News & Views

Delivery from the Corner Store

by Contagious Team

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our customisable research platform featuring the world’s most innovative, creative and effective ad campaigns and marketing ideas

Peer-to-peer taxi startup continues its push to become a distributed logistics expert

Taxi service slash tech disruptor slash distributed logistics company Uber has announced that it is piloting a same-day grocery delivery service in Washington, DC. The service, called Corner Store, will allow people to order from a list of more than 100 products, sourced from a variety of vendors, and have them delivered free of charge within a staggeringly fast ten minute window. There is no minimum purchase required for the service – in fact, the official Uber announcement encourages people who have mistakenly left an item off their order to just ‘let your driver know you’re not done shopping and would like to add another item to your order’ when the delivery arrives.

Corner Store is a limited time experiment for the time being, available only to select riders in Washington, DC. The brand call the program its ‘latest experiment from the Uber Garage’ and hints that it may further roll out Corner Store if the user response is positive: ‘This is a limited-time-only experiment – but the more you love it, the more likely it will last.’

Interestingly, Uber has partnered with unnamed logistics providers to deliver the ordered items to a central location, rather than requiring an Uber employee to go to a retail store to buy the items. That is a marked difference from some other delivery services, like eBay Now, which involves a much more haphazard system of purchase and delivery. Of note: eBay is reportedly scaling back its ambitious expansion goals for eBay Now.

Uber Corner Store will process transactions through the Uber app, allowing shoppers to make their purchases using their Uber balance or credit card.

Contagious Insight /

Distributed Delivery / As we detailed in our Distributed Delivery trend on Contagious I/O, services like Corner Store are a hot area at the moment, with brands dogfighting to establish dominance in cities around the world. From standalone companies like FreshDirect and Postmates to same-day services from gargantuan brands like Google and Amazon, it seems like a new way to get things delivered, for hardly any additional cost, is rolled out every day.

Still, it’s a difficult strength to nail. Pocketshop, a promising London startup offering grocery delivery within an hour, closed up shop late last year. ‘Throughout our journey we faced and overcame many challenges,’ wrote founder Hemal Kuntawala in a blog post when the company announced its closure. ‘One that proved insurmountable, however, was cultivating a large enough customer base in each area we delivered to in order to make our service economical.’

One advantage Uber may have in this game is its structure. Rather than hiring people specifically to make delivery, Uber can essentially add Corner Store to the list of potential gigs its drivers can book – allowing those drivers to pick up extra fares or work during midday lulls where taxi services may be less in-demand.

Uber Stunts / Uber is no stranger to stunt-y promotions, from kitten playdates and ice cream trucks to chartered helicopters and moving services. The brand seemingly rolls out a new service of some sort, from the clearly superficial to the legitimately useful, every week. Prior to Corner Store, Uber has tested out a bike-based peer-to-peer delivery service called Uber Rush in New York City, wherein couriers will deliver a package from one place in the city to another for between $10 and $30.

These services accomplish a few different purposes. For one, they’re great PR – nothing makes internet headlines better than a delivery service that offers 15 minutes of kitten cuddles. In fact, Uber has recently hired guru David Plouffe, formerly Barack Obama’s chief political strategist, to help manage public perception of the brand. At the same time, though, services like Corner Store go beyond PR to a strategic and logistical level, allowing Uber to test the limits of its network via small-scale public betas. Uber Garage is essentially a series of skunkworks projects open to Uber’s users, and the most successful of those projects will likely see expansion as Uber solidifies its place in major cities.

Uber Ubiquitous / Corner Store is the latest indication that Uber is much more than a peer-to-peer taxi service. Investor Shervin Pishevar has perhaps the best quote on the company’s potential: ‘Uber is creating a digital mesh  a power grid which goes within the metropolitan areas. After you have that power grid running, in everyone’s pockets, there’s lots of possibility of what you could build like a platform. Uber is incorporated in the empire-building phase.’ Conquering something like local delivery would be a huge coup for the brand, and its ability to roll out such a program – limited though it may be – portends well for the brand and its already lofty valuation.

Though the future is far from promised, it’s hard not to imagine a sort of tech-enabled utopian City of Tomorrow when services like this are rolled out. While reports of Uber buying a huge fleet of driverless cars are fabricated, it’s not hard to imagine that sort of brand tie-up in the future. After all, Google has already invested in Uber to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars. Perhaps in a few years we’ll be ordering a last-minute party gift, having it delivered within the hour by a driverless car, getting in that car and paying for a ride to the party, and picking up our friends on the way there – all through Uber.