Webvan, R.I.P.

Webvan, R.I.P.

IF I HAD A BILLION dollars, I could have bought a lot of groceries. Bags and bags and bags of them. In fact, I was one of the 750,000 people (not nearly enough, apparently) who used, and are now mourning the loss of, Webvan, the online grocer that closed up shop last week and announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after two years, seven markets, and $830 million dollars.

If I had a billion dollars, I could have hired people to go to the store and buy my groceries for me and put them away. That would have been nice. Instead, I got the usually friendly, always guarded deliverymen who saw the sky falling months and months ago. “This is a great idea,” I’d offer, when they neatly lined up my bags of groceries on my kitchen counter, and they’d give me a look that said, “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Former CEO George Shaheen enjoyed it; he has a contract that says he’s supposed to get $30,000 a month for life. The other 2,000 employees got a $900 severance gift from an anonymous donor.

If I had a billion dollars, I’d give out lots of presents for no reason. With Webvan and Homegrocer (folded into Webvan a few months ago), I always got exactly what I ordered, but I often got bonuses. One time, I found three sets of bunny cookie cutters, weeks after Easter. With Homegrocer, I’d always get skinny sticky notepads that stuck to the refrigerator for making grocery lists. This is an excellent idea: You open the fridge, realize, “I need milk,” and there’s a pad and pen right there.

If I had a billion dollars, I’d give lots of tips. I was always uncomfortable that the drivers couldn’t take tips. What kind of company gets founded on the idea that its drivers can’t take tips?

If I had a billion dollars, I probably couldn’t make online grocery service work, either. Consumers, as many have so painfully and wastefully learned, want to buy from established companies they already know. Safeway.com or fredmeyer.com could probably make it. People know what they’re getting; they can picture the place in their head. And despite all the hoopla, buying groceries online isn’t for everyone. It’s the rare person who actually goes to the grocery store and buys only what’s on the list—if they’ve even made a list. And even with that little pad, I was never so organized that I didn’t always forget some crucial element. I also missed the surprise specials that you can actually see in the store. Getting exactly what you came for takes away half the fun.

If I had a billion dollars, I would spend less time on the Internet. The best thing to buy on the Internet is plane tickets (and porn, or so I’ve heard). You can get something you can’t get in a store, and you don’t really need personalized service to tell you that a 45-minute layover is better than a three-hour one. Planes are basically the same. You only choose what to buy based on price, time, and maybe your frequent flier miles. But with most everything else, people generally choose what to buy based on a combination of information, advice, appearance, and whim. And those last three elements were missing from Webvan.

If I had a billion dollars, of course, I’d be rich.

avanbuskirk@seattleweekly.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson. File photo.
Auburn police officer’s story conflicts with eyewitness account

Jeffrey Nelson faces trial in the killing of Jesse Sarey.

The former Econo Lodge in Kent is a King County Isolation and Quarantine Facility for COVID-19 patients. FILE PHOTO, Kent Reporter
Man dies at Kent COVID-19 isolation and quarantine facility

Found dead in room at former hotel during routine medical staff check

t
Inquest hearing for Kent man fatally shot by Seattle Police set for March

Four officers to testify in April 2017 shooting that killed Damarius Butts, 19

Seattle East DDC facility front (Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)
Seattle East DDC facility front (Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene urges Postmaster General to reconsider closing Eastside mail facility

Workers at the East DDC in Redmond are concerned about how the closure would impact mail service.

K9 Beny stands before the 75 pounds of pills found in a vehicle on Jan. 14. Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol
Federal Way woman arrested in record-setting fentanyl bust in California

Driver and passenger found transporting $3M worth of pills.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, who pushed for broadband funding in Washington schools. (Screenshot from murray.senate.gov)
American Rescue Plan Act funding approved for broadband investments in WA schools

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray pushed for the funding, which will benefit several King County school districts.

Courtesy photo
State offers free at-home COVID-19 tests

You can order the tests through the state’s new online portal.

Sen. Mona Das, D-47
Kent Democratic Sen. Mona Das proposes 1% cut in state sales tax

Starting in 2023; Republicans voice support for Senate Bill 5932

tsr
Federal Way police arrest suspect in fatal carjacking

35-year-old Tacoma man charged with murder in “random, brutal and senseless carjacking,” prosecutors say.

Most Read