The Market That Wasn't: The Non-Emergence of the Online Grocery Category.
In this paper, we examine the non-emergence of a potential new market category. In the late 1990s, the entrepreneurial firms that attempted to sell groceries online in the US attracted significant resources, made impressive technological advancements, and generated immense publicity. And yet, online grocery retail still failed to emerge in the US as a market. Drawing on multiple primary and secondary data sources, we elaborate on existing frameworks of category emergence to investigate how the social construction of a market category may offer an often overlooked, yet foundational explanation for category non-emergence. Our explanations are rooted in the instability and contestation of the underlying cognitive beliefs and bases for legitimacy that typify an emerging market's focal actors and audiences. Our findings suggest that under such conditions of instability and contestation, if a core identity frame fails to emerge for the category as a whole, then in spite of significant advances in other areas, a new market category may still fail to emerge.