Buying Local

January 3, 2012

I am a big fan of buying local. I am big fan of shopping on the Internet. I am a big fan of living a car-free lifestyle. We walked to the hospital to have our first child, and we walked him home. Our last child was born at home and, as far as I know, has never ridden in an automobile, though he does ride public transportation from time to time.

It is great to ride a bicycle and I have a trailer I can load with groceries and such, but this is the rainy Pacific Northwest and we have four little kids. What I really want is to be able to shop an Amazon-like site that knows where I am and what stores near to me have in stock and lets me buy stuff from them via credit card/Paypal/whatever. And have it delivered either directly by them or contract someone to go pick it up–cabs would probably be awesome for this, especially if it can be arranged so that they are doing the pickups nearby after dropping off a fare, such that time that was being wasted on unpaid, unfruitful return trips can now earn them extra money. And since most deliveries are not especially time-sensitive as long as they happen within a day (unless frozen food or donor organs are involved) the picked-up items could be brought back to the cab garage for later delivery, when a call for a cab from/to the area is received.

This goal is easy to achieve with today’s technology. So what’s the holdup?

Lack of a standardized API and lack of someone or something to drive adoption of such an API by POS/inventory system vendors. Lack of a geolocation-aware API directory publishing service.

The way I see the future, a shop or restaurant in a well-traveled area will not need its own website–third-party developers will use the available API data to create aggregate websites (perhaps supported by advertising) that let you browse the menus/inventory of all restaurants and shops in the area. Thus rather than zooming in on Alberta Street in Google Maps and then going along checking out the websites, yelp reviews, etc, of each place, one could just go to an Alberta Street site and see/search it all.

Less investment for the shop owners, more exposure, better data/experience for consumers, new income streams for web developers, a fantasy playground for entrepreneurs. Delivery services are a simple, obvious example; once this actually exists the ensuing creativity and innovation will produce game-changers we can only begin to imagine.

I see this as less of a technical challenge and more as something that requires people and persuasion skills–coming up with a generic standardized retail/restaurant API and directory service can probably be done over a weekend. The real work will be in getting all of the various POS/inventory system vendors to agree to the spec and either getting them to either develop the interfaces for their products internally or convincing them to allow others to do it for them.