A Start-Up's Intention To Replace Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Has Left People Furious

Within 24 hours, the company had issued a statement questioning the sensitivity of its branding.

In the effort to streamline aspects of modern life, it’s proving to be near impossible to discern what tiny processes and practices people will hold dear when learning of their possible demise. Yesterday, Fast Company ran a profile on the two former Google employees behind Bodega, a dresser/vending machine hybrid that offers life’s little necessities in one small footprint, eliminating the need to travel even to a corner store.

Judging by the outrage following the story’s circulation, people really like going to the corner store. Or at least they really like the idea of it. The angle Fast Company took certainly doesn’t paint a picture of a company wishing to peacefully coexist with the status quo, as the above tweet’s wording conveys.

The company, Bodega, seems — with their branding at least — to make no bones about their desire to supplant the loved and hated corner stores that populate east U.S. urban landscapes. The fact that their logo resembles the ubiquitous “bodega cat” seems to gild the lily in this regard.

Bodega’s operation, which seems almost incidental in the face of the backlash, is pioneering in that it uses “cameras powered with computer vision” to ascertain what’s being taken from the box and charge the customer’s credit card automatically.

Responding to Fast Company’s assertion that Bodega seeks to put “little-b” bodegas out of business, the startup has made a statement on its blog making clear that they have no desire to run corner stores out of business. Their statement, in part, responds to the self-imposed question “Are you trying to put corner stores out of business?” with:

“Corner stores have been fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations. They stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. Their owners know what products to carry and in many cases who buys what. And they’re run by people who in addition to selling everything from toilet paper to milk also offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will.

We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega  —  delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.”

The firm admits that it misjudged their appropriation of the bodega concept in its name as well.

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning, we apologize. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration. We commit to reviewing the feedback and understanding the reactions from today. Our goal is to build a longterm, durable, thoughtful business and we want to make sure our name — among other decisions we make — reflects those values. We’re here to learn and improve and hopefully bring a useful, new retail experience to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist.”

How this contrite statement compares with their true aspirations at this time yesterday is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that replacing an urban institution with a glorified vending machine lacking a human element has struck a nerve with the masses. What steps the company must take to walk back its branding missteps remains to be seen, but for now, it seems that the company’s innovation is the furthest thing from the popular consciousness.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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