Part 1: the post-mortems continued this month in the wake of the latest high-profile dot-com failures, including online grocers Webvan and HomeRuns. Some observers have speculated that the closings of these ventures were particularly cruel in that, unlike other dot-bombs, the grocers at least offered some real value and convenience to their customers.
That may be true to some extent, but since the customer now is not only king but the deity that anoints the throne, if you dont sell enough product, you aint gonna stay in business long, business model or no.
The truth of the matter is that many, lets say most, of the online services designed to simplify our lives have been met with supreme indifference by the masses they were targeting. Grocery shopping, in this particular case, proved to be something that wasnt in great demand. I actually like going to the store in person, as do many others; its not perceived as a great inconvenience, so why invent one in the name of creating demand where there isnt any?
Another case is Priceline.com, which is still in business but has seen better days. The premise of looking for a great deal on everything from airline tickets to long-distance service seemed like a no-brainer. And customers ate it up for a while. But, over time, people found that making them jump through hoops (and two airline transfers) in that effort was asking too much.
As we are seeing, there have been very few really necessary inventions presented by the Web and other online services. Retail online has become the last resort of those who cant find it in a local store, rather than the first and only place to shop for books, clothes, music and the like, making the auxiliary personalization services that were supposed to make online retail a heaven on earth totally irrelevant.
When I got to thinking about it, I couldnt think of many cant-do-without online services. In next weeks Part 2, Ill examine what its turning out we can, and cant, live without online.