December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

The longest mile

Often the last mile is the longest mile, and Webvan is out to convince the world it has enough kick to cross the finish line first.

Webvan, with its online selling and 30-minute delivery window, is leading the last-mile pack. The company’s grocery sales have expanded to include books, movies, fully cooked meals, pet supplies, and even mass transit passes in San Francisco. The items are listed by category, or can be found by a sophisticated search. For example, a search for pistachios reveals everything pistachio-flavored, including Jell-O and ice cream.

Just like in a real store, shoppers can see their shopping carts, which on Webvan appear on the side of every page. The cart shows the item, quantity and total price of what is in the cart. Again just like in a store, many of the product descriptions include the complete nutrition labels. The site also builds a personal aisle, by remembering a shopper’s previous purchases. But Webvan is leveraging the power of the web with recipes and question-and-answer articles with several famous chefs, including Paul Prudhomme. It also has kids pages with shopping and parenting content.

“Online grocery shoppers are task oriented and don’t want ancillary content,” says Matt Stamski, senior analyst for Gomez Advisors Inc. Webvan content is well positioned to keep it from gumming up transactions. Although the presentation of non-food items is somewhat raw, it provides consumers with a one-stop shop, he says adding that it was always Webvan’s plan to use groceries as a starting point to becoming the last-mile leader. The fulfillment system is set up to handle each item with the same efficiency, whether it’s bread and eggs or DVD players and books, the company says. In some months, non-food items are the top seller.

In Gomez’s fall score card, Webvan ranked No. 1 overall in the grocery category and in the top three in all subcategories.

Foster City, Calif.

Monthly visitors: 497,000*

Sales: $87.4 million Q3

Went live: June 1999

Design by: In-house & Sapient

OS: In-house

E-C Software: In-house

*Source: PC Data

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