As quickly as it arrived, Kozmo.com was gone.
Students woke up last Thursday morning to find that Kozmo, the site that had provided many of them with their video rentals, CD purchases, and late-night donut deliveries, had shut down its site without warning.
"I tried to use it one day and the website wasn't working," said Bernadine Goldberg, BC '04, who, like many students, often browsed the site on late weekend nights when she did not feel like going out.
Scott Elliot, CC '03, heard about the closing on the news. "I was pretty disappointed," he said. "I don't know how I'm going to order my videos now."
The three-year-old company was the most visible of the web-based desktop-to-doorstep delivery services and brought everything from videos and DVDs to cigarettes and fish magnets to doorstops in nine cities, including New York, Boston, and Chicago.
The company grew rapidly, quickly drawing a following, particularly among college students. At its height, Kozmo had more than 3,300 employees and secured large venture capital resources, including a $25 million investment in December.
But like other online services, including Kozmo's main competitor, Urbanfetch.com, which shut down in October, Kozmo ultimately had trouble turning a profit. The company underwent a major restructuring last summer, cutting spending from more than $30 million a month to about $2 million and laying off hundreds of workers. In August, the company withdrew its plans for an initial public offering of its stock.
Approximately 1,100 workers, including about 475 in Manhattan, lost their jobs in the closure. In a statement, Kozmo, which will liquidate its assets, blamed the struggling online economy, as well as "decisions made early in the company's development" for the failure.
"Given more time and more hospitable market conditions, Kozmo would have succeeded in rounding the corner and would have continued to grow," said Kozmo Chief Executive Gerry Burdo in a statement a week ago.
For many Columbia students, the closing of Kozmo will have an effect on their weekend activites.
"Those days are lazy days," said Goldberg. "Those are the days you want everything to come to you."
Besides offering delivery to the residence hall lobbies, Kozmo offered a variety of items, providing the opportunity for large weekend get-togethers for students.
"Everybody in my hall would order from Kozmo and we would have a big party," said Ken Kaji, CC '04, who lives in Carman Hall. "We would get the food and the video, and we would order cigarettes… It's convenient, isn't it?"
Kaji said his floor would use the site so often that the deliverer became "this permanent fixture in the [Carman] lobby."
For Elliot the unique aspect to Kozmo was that it allowed him to make "total impulse buys." Now, he said, his only option is Barnes & Noble, whose deliveries take several days.
"I'm definitely going to have to find another place to get videos," he said.
But not everybody was surprised by the fate of the video delivery website. Some students said that there were obvious clues leading up to last week's closing.
"It's a dot-com. I didn't think it was a sustainable model," said Kaji.
Kozmo is only the latest in a succession of failed online companies stretching back to last summer when the online economy began to cool. In addition to Kozmo and Urbanfetch, online companies such as Pets.com and Toys.com have closed their virtual doors. Even more established Internet companies such as Amazon.com have cut jobs in an effort to turn a profit.
But some students questioned whether it was the economy that caused Kozmo's closing.
"Kozmo has nothing to do with the economy," said Bryon Russell, CC '01. "They were pretty good until they screwed themselves over by screwing the customers. As they started to screw up, I got more and more sick [of them]."
In its last days, in part due to the closing of its competitor Urbanfetch.com, Kozmo started to increase prices and add extra fees in order to compensate for its rapidly declining profits.
Russell said he noticed the changes in the company eight months ago and decided to "break with them" four months ago when "I knew they were going down."
Russell began to question his loyalty to Kozmo when the site instituted a minimum purchase fee of $10 several months ago, which was "really irritating because the video cost about $4.50." He then noticed a two-dollar miscellaneous fee added to his purchases, which appeared to have no purpose. Then, without a competitor, the quality of service went downhill.
"They started not to be able to deliver on time, and that really irritated me," he said. "You would order something and it wouldn't come for like three hours."
Despite the failing service in Kozmo's final days, the absence of a video rental delivery service will undeniably have an effect on Columbia's campus.
"It sucks," said Kaji. "I hold Kozmo close to my heart."