The web used to live online, but thanks to services such as Uber, TaskRabbit and Google’s test of same-day delivery we’re increasingly able to take action on the web that delivers near-immediate results in the physical world. This is a slow and ongoing shift that takes the internet beyond a mere distribution engine for digital content and makes it the first stop in a more efficient distribution system for physical goods.
Businesses have long tried to harness the web’s convenience and efficiency to move physical goods and services. Things like online ticketing, appointment booking and even shopping all let people take care of tasks when they want and where they want. But the newer crop of services are trying to close the gap between online action and real-world gratification.
As the New York Times covered on Friday evening, Google is testing a same-day delivery service. From the post:
Though the service propels Google into commerce, the company does not intend to operate warehouses or a shipping service but to team up with retailers and delivery companies. Several San Francisco retailers, including national chains, are participating in the program already.
For shoppers, the service means they can avoid the trouble of driving to the store and some of the wait for items ordered online.
The article notes that Google’s rationale for getting into this business is somewhat unclear, although it maybe be as simple as meeting rival Amazon on its own turf. It may also be Google’s attempt to understand what will become the next logical leap for the web in a way that doesn’t require it to build out a physical distribution network. In all walks of life, our physical world and online worlds are converging, so it makes sense to try to understand how that might happen, and where the limitations and points of friction are.
And as the article points out, once Google starts delivering products it can track the effectiveness of its ads from the initial click all the way into a user’s home — once again bridging the divide between the online and physical realms, and perhaps boosting the amount it could charge for ads. During the third quarter Google was walloped with a 20-percent drop in profits in part from declining ad costs.
However, I’m old enough to remember Kozmo, which allowed users in cities to order a movie or ice cream and get it an hour later as well as other experiments in same-day delivery. But Kozmo, like many others of the dot-com era, failed to make enough money to cover their costs. One hopes that Google’s efforts here have a real business model or rationale, or this next logical leap for the internet isn’t going to pan out.