Bodega’s tone-deaf vending service won’t kill your corner store

Wednesday

Following all of today’s criticism, the company released a statement saying that it’s not really aiming to kill mom and pop shops. “Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal,” wrote co-founder and CEO Paul McDonald.” Corner stores have been fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations. They stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. Their owners know what products to carry and in many cases who buys what. And they’re run by people who in addition to selling everything from toilet paper to milk also offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will.”

It’s the sort of statement that any businessperson would make upon realizing they stepped into a shitstorm. He goes on to say that he hopes to “bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist.” And McDonald also hopes to create jobs, rather than take them away. Even if he’s being sincere, though, basic economics tells another story. If people are buying products at a Bodega box, instead of a corner store, that’s less money for the store. Bodega currently has 80 locations on the West Coast, and the company plans to go national soon, with the hopes of reaching 1,000 spots by the end of 2018.

Like Juicero, Bodega seems like an overcomplicated solution to a problem nobody is having. But even if the company’s expansion plans don’t work out — and given the typical failure rate of most startups, it likely won’t — its technology could eventually be repurposed into existing vending machines. The combination of image recognition and web connectivity could make it much easier to grab a candy bar, without worrying about it getting stuck.

No, Bodega won’t kill your bodega. But hopefully it’ll make future startup founders, and the investors who support them, think a bit harder about the ideas they pursue.

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