One sandwich, three apples, a babka and a single pear arrived at my flat on the back of an e-bike last summer. I’d seen adverts for a new wave of ultra-fast grocery apps splashed across bus banners for weeks and promising 10-minute delivery; after giving one a go and receiving my haul in half that time, I was sold.
We were more than a year into the pandemic and in another lockdown. I’d spent 12 months hearing nothing but what friends / colleagues / family had just ordered from the likes of Amazon or Deliveroo, and how many computers they’d fired up at 5am to secure a coveted supermarket delivery slot. I didn’t order a single takeaway meal throughout the pandemic – an act tantamount in bravery to the George Cross, for the modern millennial.
But these shiny new grocery apps with silly names were harder to resist: Gorillas, Weezy, Zapp, GoPuff, Dija, Jiffy, Getir – they were everywhere, all boasting slick marketing campaigns and generous sign-up offers. After the speed of my first delivery, I began recommending them with such fervor that friends assumed I’d changed careers – either to one of the companies’ PR teams, or a profession that paid enough to afford the eye-watering premiums.
Most people’s response was to ask why I needed to order anything, given I have every shade of corner store, supermarket and cafe literal seconds from my front door – but the speed with which these things showed up fascinated me. Last June, it took four minutes for staff to receive my order of 16 items, zip around the warehouse, bag them and bike them over. Four minutes! It practically defied physics.
On-demand apps don’t come cheap, though. Basics ranges don’t exist: the cheapest milk I could buy yesterday was a liter of Yeo Valley for £ 1.50 – a mark up of more than 50 per cent on Waitrose’s Essentials option. Half a dozen Burford Brown eggs were £ 3.25 – more than three times the price of Waitrose’s cheapest offering.
On Gorillas – the app I initially swore allegiance to on account of its warehouse being two minutes from my flat – the lowest priced loaf of sliced white is £ 1.20, a couple of cod fillets will set you back £ 6, and nothing in a tin costs less than a quid. Most products are premium brands and, once you’ve burned through all of the promotional codes, the bill – on top of the drop-off charges – adds up.
There are now at least three grocery app warehouses a short walk from my home in north London, all capitalizing on my car-free and “weekly shop” – shy cohort, who live in spaces too small to store bulk buys. Already inured to be overcharged by “local” and “express” supermarkets (which regularly demand 20 percent more, for the same products, than their larger stores), and in fact with organizing our lives from our phones, becoming reliant on grocery apps facilitating four-minute-food was inevitable.
Plus, they are genuinely useful for a range of first-world problems, like when the seven supermarkets nearby had all run out of jalapenos or the time we needed a load of heavy fizzy drinks dropped off for a party. Friends confess to using them for instant paracetamol deliveries when hungover. Over Christmas, the apps did a great line in fancy biscuits for filling gift hampers. I’ve had make-up wipes delivered at midnight and oranges arriving at 8am for breakfast. I still keep four accounts open on my phone, for when an urgent need strikes.
A £ 50 bottle of tequila is among my hardest orders to justify, I’ll admit. But the speed with which it arrived made it taste all the better.