Several E-Commerce sites have tried to make a profit with grocery online, with Priceline probably the most notorious at making a big noise and a big loss. One of the few that seems to be making some serious headway is Peapod, which has the pedigree to do grocery right: It’s owned by Stop & Shop.
Amazons Subscribe & Save concept introduced on Tuesday is based on the idea that most consumers have to purchase the same product at regular intervals. So why not automate it and save the customers the trip?
Maria Renz, runs the grocery efforts for Amazon.com as their vice president of consumables. In a statement Amazon issued on May 15, Renz gave the pitch for the new service.
“We are excited to enable customers to set up automatic reorders of their favorite products delivered to their door at discounted prices,” Renz said. “And with free shipping, the cost and convenience of Subscribe & Save is a winning combination.”
The program apparently sends automatic e-mail reminders allowing customers to make changes as needed or “cancel at any time. The program requires no minimum purchase amount and no time commitment for ultimate flexibility,” she said.
Amazon said the launch includes more than “22,000 non-perishable items from leading brands, including Kellogg’s, Seventh Generation and Huggies.”
But a quick peek at their available products puts this into context. For example, one item where I thought this might be an especially valuable service is for bottled water because it’s needed regularly, can be heavy to hold and—with certain limits that can be assumed with the typical warehouse and truck—is temperature and shelf-life agnostic.
So go to Amazon and click on their grocery list for “water.”
On the day of the announcement, it offered a total of three options: Zico Pure Coconut Water; Kellogg’s Special K20 Protein Water Lemon Twist; and the same Kellogg’s brand for “tropical blend.” Those are probably fine water choices (the coconut one is a big maybe) but what about the more traditional established water brands? Compare that to the same search conducted at Peapod.com, which returns water from Poland Spring, Aquafina, Evian, Fiji and others. That was just under drinking water, but Peapod also offered “enhanced” waters. (Personally, if I want water that has a hint of orange taste, I just buy a cheap orange juice.)
A search for “soda”—another American grocery store favorite—illustrates the same trend. The Amazon soda list consisted of products from Essn and Airforce—and that was it. Hardly the dominant providers in the soft drink arena.
Amazon’s efforts are worth applauding for their strategy and pricing, but the initial products they offer are underwhelming. It’s as if Amazon tried starting its bookstore existence by offering obscure books by arguing to consumers that they’re really written well. The product quality may be fine, but if they don’t offer the most expected brands in most categories, it’s going to be hard to change American consumer habits, especially when much better-stocked options such as Peapod exist.
Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.
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