Advertising food/grocery delivery services

About a month ago I was in a workshop with a CPG client and we were brainstorming over an experience map for a make-believe Direct to Consumer solution. One of the key blockers of the proposition was the obvious minuteness of the purchase when compared with the time/cost it took to have it actually delivered. Even when purchased in bulk or alongside some “sister” products, most people in the workshop thought having it delivered didn’t make sense.

“Why would I have this delivered to my door? I could just walk to the store and get it?”. The possibility of having that One item delivered to your door was constantly trumped by vague qualms. One possible scenario where this could have become “palatable” was a young mom with kids unable to carry all her groceries home. Another option was people who were home, sick. They all seemed like extreme situations. The consensus in the virtual room was that having such small, basic items delivered was going “a bit overboard”.

We never really probed the reasons behind the implied qualms but there was a sense that this was going to be environmentally bad, subsidising an industry (that of gig deliveries) which is highly controversial for its treatment of the riders/drivers, and adding to an already overloaded traffic situation in large cities. People also seemed to be organically embarrassed to have a can or a small bag delivered to their door by someone cycling a long-ish distance in potentially rubbish weather.

None of these qualms seems to have bothered the people creating the ads for the multitude of food/grocery delivery services now available in London. Of the two or three I keep seeing on TV and two more advertised in the Tube, all seem to be banking on the same target audience and same tropes. Young people, living or working in highly communal situations, who are unable to get even the most basic stuff for themselves and need to have it delivered.

[This, by the way, is not a comment on the delivery services themselves. I think they are questionable to say the least. But I am by far not the most qualified person to speak about this, and if you’re interested in the topic my friend Cosmin Popan is doing a whole research about it and posting updates here.]

Back to the ads. Before they avalanched into my viewing routine, I used to tell this story of crossing a Deliveroo rider in the hallway at 7:45 one morning as he was delivering what appeared to be a one-person McDonald’s breakfast to a neighbour. I walked to work that day mumbling under my breath “who the f*** orders a 3,89£ meal at 7 am on a Tuesday? What kind of a douchebag do you have to be?”. I guess I could have seen the value for the rider but to be fair, even that wasn’t immediately apparent to me as the closest McD is literally 0.2 miles away from the house so the most that delivery could have got him was 1£.

These ads for food and grocery delivery services have been built to do away with the idea that it’s potentially not ok to have a completely insignificant item delivered to your door. Not as part of a larger delivery (most regular grocery shopping has a basket limit of 30-40£) but as one, single, independent item which can cost as little as 4£. Sure, you get “punished” by being asked to pay the “small basket fee” but ultimately nobody is denying you that absolute convenience. And the ads make sure that you don’t feel that’s not okay. They glorify small quirks and annoying behaviours which then justify you having to get someone on a scooter to your door to make it better.

You ate your wife’s cookies? Have another pack delivered. You ran out of nappies? Have some delivered. You want cheese? Sure, someone on a bike will get it for you. You have a gluten intolerance? A bad day? A bad Zoom? A really interesting friend visiting? All of these are reason enough for you to get someone else to ride/drive/run to your door to hand you that one item you need.

What’s also interesting about the ads is all of them are full of people in their 20s. People who should have no issue walking to the store, people who in theory should be a bit careful of what they’re spending their money on, people who would definitely benefit from some form of social interaction. Most of them, however, are either locked in their house or in an office, having stuff delivered to them to get them out of some weird, quirky situation. The services are not for women who have small kids and cannot go out for a big shop, they are not for the elderly, they are not for those with mobility issues or other types of disabilities. These services are for those young people whose lifestyles simply won’t allow them to go to the store to get a can of beans. Why? Well, because they are either too busy hanging out or working really hard. You see, in this world of everything delivered to your door, you need to work a lot to be able to afford all this stuff that gets delivered and when you’ve stopped working you can only lie back on your couch and watch some streamed content with your flatmates while someone is delivering your dinner.

Meanwhile, the people delivering your stuff are heroes. Superheroes really. Either uniformed, smiling “delivery people” who salute you as they ride away or actual Saviours, people who rally the troops with good food and good speechifying. The power balance is either reversed or incredibly well “regulated”. You don’t control the delivery person with your 1£ delivery fee + 0 tip. They are on a mission to save You, because you need them in order to be able to continue working and/or socialising. The narrative brings to mind other high-stake jobs like pilots or policemen. These are not people barely making minimum wage, but essential workers, pillars of the community. The ads are carefully constructing a reality in which you do not have to think about what that person is actually doing to get you your vegan sausage roll. How far have they ridden? Did they come through rain, sleet, snow? How much are they actually making? Are they getting their tip or having to split it with the technology?

I’ve also previously spoken about how the idea of seamlessness of this service is in-built in everything about the service design. The little man icon who “rides” continuously as you watch the map, the dot moving on the map. They progress with no effort and no obstacle. Biking 4–5 miles in the rain to get you your pizza is an effortless, toll-less activity. The idea of friction is taken out of what is an eminently friction-full activity.

I’m not sure what’s bothering me more about these ads; whether it’s the fact I find their narrative to be short sighted and unlikely to bring any incremental value long term, or the fact they fundamentally overlook the existing conversation about the realities of such services.

I also worry that what bothers me about them is I will continue watching them without questioning, and one day will find myself waking up late one Saturday morning, after a long week at work, and deciding to order one egg sandwich because I just cannot be bothered to walk the 200 m to the corner store to get myself some eggs.

Maybe I’ve done it already…



CX Strategist and Design Director. Recovering Internet lover. Write about technology, design and what I watch/listen to/read.

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CX Strategist and Design Director. Recovering Internet lover. Write about technology, design and what I watch/listen to/read.