Food delivery service Postmates today announced what it’s calling Dropoff Options, a function that lets customers choose how they want to receive their deliveries. According to a company blog post, users can “choose to meet their Postmate at the door, as they have before, meet curbside, or go non-contact and have deliveries left at the door.”
Postmates customers order their meals as usual then select their delivery method during the checkout process (see image above).
The post itself doesn’t mention coronavirus, but it doesn’t have to. Around the world, delivery services now offer various forms of this contactless delivery, where couriers and customers have no physical contact and in some cases don’t even see one another face to face.
The bulk of the efforts so far have been in China, where the outbreak originated. Restaurant chains and delivery services — Ele.me, Meituan, McDonald’s, and KFC, to name just a few — are working together to limit the amount of human contact that happens during food delivery dropoffs. Drivers and couriers must wear masks, have their temperature taken, and disinfect their hands and delivery bags before and after each run.
South Korea’s top two delivery services, Baedal Minjok and Yogiyo, have also seen an uptick in food delivery orders and requests for couriers to leave packages on the doorstep.
Stateside, Postmates isn’t alone in its efforts to introduce more contactless delivery. As Business Insider noted, Instacart has also implemented contactless delivery with a service called “Leave at My Door Delivery.” The grocery delivery company told BI that it has actually been testing this service for several months and decided to make it available to all customers after seeing a “surge” in demand for it.
With “Leave at My Door Delivery,” Instacart customers can opt to have their grocery orders left at their doorstep during the designated timeframe for their order.
Other food delivery companies, including Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats, have not yet implemented any kind of contactless delivery for their operations.
These new services from Postmates and Instacart so far only address the issue of one human getting close to another. They do not yet address steps like disinfecting the insulated delivery bags couriers use or taking workers’ temperatures — actions that are as much about the safety of drivers and couriers as they are about customers. One Instacart worker told the Financial Times that the company still wasn’t providing items like hand sanitizer or disinfectants. While Instacart’s new contactless delivery is “a step in the right direction,” it doesn’t “reduce our overall risks of exposure because most of our risks we actually encounter while shopping,” the worker said.
Instacart workers in particular are exposed to more germs because part of their job involves moving around a grocery store, touching a shopping cart, and picking up items from shelves. But all gig economy companies should be factoring in the safety of their workers as they implement contactless delivery services.
Which is where the robots may come in. My colleague Chris Albrect has written more than once, we live in a time when delivery robots and driverless vehicles are actually available. Undelv has already said it would make its driverless delivery vans available to deliver food, medicine, and other supplies to quarantined areas. And as Chris pointed out, rover bots like those from Starship or Kiwi “could be an easy humanless way to deliver meals and medicines around the clock in densely populated areas.” I would add drone technology to that list of possible solutions.
Granted, outsourcing delivery jobs to drones would eat into gig workers’ pay. As well, a number of regulatory issues around autonomous delivery vehicles have yet to be addressed, which limits how widely these technologies can even be used. But whether by robot, masked workers, or some other solution that’s yet to be thought of, the contactless delivery method will get way more popular in the next few months — and probably alter the food delivery landscape for good in the process.