Culture

This Start-Up Wants to Make Neighborhood Corner Stores Obsolete

Ex-Google employees want you to say goodbye to those late-night bodega runs
New Start-Up Aims to Make Bodegas Obsolete
Photo: Bodega via Fast Company

If you live in a city, you probably get most of your groceries at a local bodega (we've all had those days when we're just too damn lazy to go to the store for our weekly food haul). The bodega is the answer to almost all of our daily needs: Out of toilet paper? Run to the bodega. Need to grab a quick lunch? Run to the bodega. Most importantly, need an emotionally supportive Kit Kat bar and a tallboy at 3 a.m.? Run. To. The. Bodega.

Turns out not everyone is such a fan. Paul McDonald, who spent 13 years as a product manager at Google, and his cofounder, Ashwath Rajan (also formerly of Google), want to make bodegas, or corner stores, obsolete with a new service called—you guessed it—Bodega.

According to Fast Company, Bodega—which takes form as a five-foot-wide pantry that gets placed in locations like apartment buildings, offices, dorms and gyms, and is composed of nonperishable items like Advil, cleaning supplies, candy (and so on)—will be accessible to users through an accompanying app, allowing them to unlock and take what they need at will. The items automatically get charged to the user's card via cameras powered with computer vision; this means no one actually has to man the contraption.

"Eventually, centralized shopping locations won't be necessary," McDonald says of the future of convenience hauls. "There will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you."

The cofounders have been testing their product for the last 10 months at 30 varying locations around the Bay Area as a way to assess what shoppers look for when seeking out convenience items.

McDonald explains, "By studying their buying behavior, we're hoping to eventually figure out how the needs of people in one apartment building differ from those in another. We could customize the items in one dorm versus the next."

After the Fast Company article broke earlier today, McDonald took to Bodega's blog to address some of the controversy that arose about their product.

In regards to claims that they are trying to annihilate corner stores, he says, "Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal. 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." He continues:

"We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn't exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega—delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open."

But the ire doesn't just end with the product itself. When it comes to the naming of their product, McDonald claims that he didn't anticipate the backlash the name "Bodega" would generate on social media and apologized for offending anyone. He writes, "Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores—or worse yet, a threat—we intended only admiration." He had previously told Fast Company that he didn't have concerns about the name coming off as offensive to certain cultures, stating, "We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said 'no'. It's a simple name and I think it works."

McDonald signs off on his blog post, "We commit to reviewing the feedback and understanding the reactions from today. Our goal is to build a longterm, durable, thoughtful business and we want to make sure our name—among other decisions we make—reflects those values. We're here to learn and improve and hopefully bring a useful, new retail experience to places where commerce currently doesn't exist."

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