We all get the basic idea of disruptive technologies and business models. Shake things up. Shatter old markets. Make a pile of cash before competitors, consumers or regulators figure out what the new game is.
We live in the age of disruption, and although it theoretically moves the world ever upward and onward, the immediate on-the-ground effects can be brutal. Beware the business person who’s a little too enthusiastic about the livelihoods he’s about to affect and the lives he’s about to crush.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. rolled out its catalog a century and a quarter ago. You could order the Encyclopedia Britannica and an Edison Gramophone out of that catalog before the turn of the last century. It was disruptive, and the country embraced it.
Sears became a great department store chain – raise a hand if you remember when they dominated the retail landscape – but the likes of Wal-Mart have shoved them aside, just as someone will shove aside Wal-Mart. Add the “category killers” – A huge store with nothing but toys? Really? – and the department stores are in big trouble, but only somewhat more trouble than anything else whose model still includes brick and mortar. That’s so yesterday.
We’re basically back to the Sears catalog. It’s just that it’s online.
Another disruptive idea – at least the backers hope so – caught my eye this week. Call it a bodega in a box. Since we go in QuikTrip, 7-Eleven and Casey’s here in the suburbs, the bodega – the corner shop with milk, bread and beer – isn’t a common site. I can think of exactly one in all of Eastern Jackson County that would likely qualify.
The appeal lies in convenience and in the idea that these are mom-and-pop shops.
Now come a couple of former Google people who think they have a better mousetrap. It’s a five-foot-wide pantry box, stocked and unstaffed. Swipe your card, take your beer and chips, and your account is debited. The mix of products can be tailored to your apartment building or fitness center because every transaction is tracked and analyzed.
It’s humanless, soulless and perfect. At least it’s a step up from the standard vending machine.
Two thoughts. First, this seems for all the world like a variation on the stocked mini-fridge at a high-end hotel. Remember the first time you snarfed the Oreos and drank a couple Guinness before realizing, hey, maybe this isn’t free? Stadium pricing is the logical ultimate goal of capitalism, and this looks like the next step.
Second, someone will decide to give one of these wheels and an engine. If we get a newspaper to your driveway, why can’t someone deliver a quart of milk and a dozen eggs?
Wait. There was a time when that happened every morning in towns and cities across the land, a picket-fence time for which we are now nostalgic.
Things come around, and often they change less than one might think. Smile at the drone delivering your milk, but skip the chit-chat. It has a route to run. Human interaction is so yesterday.
-- Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @FoxEJC.