Updated Dec 10, 2021 - Economy & Business

Our insatiable appetite for speedy delivery

Illustration of a shopping cart full of cursors.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

We used to be impressed by two-day shipping, then next-day shipping. Now we want our groceries in just 15 minutes.

Why it matters: Our addiction to super-fast delivery — intensified by the pandemic — is clogging our cities, creating more low-paying jobs, and shuttering mom-and-pop stores on Main Street.

Driving the news: DoorDash is the latest company to add speedy grocery delivery, with a New York City pilot that promises to fulfill orders in 15 minutes or less, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports. The fee is just $1.49.

  • DoorDash isn't the first to wade into 15-minute delivery. Consumers' appetite for fast delivery has given rise to plenty of startups, like Jokr, Getir and Gorillas.
  • And it won't be the last. Instacart is working on a similar offering, The Information reports.

What's happening: The start of the pandemic was a turning point for online grocery ordering. Consumers who were wary of this service — and preferred to shop in person and pick out their produce themselves — started trying grocery delivery out of fear of COVID. And those who'd tried it before started using the service even more frequently.

  • As a result, online grocery orders in the U.S. grew 80% in 2020, and then another 17% in 2021, per Coresight Research.
  • And the market is projected to keep growing because there’s lots of room for expansion, says Ken Fenyo of Coresight. Online grocery sales are still just about 10% of the total market.

That's because habits are sticky. Many people have converted into online grocery evangelists. And even the pandemic-era online shoppers who are going back to grocery stores are taking a mixed approach, buying in person sometimes and online other times, Fenyo says.

  • Now the arrival of super-fast grocery delivery could change the way people shop further.
  • Think about it: If you know you're going to get what you need to make dinner in 15 minutes or less, there's no reason to stock up for the week with a Sunday grocery run anymore. You can buy as you go.

The stakes: If 15-minute delivery catches on, as analysts expect and companies bet it will, we will see reverberations across the economy.

  • Quiet main streets: In order to make deliveries in just minutes, companies need to dot cities with micro-warehouses. These "dark stores," which take up city real estate but are closed to the public, could turn entire city blocks dark by replacing bodegas and small shops, urbanists Lev Kushner and Greg Lindsay write in Bloomberg.
  • Increasing income inequality: Grocery delivery is yet another component of the stay-at-home economy, which is creating convenience for wealthy urbanites with the labor of low-paid essential workers.

What to watch: As Kushner and Lindsey say: "The demand for convenience is seemingly bottomless, but no city has yet found a way to balance the short-term benefit of personal convenience against the long-term costs of eroding community life through decreased social interaction."

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