Delivering the goods

It was a Friday evening and on a whim I’d ordered a pizza but after a long wait and a chase-up phone call two hours had elapsed and I’d finally given up and gone to bed after some unplanned toast for dinner. At 11:30pm I was awoken by a pizza delivery guy suggesting: “It’s only two and a half hours late, mate.” He was genuinely puzzled when I told him I didn’t want his pizza that I’d pretty much ordered yesterday and thanks very much for waking me up.

I was reminded of this incident when – yet again – I endured a dire experience with the delivery of goods from an online retailer. We’ve all had these problems far too many times. The email comes through with the date and time of the delivery but you are going to be away so you change the date on the track-your-order page on the courier’s website.

You are enjoying said break when another email comes through from the courier firm congratulating themselves on a ‘successful’ delivery along with a photo of your parcel prominently placed on your front door-step. There’s no way that will survive exposed on the step until your arrival back home the following week but thankfully you have a friendly neighbour who will take it in and look after it until you return.

This sort of experience happens all too frequently because the integration of the technology between the retailers, the delivery firms, the various other intermediary pieces of software, and the end customer are invariably badly cobbled together. It will require a lot of work by many parties to address this calamitous state that continues to blight online retail.

In complete contrast my pizza experience is very unlikely to be replicated because it was years ago when it happened. It was before the revolution we’ve seen in the delivery of food. While there is much to gripe about delivery providers Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, you have to hand it to them, they deliver a much more agreeable service to the end consumer than the bulk of the retail industry with its third-party courier firms.

Final mile problems

They undoubtedly benefit from being technology firms at heart and their app-based solutions have been built from the ground up rather than bolted onto legacy systems. This has enabled them to fully utilise mobile devices and GPS capabilities etcetera. Customers have responded accordingly and lapped up the services.

They have become fully entrenched in the hospitality industry, which is reflected in the fact that deliveries accounted for 71p in every pound spent by consumers on at-home orders in September versus only 29p for takeaways, according to CGA by NIQ’s Hospitality at Home Tracker. And after a period of 18 months of year-on-year declines after the covid-19 exponential surge in volumes the last four months have seen year-on-year growth again.

Food operators have had to take note and even the naysayers and hold-outs have been forced to resign to market forces and adopt the delivery providers’ solutions. Recently Domino’s finally agreed to use the Uber Eats service after holding out for years. It recognised that using only its own couriers was holding its delivery capabilities back and underserving its customers. This followed a similar decision by rival Pizza Hut that signed-up with the firm a year ago. Take-away food brands now recognise they really do need the third-party delivery firms, whether they like it or not.

The way things are going the delivery guys have more pie to bite into because their technology prowess is being seen in new developments aimed at sucking in even more business. Both Just Eat and Uber Eats are to launch AI-powered assistants to help customers customise their orders while Deliveroo and Uber Eats are both trialling the ability to bundle orders from more than one restaurant in a single delivery.

Evidence of their value in the broad food supply chain can be seen by their ongoing inroads into the retail industry where Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber are all tying-up with the supermarkets to deliver on-demand groceries. They can do it better than the grocery companies themselves and they have also pretty much seen off the rapid delivery firms such as Getir, Gorillas and GoPuff.

Compared with what the retail industry has to contend with I’d say the hospitality industry should count itself as rather fortunate that it has delivery partners that supply an efficient service for which customers have an insatiable appetite. A few years back I’d have eaten my hat rather than say that – or a pizza, if I could have relied on it being delivered on time.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.