Cushy new world?

Delivery services are booming – courtesy of Covid – for practically everything, from your favourite meals through to the weekend shopping. Is that the future? Is the pandemic changing our consumer behaviour so that we will never get our behinds off the sofa again – is that the, uh, bottom line? Our columnist Maria is starting to wonder.

Having something delivered: the mere expression – ‘having something done’ – suggests cushiness. Sure, during the lockdown, it’s sometimes the only option. Case in point: during my lunch break, I actually walked down to the cobbler’s shop (go on, slap your forehead, I did it myself as soon as I was standing in front of the barricaded door), because I wasn’t thinking about the fact that shoe repair shops were of course also affected by the lockdown. My family’s answer to my bewildered deliberations about what to do with my worn-down heels: order new boots online. Delivery, it seems, is the logical – indeed, sometimes the only – answer.

The situation is the same with restaurants. Whereas pizza and Chinese food used to dominate the delivery scene, traditional fare is suddenly trending. With fish and chips, beef pies and other popular dishes for pickup or delivery, we can get at least a taste of that beloved pub or restaurant experience at home. Until – and this is one thing I’m sure of – we can visit them again, all those special places that enrich our lives. These days, doesn’t ordering food leave a different taste in your mouth, both literally and figuratively? It’s taken on a new dimension in any case: Just Eat Takeaway, for example, the operator of as well as Germany and Austria’s Lieferando, logged 151.4 million orders worldwide in the third quarter of 2020 – 46% more than the year before. More importantly, many independent restaurateurs are discovering the opportunities their own pickup and delivery services offer them and their customers: they can keep their home fires burning! Whereas we might have felt a bit lazy for ordering food several times a week before the coronavirus, now it’s more or less de rigeur. The order of the day: #supportyourlocal!

A matter of taste

E-food: e-nduring or e-phemeral?

But that’s not all. The industry for ordering food online even has its own moniker: the e-food market. With all due respect, the term ‘e-food’ alone – that makes me think of e-cigarettes or e-bikes, not necessarily of culinary delicacies. But, with tumbleweeds rolling through city centres, the market for (okay, I’ll say it) e-food is brisk. Amazon recently started offering its Prime customers ‘Fresh’ for free. Vans bearing REWE delivery service and Picnic logos are no longer a rarity in German cities, with the Czech provider Rohlik soon to join the fray. The start-up Gorillas, which promises to deliver food within 10 minutes (their motto: ‘Faster than you’), raised €36 million in a single round of financing. And Dr. Oetker has just acquired the German beverage-delivery service, whose sales tripled in each of the past 2 years. So there’s quite a lot going on in the – here it comes again – e-food market.

According to EY-Parthenon, the changes will be permanent. In a study published in October 2020, the strategy consulting organisation predicts a triumph for online food delivery thanks to Covid-19. ‘We are registering growth rates of nearly 40%, both in order volumes and in the share of consumers ordering food online (6% before Covid-19, 9% and rising since Covid-19) – a development in just a few weeks’ time that would previously have taken years,’ according to its findings. Growth potential for the coming 5 years: €2.5 billion.

The pandemic, it seems, is acting as a catalyst. This mirrors the conclusions of the Bundesverband E-Commerce und Versandhandel, the German association for e-commerce and the mail-order business, in view of the general growth of e-commerce over the past 5 years: ‘Anyone who mistrusts the e-commerce boom and hopes for a return to “normality” will be disappointed. This growth is not only sustained; it started before the coronavirus and will continue. It is irreversible (…). Customers have long since made up their minds.’ Hmm. So is shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, including for food, soon to be like the department store in the 21st century? Still around, but slightly dusty?

MPULSE Column: A Matter of Taste

Our columnist Maria is from a city that is not very big but she has been living in a big city for a while now – in amongst greengrocers, refreshment kiosks and international restaurants. She loves culinary and cultural diversity, is happy to try new things but also likes a bit of tradition. She feels that independent business owners give each place its unique character. On MPULSE, she writes about her observations and thoughts and sometimes asks experts about theirs. There’s a little bit of each of us in Maria.

Existence vs. experience

I have my doubts, as least as far as food goes. And I’m not the only one. That will remain a niche,’ says economist Gerrit Heinemann, among others, speaking specifically of food delivery services.

One thing is for sure: once we have got used to convenience, it is hard to do without. Take mobility, travel, packaging and other ‘sins’ of modern life. Some things that we acquired (out of necessity) during the current crisis are likely to stay with us; mobile working, for example, it not the worst way to balance job and family commitments. (We could do with fewer online lessons and quarantines, though, thank you very much!)

In my opinion, however, at least certain elements of shopping as a sensory experience – whether it’s food, shoes or clothing – will always be reserved for the analogue life in future. Now the trick is to combine the potential of digital offerings with traditional business in such a way as to generate new opportunities. Like restaurateurs’ online visibility, for example. Do you know what the most frequent search request related to food and cuisine was on Google Maps in Germany between 1 March and 27 October 2020? Breakfast. Breakfast! A meal that practically screams ‘socialising’ and ‘café’.

That’s why I think that we will return to some of our old habits very quickly. I miss the fruit and veg man who gives me a quick cooking tip as I’m on my way out the door; the bookseller who recommends a page-turner that’s way out of the Amazon algorithm’s realm; the restaurateur whose weekly special I would otherwise never have tried; and the chat with the cobbler I will be taking my heels to (no matter how long it takes – I’m coming!). I want to encounter all of these people in real life. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Further articles