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‘Bodega’ Seeks To Disrupt Bodegas

Startup hopes to shrink the bodega format to a small box that serves up exactly what consumers need at the time they need it.
September 14, 2017

​NEW YORK – Fast Company reports that a new start-up called Bodega, founded by two former Google employees, is looking to disrupt the industry that shares its namesake. Bodega installs unmanned pantry boxes in apartments, offices, dorms and gyms. The company “promises convenience, but also represents competition for many mom-and-pop stores,” notes the news source.

There are currently more than 30 Bodegas in operation throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Per Bodega’s website, the company is “combining the convenience of online ordering with the instant gratification of real world retail. We’re building hardware, software and supply chain operations to create delightful automated stores that are only a few feet away and always stocked with what you need.”

Paul McDonald, who spent 13 years as a product manager at Google, told the news source that he wants to make the corner store a thing of the past. He and Bodega co-founder Ashwath Rajan, another Google veteran, are launching their new concept, which is essentially five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items found at a convenience store. To “open” the pantry, an app allows shoppers to unlock the unit, notes Fast Company. Cameras powered by computers will register what shoppers have picked up and automatically charge their credit card.

“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald told the news source. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you."

For the past 10 months, Bodega has been testing at 30 locations in the Bay Area to find out what shoppers might need, then uses artificial intelligence to reassess the 100 most-needed items in that location. For example, in an apartment block, residents might regularly buy toilet paper, pasta and sugar. Bodega units are regularly restocked by employees.

“Each community tends to have relatively homogenous tastes, given that they live or work in the same place,” McDonald told Fast Company. “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.”

McDonald says he also hopes to create partnerships with other retailers to bring mini-versions of their stores to where they are needed, such as Home Depot setting up Bodegas at construction sites.

“Brick-and-mortar retailers have been scrambling to try and keep up with Amazon, but we believe they have an opportunity to take a different approach,” McDonald told the news source. “They could bring the products to where people already are so that they can access them immediately, when they need them. This beats out any two-hour delivery—or even half-hour delivery—alternative.”

By the end of 2018, McDonald hopes to have more than 1,000 Bodega units nationwide.