New York City No one is interested in my meetings, I’m sure, and if anything comes of them, you’ll all know soon enough, one way or another, but in between and alongside of the work might be worth some small attention. For example, on the East Side of Manhattan, where many of the pretty people work and shop, waiting for my last meeting, I stumbled onto what are clearly two pilot projects at the heart of what these big outfits undoubtedly hope will be the future of commerce and serve as big pieces of cheese to trap customers.
I was near the subway stop at East 59th and Lexington, which likely means nothing to most but is literally spiting distance from the giant department store Bloomingdale’s. With about an hour before my next meeting, I was looking for a place where I could plug in my computer that I had faithfully hauled all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. I suddenly saw all of these people who looked like they were having coffee and spread out at small tables working and chatting away, but something was different. This wasn’t a Starbucks or the like. There were Capital One banking signs everywhere. Was this a coffeehouse or a bank? I took a chance and walked in. There was a large coffee bar, but this was also a Capital One branch bank. There was a table where several bank workers routed you, but this was a Capital One Café with Verve Coffee behind the counter, a California-based roaster that claims to be organic and ethically sourced. Was this really bringing in customers to Capital One? I have no clue. But, if you had a Capital One debit or credit card, they gave you a cup of coffee at half-price, and in New York City, a two-dollar cup of coffee is definitely something to write home about.
The colleague I was meeting had randomly selected a place to meet near the subway station, so he had chosen a Starbucks, since they are ubiquitous in Manhattan. Arriving there, I had to ask, if this was actually the correct address, because it was very, very different. Yes, there was a small coffee bar as you entered, but this was some kind of joint venture with something called Amazon Go, yet another effort by both of them to take over the world. You could order Starbucks and then walk right out, but if you wanted to sit at a table and have a meeting at one of their well-appointed booths or tables, you had to tap a credit card at the turnstiles to enter. You weren’t required to buy anything, the barista informed you, but the whole deal was that if you picked up a snack or anything on one of the shelves, it would magically and automatically charge your credit card, which must be the Go part of the Amazon deal here.
Will either of these pilot projects spread across the country? Are they new experiments in work and merchandising that will survive? Those are hard questions. They have figured out a way to use baristas and bank workers as janitors and table cleaners, for sure. Will they sell enough to justify rents in the commercial midtown New York City district? It’s hard to believe. At the Capital One location, you could search for other cafés like that one by typing in your zip code, but none seemed to come up, though they seem to be trying this in Philadelphia and Washington, DC as well. Amazon Go stores seem to be concentrated around Chicago, Seattle, and the Los Angeles area, in addition to New York City. Both of these trial balloons seem to be trying to hoover up remote workers or ride the waves hoping to be part of the next new thing, but I couldn’t guarantee that either will work. I was just passing through.