Instant grocery delivery should never have existed. I hope the fad is over
As fast delivery apps hit the wall, everyone will lose in the race to the bottom, writes Harry Lang, VP of marketing at Kwalee.
It sounded so good in theory. People love low-cost/low-hassle solutions and even better, having a service that mimics thirty-minute food delivery but for groceries? Yeah! How much does it cost? It’s free? Amazing!
Tuck in, lazy people - you’ll never run out of bog roll again!
We were living in the future, man. It’s just a shame that this particular future was built on foundations with the consistency of brown Angel Delight.
This was the dream - now a dystopian nightmare for the staff of insta-delivery brand Getir which has taken its ‘rapid response’ USP one step too far as it nosedives towards the floor at a million miles per hour.
Having only acquired drowning rival Gorillas in December 2022 (in an overdraft-quivering £1bn deal), Getir is the latest lame unicorn to suffer during a period of collective upheaval in the instant delivery sector, making a raft of redundancies in early April.
Additionally (and equally disturbingly) three-quarters of Getir’s one-hundred-plus dark stores in the UK were run by franchisees, meaning even the operating model was built on nothing more substantial than subcontracted hopes and prayers.
The burgeoning world of ‘anything goes’ home delivery blossomed, unsurprisingly, through the Covid lockdowns. The king was, and remains, Amazon with Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat taking up the mantle in the UK as the heirs apparent in the takeaway food category. With numbers ballooning and venture capital dollars being showered from all quarters like a lottery win in a strip club, a coven of young upstarts emerged and grew with scary intensity.
DoorDash, Jiffy, Zapp, Gorillas, GoPuff, Getir and the rest came out of the blocks fast around the world, attracting significant new customer volume and nosebleed valuations almost overnight, fuelled by hungry VCs and hungrier, pyjama-clad consumers alike.
But there was trouble in paradise - trouble that, with hindsight, was always only a fifteen-minute bike ride away.
In an interview with The Guardian in September 2022, a former ops lead at Jiffy, said: “The pandemic created a warped vision of the way people were going to buy their groceries... but when people could go out safely, the need for on-demand grocery receded. This is what the rapid delivery firms and their venture capital backers got completely wrong.”
Even ten-year-old veteran Deliveroo has had to swallow some cold pizza, making several hundred redundancies in February of this year. The cost of living crisis slamming head first into a highly competitive trading environment put the brakes on further expansion, leading founder Will Shu to comment (apparently with a straight face): “Food delivery is not something you 100% need – it’s discretionary and those things get hit sometimes.”
‘Hit’ is about right - DoorDash, the US delivery darling, had to write off a net loss of $1.36bn in 2022 alone. That could’ve bought it 358,839,050 Big Macs (and a small fries).
So has everyone learned a valuable Icarus lesson from this debacle? Not a bit.
In January of this year, on-demand grocery firm JOKR raised $50m in a Series C investment giving it a theoretical $1.3bn valuation. Its USP to justify such a figure?
It cleverly wrapped up its New York and Boston operations and bailed on the corpulent US market to do it all again in Latin America, where economies have been tanking for decades.
Which is just bound to go well.
Blinkit, Big Basket, Dunzo, GrubHub, Food Panda, Zomato, ZopNow, Zepto, DMart Ready and my favorite from a recent work trip to Bangalore (when my pitiful constitution demanded that I order the blandest food known to man and have it delivered to the hotel bathroom) - Swiggy.
The inherent commercial challenges in the fast delivery business model are the low basket values and that delivery apps have very little buying power from which to squeeze a credible margin when compared to supermarkets. If Tesco and Ocado can't make it work on next-day delivery with far higher basket values over the past twenty years and with all their buying muscle, then FlimFlam.com et al. have no got hope.
The race to the bottom in rapid goods delivery should have had a winner in global behemoth Amazon with their ‘Amazon Fresh’ product. They have the resources, one imagines, to weather any storm and come out smiling.
Amazon announced over 18,000 layoffs in January, citing “... shutdowns in edtech and distribution and food delivery”. It was closely followed by Just Eat which culled more than 1,700 delivery drivers and riders soon after.
So that’s it for instant food delivery? That was the rapture?
Good riddance to this unnecessary evil. This whole industry was spawned by greed and nurtured on consumer laziness. Nobody needs a pumpkin spice latte dropped off at their front door at 10am. Gig economy drivers being forced to hit absurd drop-off targets, requiring them to piss in bottles rather than miss their quotas? That’s at least partially the fault of your last-minute Malbec and Côte de Boeuf ready meal delivery that you couldn’t be arsed to pick up on the way home from work...
The environmental irresponsibility and social inhumanity are enough to make you retch, and that’s before the flagrant hubris of an ‘innovation’ sector that created a perceived need for a service that should never have existed in the first place (beyond the pandemic, at least).
With hindsight, the warning signs were there. After all, ‘instant gratification delivery’ looked like easy money a few short years ago and numerous upstarts duly piled in. All you needed was a kooky domain like ‘JizzWhistle dot com’ plus fifty-odd mil in written-off investment and you were good to go. Add a desperate workforce herded by necessity into the gig economy and you could perceptively be IPO-ing by tea time.
We live in a ‘now’ culture. I get it. Immediacy, instant credit, “I want it that way”, give it to me, I’m the customer, have it now, pay later, more. MORE!
These are not progressive traits - nor do they flatter us as a species.
More worryingly, this level of indolent imbecility sets a dangerous precedent. Follow the thread and we're only a couple of decades away from an adult population drooling in front of an AI entertainment portal, VR headset clamped to our flaccid heads, plugged into intravenous Red Bull drips whilst snorting drone-delivered packets of Super Noodle flavor powder for sustenance.
Idiocracy would look less like a dystopian comedy and more like a dark preview of humanity’s fate if we don’t pump the brakes on this kind of folly.
It’s embarrassing that we could ever imagine that this slavish obedience to convenience could ever pretend to be progress, and witnessing the downfall of such a litany of ‘service’ providers clamoring to deliver to our every needless whim in a matter of minutes is, frankly, a pleasure to witness.
From a pure marketing standpoint, the ‘Four Ps’ were continuously and callously disregarded as a serving suggestion - a garnish, even - rather than core ingredients in the fast delivery App recipe:-
Product - “I’ve got a lookalike pop-up product with no discernable UI, UX, differentiation nor brand identity. It’s basically a twin of a bunch of other apps doing largely the same thing. Sovereign wealth fund, you say? Hell yeah!”
Price - “Hey, it’s free! Zero hassle, zero time + zero cost = zero profit!”
Place - “Let’s go big in the US and tier-one European markets. Sure, they’re already over capacity and the media costs are ludicrous, but at least we’ll save on localization budgets! Whoop!”
Promotion - “We’re just trying to build a unicorn with an overinflated valuation so we can cash out before anyone looks under the P&L hood and parachute into the Cayman Islands with a sack of gold and minimal conscience. So what if we’re building a tech palace made of rainbows and dreams? Spend whatever it takes.”
Food is necessary. Delivery is convenient for most and essential for some. But for brands to presume that there was no downside to building loss-leading entities to the detriment of literally everything except customer volume and a mythical share price valuation? It was naive, vainglorious and stupid.
In that race, there are few, if any, winners.
Harry Lang is VP of Marketing at game developer and publisher Kwalee and author of ‘Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit’, a guidebook for those starting their career in marketing, advertising, media and PR. You can find him at @MrHarryLang and connect with him on LinkedIn.