We all remember the dramatic rise and steep descent of WebVan during the first Web bubble. The online grocery chain spent too lavishly, expanded too quickly, and never built out the customer infrastructure needed to sport the capital expenditures required for serious food warehousing in a variety of metropolitan areas. With that company now only a distant memory, it wouldn't be too hard to think of the whole online grocery space in the past tense - but that would be wrong. Grocery outlets including Safeway are very quietly capitalizing on their brand and doing some good business in bringing groceries right to your door after you pre-order online.
Earlier this week, I received a promotional flyer from Safeway that offered my next delivery for free. I had last purchased from Safeway.com a few years ago, and I'm sure I was on their direct mail hit list for inactive customers. It worked. Yesterday, I went back to the site, and aisle by aisle (sort of), I added bread and lunch meats, and cereal, tortilla chips, and whatever else made sense. I could specify what I wanted by brand, by size and by quantity. The site promised me a two hour window the next day when it would be delivered, and sure enough, this evening a man came to our door with our entire grocery list. All I had to do was sign to receive it, and of course, put the groceries away. That probably would have been extra. The process was extremely simple, and in those evenings when I would just rather get home after work, it just might actually be worth the $9.95 charge to have someone else go shopping for me.