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It’s getting to be that time when us journalists haul out the predictions for the coming year. You can be sure we here at The Spoon will have plenty of those in the coming weeks. And you can be sure some of them will center around the how the food delivery model could change in the wake of the many controversies its currently mired in. Exorbitant commissions for restaurants, antitrust accusations, paying workers a wage they can’t live on — all this and more (did I mention plummeting stock?) underscores the same point: the third-party food delivery model is unsustainable, far from profitable, and larger swaths of the entire food industry are starting to push back. Hard.
Another log went on that fire last week when online grocery fulfillment platform Instacart cut bonuses for its Shoppers — that is, the folks getting groceries off the shelf and delivering them to customers’ houses. Oh, and it just so happened that this cut, which can reportedly account for up to 40 percent of some Shoppers’ earnings per order, came just days after said Shoppers instituted a protest over previous changes to their pay.
Instacart says the new pay cut is “not a form of retaliation.” Whether that’s completely true or not seems irrelevant. It’s a bad look for Instacart, who, along with DoorDash and Postmates, already came under fire earlier this year for its worker-tipping policy.
Then there’s the fight over AB 5, California’s so-called “gig worker bill,” which was signed into law recently and reclassifies gig workers as actual employees. Instacart is not in on that fight, but DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft are, and they’ve vowed to spend $90 million in 2020 to get a ballot measure passed that would counteract AB 5. Talk about a bad look.
Plus, even if these companies overturn the protections laid out in AB 5, they will still face an endless series of new bills, laws, and regulations that will undercut their core business model and further put the question of profitability in question. Meanwhile, investors are getting antsy, and restaurants themselves are starting to take pieces of the delivery chain, from branding to retaining customer data, back in-house, further eroding the reach of third-party delivery.
Instacart, DoorDash, Uber, and others can fight all they want, but their opponents are getting undeniably stronger. Grab your (delivered) popcorn and sit back. The battle is far from over.
Food Delivery Services Pile On New Features
One fighting tactic for food delivery services is far simpler than pledging tens of millions of dollars to fight legislation: pile on the features in the hopes of attracting more customers and restaurant partners.
This week, Deliveroo announced a pickup feature that lets customers order food via the app then collect it themselves, bypassing the delivery fee on the way. The move could appeal to more cost-conscious folks. Customers ordering food might not want to pay a $5 delivery fee for a restaurant that’s a three-minute walk away. And some restaurants could find the option appealing as it would allow them to work with these off-premise order platforms but pay them slightly lower commission fees.
Uber Eats also recently announced some discounts for its restaurant parters — specifically those who use the Ordermark system, which funnels delivery orders from different third-party channels into the restaurant’s main POS system. Ordermark restaurant customers who sign up to use Uber Eats through the Ordermark platform will receive discounted rates.
Eats is also selling ad space inside its platform to restaurants. “If we have all the restaurants on the marketplace and we give them tools to help them grow, then this will be a very efficient marketplace,” Uber told TechCrunch.
The Robots Are Coming (For Your Food Order)
In another likely scenario for the future, we won’t need a gig economy because the robots will do it all.
At least, they’ll be able to do an awful lot of peddling restaurant and grocery deliveries to customers’ apartments and houses. With delivery robots roving around college campuses, some cities, and now Russia, it’s possible — nay, inevitable — that delivery services will render the debate over human workers pointless by replacing said humans with these six-wheeled bots.
So too will autonomous vehicles. Amid far more controversial statements this week, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s said autonomous ride-hailing is probably five to ten years off, and that there will be some autonomous driving going in just three to five years for simple tasks and routes.
Writing about the Uber news, my colleague Chris Albrecht points out that “food delivery certainly seems like it could fit the bill when it comes to simple tasks and routes” and that autonomous vehicles nix the cost of human drivers. But he also rightly notes that “this displacement of human labor brings up its own societal issues.” Which means robots and autonomous vehicles could potentially resolve some of the fight around the gig economy, but they’ll open up a fresh can of worms when it comes to the ethics of the food delivery model.