We found one of the kiosks from Bodega, the startup that has enraged the internet.
Twitter users across the US howled in rage on Wednesday after getting wind of Bodega, the startup whose internet-connected pantry boxes want to replace your local corner store.
Many observers criticized the choice of the Bodega name — which traditionally refers to mom-and-pop convenience stores in large American cities — and the notion that two former Google employees could put the beloved local shops out of business. In the Fast Company profile that ignited the storm, cofounder Paul McDonald laid out his vision for the automated kiosks. "Eventually, centralized shopping locations won't be necessary," he said, "because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you."
Others were quick to label the Bodega boxes as the latest internet folly (See: Juicero), dismissing the kiosks as nothing more than a glorified vending machine for the millennial tech set.
With so much hubbub we decided we needed to find a Bodega in the wild and see what it was like to actually use one. It turned out that finding a Bodega was not as simple as we expected it to be, but we eventually tracked one down. Here's what we found:
The sinking 58-story tower is a private residence, and I couldn't make it past the receptionist, who made it clear there were no Bodegas in the building, despite what the Bodega website said.
After hearing from Bodega cofounder Paul McDonald that the majority of the boxes weren't shipping until next week, I trekked over to Managed by Q, a local startup that is one of three San Francisco locations that already have a Bodega box on the premises. Managed by Q employees were kind enough to let me in, and in the back of the office I finally stood face-to-face with my prize.
The employees at this particular office were very enthused about their Bodega machine and said it was used all the time. They told me they really appreciated having it since there were practically no other options for food or retail near their office. A cursory stroll around the neighborhood confirmed their claims of deprivation.
Sadly, because the Bodega that I finally found was in a private company's location, I was unable to actually purchase any of the goodies within. In theory, the Bodega app should work with any box you find. But the startup I visited told me I needed to be signed in with its company to use it. Maybe it just wanted to get rid of me.
Once you type the box number in the app, the doors to the Bodega store unlock and it's Open Sesame. As you can see from this image from a promotional video the company made, you just grab whatever you want and go on your way. Special cameras in the kiosk, which the company boasts use "computer vision and machine learning," automatically figure out what you took and charge you accordingly.
We found that most of the items in the Bodega were cheaper or the same price as the ones at CVS. A Kind Bar went for $2.00 in the machine versus $2.49 at CVS, and a pack of Jalapeno Kettle chips was priced at $1.29 in the Bodega and $1.49 at CVS.
The boxes are well-designed and make for a handy office amenity — a nicer version of the vending machine, stocked with a better selection.
Nice as they are, the bodega boxes don't look as if they'll be putting traditional corner stores out of business anytime soon. The selection of sundries is limited to nonperishable items. And the alcohol and tobacco products that comprise the bulk of many a corner store's business were nowhere to be found.
The real question now is whether the company can convince businesses and consumers to try out the kiosks or whether the backlash over the name has already done too much damage.