A Million Little Pieces

The whole online revolution has got me thoroughly confused. It has led to so many questions:

– In the offline world local specialty stores stand protected. A specialty wine shop in Chicago doesn’t care about a specialty wine shop in Maine. But in the online world the idea of local becomes obsolete, so does this mean Chicago and Maine are on a collision course?

– In the offline world I visit Wegmans for all my grocery needs. Will the online paradigm change that?

For months I had struggled with these questions. And then, this morning, I met Mark Bitterman. Mark is a selmelier. He lives in Portland where he operates a little big shop that sells specialty salt. I would have remained unimpressed but then I visited Mark’s seminal blog saltnews.com. Here he taught me about 60 varieties of salt. I was shocked – I never realized there was an alternative to Morton.

And that’s when it finally hit me.

While the online world does not have room for 20 grocery stores it sure has room for one specialty store for each product category carried by Wegmans. This then, will be the future of etail.

UPDATE: A few weeks ago I started a conversation with The Sticky Toffee Pudding Company.  The company was trying to decide whether they should invest in updating their online store or directly syndicate through a specialized food marketplace like foodoro.com.  They finally decided to go the syndication route.  But this does not mean their online store is any less important.  Here is what I think will happen: many new customers will discover The Sticky Toffee Pudding Company through foodoro.com but after they’ve bought and loved the product they will make all future purchases through stickytoffeepuddingcompany.com.  See, while the web is expanding exponentially our memories are also expanding through tools like bookmarks.  I don’t need to think too hard to remember the website of a product I bought 3 years ago, if I tagged it in my bookmarks I can directly search there.  And as long as search is efficient I’d prefer making a repurchase directly from stickytoffeepuddingcompany.com.  Plus The Sticky Toffee Pudding Company gets to keep an additional 15% in margins, which is what they are paying foodoro.com right now.

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