Last week I posted Mary Meeker's optimistic long-term view for online retail. At a macro level, several mega, $500+ billion consumer product categories are virtually neglected in ecommerce. Two categories jumped out at me in particular - OTC medicine/personal care with 6% sales online and groceries with just 1%. Well today, Alice.com has unveiled their initial plans to help consumers more conveniently purchase some of these household goods online.
Alice.com does not plan to take on inventory (remember Webvan?). They are building an online platform for essential household packaged goods, like toothpaste, soap, and toilet paper. No fresh produce, meats, or food in general at this time. This platform focuses on linking to manufacturers (and the payment?) and coordinating how to ship to consumers directly.
Two trends are converging that may help Alice.com. First, consumers currently lack a convenient way to shop for these household essentials on the web. The closest innovation in convenience we have is the repackaging and distribution reshuffle of buying in bulk from Costco or Sam's Club.
Second, these core goods are not completely recession-proof because the key distributors like Wal-Mart, Target, and grocery stores are not. Certainly, those stores are not in expansion mode. As a result, the consumer goods giants like Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and Kimberly Clark are looking for alternatives. These savvy marketers know that the Internet is not a fad and are constantly exploring online marketing opportunities.
Everytime I have to dodge cars in the store parking lot with a bundle
of toilet paper under one arm and a sack of dog food in the other, I
think back fondly to the days when Webvan delivered this stuff to my
front door. Current online providers like Amazon.com and Drugstore.com have not fully tapped into the market opportunity. I am looking forward to hearing more about Alice.com as they near launch in Q1 2009.