Commerce’s path, from mall-based retail foot traffic to the ‘90s bloated iteration of digital shopping leading to Amazon’s far-reaching store-to-door tentacles, may appear to have taken a circumventurous route. The exact opposite is true. From the early days of the web to today’s AI/VR-powered shop-on-voice command, the value proposition remains the same—convenience.

The major change from clunky versions of e/t/m/d-commerce (electronic, TV, mobile, digital) to a more transparent experience results from a focus on partnerships and a more realistic view of the value chain. Amazon, as an example, understands that it cannot alone drive the future of purchasing goods and services; the Seattle-based giant has amassed an array of teammates from grocery chains to CPG manufacturers to department stores with Alexa-powered kiosks. There was a time, not so long ago, when Apple, Amazon, Google, and Apple wanted to own every building block from manufacturing to consumer products. Time and a lot of failed experiments had led to more realistic aspirations in the world of commerce.

Grocery delivery is a case in point. Early 2018 points to some dramatic changes in the world of home shopping. Players in the space—big and small–are breaking the meal journey down to micro inflection points to hit consumers when they are taking actions (or inactions, as the case may be) where ordering fresh food and pantry staples are likely to take place. For example, the term “shoppable recipes” is especially buzzy as it refers to turning the passive act of reading a recipe into an actionable event. Companies such as Chicory, Fexy, Serious Eats, Amazon, and Kroeger are using technology to allow home cooks to order ingredients in real time for a given recipe while scanning the step-by-step process of making tonight’s dinner.

Another key inflection point in the meal journey is the delivery process with a focus on the delivery of groceries (and other items) to residences when no one is home to accept packages. Amazon’s 2017 announcement of its Amazon Key at-home product/service raised significant skepticism but “homeowner not present” delivery services are gaining traction in the new year. With an understanding that in successful partnerships each party does what it’s best at, lock maker August (owner by lock giant Assa Alboy) is expanding its August Access delivery service which allows delivery to homes where the owner is away. Teaming up with Deliv, a UPS-backed delivery startup, grocers (using the Deliv Fresh service) and other retailers can securely open the front door of a home to drop off a package.

“Through this unique partnership, we are bringing a bit of magic to the shopping experience,” said Daphne Carmeli, CEO of Deliv, in a statement. “Deliv provides the last mile fulfillment solution for a broad retailer network across the country while August Home supplies the technology to take the final step into the home for a totally seamless experience, start to finish.”

Other early stage opportunities in the meal journey take a series of inflection points and bundle them into a single solution. Tovala, a Kickstarter-funded manufacturer of smart ovens, tackles the chore of meal prep and the hassle of buying/ordering groceries by selling prepackaged meals that are geared to work with their appliances. A frozen meal’s barcode is scanned into the Tovala and the oven takes care of the rest.

All of these developments take us back to the value proposition of convenience as it relates to the meal journey. Consumers want to save time and have the ingredients for tonight’s dinner (or the dinner itself) magically arrive at the door (even when they are not home) but at what cost.  And who bears that cost? And how much are today’s busy millennials willing to spend? In the ultra-competitive grocery world Albertson, Kroger, Whole Foods/Amazon, Sprouts, and others may be willing to absorb the cost of home delivery just to win market share. On the other hand, if you buy a meal kit or want a hot meal delivered to your door, the cost hits your pocketbook with a premium for the convenience. For consumers engaged in the ever-changing meal journey, the cost-convenience continuum is at its earliest stage. Like the halcyon days of premium channels on cable, subscribers loaded up on Showtime, HBO, Cinemax and a few others only to be hit with the budget–blowing cable bills. In a world where the click of a mouse or a few kind words to Alexa can bring Peking Duck to your front door, or your 10th week of a meal kit service, everything is fine and dandy until your credit card bill arrives.

Yes, life sure was convenient—but at what cost?

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Allen Weiner is an Austin-based freelance writer focusing on applications of new technology in the areas of food, media and education. In his 17-year career as a vice president and analyst with Gartner, Inc., the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm, Allen was a frequent speaker at company and industry events as well as one of the most-quoted analysts in the area of new media. With an extensive background in publishing and publishing technology, Allen is noted as the founder of The Gate (sfgate.com), the nation’s first daily newspaper on the web. Born in Philadelphia, Allen is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Temple University.

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