Service of Faster and Faster and Faster and For What?

November 11th, 2021

Categories: Delivery, Food, Food Delivery, Pandemic, Speed

I ran out of eggs while making a quiche the other evening. I was too lazy to go out–it was 7 pm–and I don’t know my neighbors so I improvised.

Winnie Hu and Chelsia Rose Marcius covered a potential solution to my missing eggs in their article in The New York Times. They wrote: “Now the nation’s largest city has become the biggest laboratory for the latest evolution in rapid e-commerce — a surge of online companies promising groceries at your door in 15 minutes or less, so no one has to worry about running out of milk or missing powdered cinnamon for a poundcake recipe.” This near instant grocery delivery service model is old news in London, Paris and Moscow.

An aside: The reporters prefaced news of the concept with the following: “The explosion of internet commerce has transformed New York City, with same-day delivery of a couch, a television or the latest laptop just a few clicks away as more companies compete for faster delivery.” This was posted on November 9. With the container backup I wonder how these promises are working out. A friend’s Christmas ornaments meant for sale in her store are sitting somewhere–but not on her shelves.

There is some downside to balance the convenience: Pedestrians are already at risk with the multitude of delivery people on bicycles–many motorized, driving at top speed in the wrong direction or on sidewalks. And what about the bottom line pressure on grocery stores whose owners pay dearly for substantial real estate and staff? And I cringe for the countless bodegas that city folk depend on for a quart of milk or can of soda.

Columbia Business School professor Mark A. Cohen conjectured that “grocery companies cannot realistically deliver in 15 minutes every time as their order volumes increase, or hold on to customers who may give them a try but grow disappointed with the limited selection of products.” Competitors working in some Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx neighborhoods include Buyk, JOKR, Gopuff, Gorillas, 1520 and Fridge No More. A supermarket carries some 35,000 products, report Hu and Marcius, where the micro hubs, maintained for fast delivery, stock from 1,500 to 5,000. One delivery worker told the reporters he dropped off 18 orders over 10 hours.

How does the model work that offers low or free delivery charges and products at standard prices? It does for those businesses, “with investors funding their operations for now,” the reporters wrote, that don’t pay for checkout or customer service employees and buy in bulk from manufacturers. Their locations needn’t be prime nor space big and they maintain tight inventories with little waste they reported.

If the price of goods remains moderate and delivery charges modest I see a use for the 15 minute delivery in market niches such as parents caring for infants and young children as well as the infirm. The frantic who juggle too much would also be likely targets.

Back to my quiche. I wouldn’t have ordered half a dozen eggs through a high speed grocery delivery service. I’d need to retrieve the package from the lobby because deliveries have not been permitted upstairs throughout the pandemic. Once downstairs I’d rather walk up the block to the deli than order online.

I’m statistically insignificant. I’m surely among the few in my giant apartment building who enjoys picking up my Chinese and Mexican takeout meals. What’s seven blocks? [Many other options are a block away but are not my favorites.] At certain times of day and on weekends the numbers of food deliveries to athletic looking 30-somethings made to this building are jaw dropping.

Do you think this almost instant food delivery service will be a flash in the pan? Does the concept appeal to you? Will you give it a whirl?


Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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7 Responses to “Service of Faster and Faster and Faster and For What?”

  1. TC Said:

    Am remembering war time 40’s–living in NYC–a block away from Gristedes Grocery which offered free delivery if w/in a few blocks. Large wooden three wheeled cart pushed by white aproned delivery boy. In those days an order rarely consisted of more than one large brown paper bag full. No tipping. Rationing.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    TC,

    Speaking of war time, and today being Veteran’s Day, here’s to you a valiant Marine.

    Gristedes is a block from me today but a different animal: severely overpriced basics [OJ almost $7 vs $3.50 at other stores having nothing to do with inflation] combined with poor quality vegetables and meat. A shame that the owner has trashed a brand that once was associated with elegance and top of the line products. The employees remain nice.

    I smile envisioning the white apron and wooden cart delivery getup of the 1940s. Lovely. Rationing, however, must have been extremely difficult.

  3. lucrezia Said:

    Mine is a small community, so the pressure on speed is virtually non-existent. while preferring the urban atmosphere, I enjoy the lack of pressure. Being unable to have it both ways, one is best!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I’ve seen NYers act atrociously at out of town restaurants when service doesn’t come in the split seconds they expect. There are times when minutes count but getting a quart of milk isn’t one. For decades I have silently groused when traffic doesn’t allow an ambulance get through thinking “that could be your mother, your brother, your sister, your dad, your husband, wife, child or you rushing to the hospital so get out of the way.” Same with fire engines.

  5. Eileen Dover Said:

    I enjoy every kind of delivery…take out, groceries, beverages, newspapers, dry cleaning, gifts! However, it doesn’t replace going to a restaurant or doing my own errands! The mopeds and bike lanes in NYC are not pedestrian friendly. UberEats stats for last month’s most order item was bananas! Years ago, I lived above a grocery store. My neighbor would knock on my door asking for eggs, mayonnaise, ice (just to name a few!). There’s a grocer downstairs and lots of 24 hour bodegas within walking distance…always tried not to let them see my eyes rolling! I’m sure you make a fabulous quick quiche! What did you substitute for your missing eggs?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Eileen,

    I agree. I shared the elevator with a young couple lugging shopping bags branded Gorillas, one of the quick delivery services. With two people in a household one must have the time or energy to buy groceries a few blocks away if both have time to get dressed and go to the lobby to retrieve their order. I looked up Gorillas when I got home because I wasn’t familiar with the name. Sad. No wonder we are becoming blimps.

    Answer to my quiche substitute, I dumped in more cheese and instead of my usual fat free milk I’d bought half and half for this and I used more of it than I normally would. Great? No. But for me–it freezes well–just fine. Add a side salad with tomatoes and maybe some dried cranberries and voila.

  7. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I think take out and delivery are nice choices to have available. I think the obsession with speed and instant gratification for non-emergency things are self-indulgence pushed to the extreme. And there always are options of fast food restaurants although they may not come with snap of your finger services. I think that we are simply drowned in self-importance and have lost site of what is really important despite the drama of our present still flourishing pandemic!

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