3 Ways You Can Compete Against On-Demand Delivery

Published by John on

One of the keys to success in marketing is differentiation. In a world saturated with options, what makes your product or service the one to choose? Every category has its leader(s), and competing on their terms is difficult. This is especially true in a world where the best-funded firms can often ignore profit margins (at least in the short-term). It’s led to a world in which firms train consumers to expect near-instant gratification in the e-commerce and online service sectors. It’s hyper-convenience. That can be hard to compete against for companies that can’t endlessly optimize their supply chain or run it at a loss to guarantee on-demand delivery.

One could also argue that this trend may not be sustainable. Here are two reasons:

  1. Like the 2000 dot com bubble, the current era of mega-valuations appears to be undergoing a correction. Investors are penalizing firms that burn cash to capture market share.
  2. Until our android future arrives, there remains a human cost to delivery and service. Regulatory change may be on the horizon, and that could hurt the labor supply and cost.

So not only is on-demand hard to compete with. Its dominance may also be short-lived–at least in its current form. That’s not to declare Convenience Is Dead! You are unlikely to buck the trend completely. Even in sectors like hand-made goods, customers want a certain amount of tech-enabled speed and ease. But is all-consuming speed the wisest area in which to build your brand?

I would argue that in addition to providing the best, most-convenient shopping experience possible, you should look for other ways to define brand success. Here are some ideas:

Subscription model

Consumers’ ability to realize a want, and fulfill it instantly, is the core of hyper-convenience. However, there is also an element of convenience to one’s needs being met without any effort on their part. My toothbrush company mails me a refill every 3 months. Trunk Club sends me clothes once a month. Even Amazon, arguably the biggest driver of the on-demand delivery trend, is in on the subscription game with many of its grocery and home items.

Recurring delivery of products can be of value to consumers. It can also be the makings of a brand. It requires a consumable product (or consumable part of a product, like razor blades or toothbrush heads) that lends itself to periodic re-order, or products consumers want to replace or renew from time to time (like apparel).

Calibrating aspects of your offering like tempo of delivery, items included, and special offers or rewards is key to keeping customers subscribed. Good preliminary research and ongoing optimization are critical.

Strategic Inconvenience

Whatever you feel about it, a trip to Ikea is an experience. The furniture and housewares brand, ubiquitous in the homes of 20 and 30-somethings, teeters on a meticulously-designed edge.

On one side, their products are inexpensive, straightforward, and simple, often almost comically so. It seems every product in the store is held together by a little wire hook or some similar tiny, but effective, fastener. Yet it does hold together–there are some 15-year-old pieces still in my home.

On the other side, their shopping experience is often whimsically complicated. Think of the four-wheel-turning shopping carts that lurch through the maze-like store layout like little drift cars. The need to retrieve one’s purchases from a warehouse and figure out how to get them home. Inconvenience is as central to the brand as convenience.

Like high price, a little strategic inconvenience can communicate positive things to a shopper. It may say a brand’s quality or value mean that the compromises it must make are worth it.

Ikea delivers stylish, relatively durable furniture at reasonable cost, with a shopping experience that manages to delight customers in spite of itself.

Take a stroll down Fairfax Blvd in LA, dodging teens lined up for exclusive releases of streetwear, or past an Apple store on a phone debut day. You will know that waiting in line–inconvenience–is a big part of certain brands’ appeal.

Obviously this doesn’t just happen, and a combination of product strategy and shopper marketing is necessary to hit the right inconvenient notes.

A Human Touch

In today’s artificially intelligent, optimized world, some shopping or usage experiences can seem a bit cookie-cutter. Making them conspicuously human is one way to combat that.

I mentioned Trunk Club above. They offer an app-mediated personal shopper, a concept high-end retailers long employed. Clothing can be hard to shop for online due to its highly individual, sensory nature. Having someone who knows and can build on your style is both a time saver and a chance to broaden your taste. It also simply feels better to many consumers.

Summarizing a Drift/Survey monkey study about chatbots, the automated assistants many companies use, Retail Dive writes:

…Consumers, for the most part, continue to want human interaction. With the exception of getting 24-hour service, respondents consistently said live chats with human beings outperformed chatbots for a variety of reasons, including convenience, ease of communication and good customer experience…

I bring up chatbots as a comparison to the low-friction, but also impersonal feel on-demand delivery tends to create in consumers. Robots can do many things faster, but we like when people do them anyway.

Introducing human curation or interaction into your brand or retail experience gives your customers something speed and optimization simply can’t deliver (at least for now).

Let’s Talk About How You Can Compete Against On-Demand Delivery

This article summarized three options brands and retailers can use to go against the Amazon’s and Postmates’ of the world. There are undoubtedly many more. Finding just the right mix for your unique products and customers is a matter of creativity, re-framing, and knowing your customer, product, and experiece inside-out. If you would like to discuss these or any other marketing challenges your business faces, let me know.


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