Webvan.com was going to change the world.
In 1999, the company introduced their ingenious plan where, for a modest fee, customers could sign onto their website, search their database of items, click a few buttons to complete the transaction, and within 30 minutes have a batch of fresh groceries delivered right to their front door. Think about it: Instead of having to dodge the masses in the aisles, or deal with the horrendous parking situations at your favorite fresh market, all you'd have to do is pick which fruits, veggies, frozen meals, and beverages you wanted, and by the time you finished that episode of "Friends," the grub would be there.
Within a year, Webvan offered services in the S.F. Bay Area, Dallas, San Diego, L.A., Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Sacramento, and Orange County, with plans to expand into another 16 cities. No doubt, soon they'd reach a vast majority of the American population and change the way that people go grocery shopping. But something funny happened along the way: They went bankrupt.
In 2001, they shut the doors on their virtual grocery store dream. The company has since been dubbed the biggest "dot-com flop in history." (There are an amazing array of explanations as to why they failed so horrendously.) And while you'd think that a business idea that flamed out so spectacularly would be left for dead, gone like the Betamax player or the Edsel, sometimes great ideas that are just a little ahead of their time do come back.
Fast-forward to 2007, when everything-you'd-ever-want-seller Amazon announced their own entry into the online grocery shopping market with their product AmazonFresh. (Not surprisingly, four of Amazon's executives had experience with the defunct Webvan project.) But instead of rolling the service out nationwide immediately, they stuck to offering only it in the Seattle area. And now, after six years of test-marketing and perfecting their approach, they're finally ready to expand. And they're bringing it to L.A.:
Los Angeles Spotlight will hand-pick local businesses to sell products through AmazonFresh, including fresh meat, cheese, spices, produce, cupcakes and chocolates, as well as ready-to-eat meals, according to the statement. Current offerings include fresh seafood from Santa Monica Seafood and aged cheese from The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.
The service guarantees that orders received by 10 a.m. will be at your door in time for dinner, and orders submitted by 10 p.m. will be ready for breakfast. Pay a bit more of a premium, and AmazonFresh will get there at a specific three- or one-hour window of time, if you made the mistake of planning a big dinner party after a 12-hour workday. And since Amazon will be sourcing from local places, L.A. residents can even get a little giddy-up in their steps at the prospect of helping out their favorite places. Sounds great, right? A can't lose prospect! Where do we sign up?!
Hold on, folks. Before linking your credit cards, it might be wise to consider the cost. Seeing as they're only sourcing their goods from boutique local stores rather than, say, 99-cent stores in the area -- a full list of the participating vendors can be found here -- this is not a service for the modest spenders among us. This is something for a family more like the Bluths.
If you're an Amazon Prime Member -- which means you already have an account that gets you free shipping on all orders and instant video streaming -- you can get a free 90-day trial period of the AmazonFresh membership. This means that you only need to pay the cost of groceries. But once that month and a half are up, if you want to keep the service, you have to pay what the rest of us will: $299 for the year. (Again, that's just for the membership fee, before the groceries. Also it must be noted, if you order less than $35 worth of goods at a time, there's an additional delivery cost added to the shipment.) Which is to say, it's not a service that will be cost-effective for a lot of families out there.
However, as Wired's analysis breaks it down:
That much per year comes to about $25 per month, or six bucks a week. You don't spend quite that much on gas, but what about gas plus the value of your time?
But there's an extra cost hidden in the membership that should be considered as well: I know if I signed up, the only way I'd justify the $6 a week price tag would be by using AmazonFresh as many times as possible, forgoing trips to farmers' markets or restaurants in the area because it'd seem like a waste of money. (Just like I no longer buy books at chain bookstores, what with an Amazon Prime account.)
But as I've learned countless times before, my brain is not necessarily a good indicator of popular opinion. So, if you're sick of dodging carts in the Trader Joe's parking lot on a weekly basis and have some extra scratch to spend, perhaps this is worth it. At the very least, giving it a free trial if you're an Amazon Prime member. But I'm steering clear until they actually "go local" a little more with their offerings by opening up their roster to include more than just the most expensive of local treats.