“It’s about having neighbors in your community who know you, who have lived there and been in business for a long time, who have seen changes in the neighborhood and are responsive to customer’s needs,” said Trisha Chakrabarti, senior program and policy manager at Mandela MarketPlace. “That kind of personalization of service, you will never be able to find with an automated service.”
It’s worth noting that the concept of providing last-minute necessities is not a new idea. Catering to the immediacy of meeting a consumer’s specific needs on the spot in itself is not a bad idea and there are many successful applications in place. Many hotel chains offer pantries which stock food, hygiene products and even clothing for travelers. Airports now have vending machines that dispense handheld devices, headphones and other gadgets for fliers in need. The trend for taking vending machines from being unhealthy snack purveyors to appliances that focus on health and convenience has been in place for the past several years.
Whether it’s the name, the terrible PR job that surrounded the Bodega announcement or the world growing tired of Google millionaires thinking they have the next great idea, there’s a lesson to be earned here—market research is a multibillion dollar business for a reason.
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