The Heroes of Our Times
Posted September 10, 2021
After yesterday’s angry screed, following the president’s unscientific and draconian edict on vaccines, and the wake of Janet Yellen’s announcement that the US could default on the national debt as soon as October, can we visit a happier topic?
You can file this discussion under the category of “we will survive.”
The occasion was a knock on my door last night. It was the delivery guy, not an Amazon or UPS person with whom we are all familiar. This is a local service, from a grocery store. He brought over a single item I needed, but had no time to go get.
I’ve never used this service before. Probably it is generational. It feels too much like privilege. If I can’t be bothered to hop into a physical store, what does that say about me? Plus, I would rather save the $7 by hopping in the car, if only to get out of the house and look around.
For many younger people, delivery services are just the way they live. They get everything delivered. I recall a few years ago when a friend bragged that he could make a burrito appear on his desk in 15 minutes merely by touching his watch. I didn’t believe it. He proved it. Amazing.
Especially during Covid lockdowns, these services really took off, and now they have formed a habit on the part of millions. Good for the companies that saw the opportunity and jumped on it! Here is the very essence of the best part of capitalism: service to others. Yes, it spoils us, but it is the best system yet invented to meet human material needs.
This man who came to my door works for DoorDash (DASH), the stock of which has enjoyed some ups and downs since going public earlier this year, but has generally done well. It is an impressive third-party service with which many other services connect.
The private-for-now service called Drizly, for example, somehow figured out how to navigate strict liquor laws to link to many local stores, and then they in turn contract with service deliveries like DoorDash to get that bottle to your door within an hour or two. Absolutely brilliant! Just think about that for a moment. Liquor is so important to people in this country — probably far too important — that not even the government closed them during Covid lockdowns. I spoke to a person at the health department about why. They said that denying people their alcohol would lead to a much worse public health calamity than anything caused by a pandemic. She said they fear violence in the streets.
The USA today: you can shut the churches, but shutting liquor stores and pot shops is absolutely unthinkable.
The man who delivered my groceries — ok I need to stop right there and admit something. I lied earlier. I was getting a bottle of liquor delivered. Probably you already figured that out. In any case, I feel better now. On with the story.
The man who delivered my groceries had a few minutes to spare but not that many. I spoke to him about his life and work. He wakes very early every day and delivers for UPS. After that job is done, he grabs his car and signs into his DoorDash app and starts hustling those deliveries too, working through the dinner hour and sometimes late into the evening. He does this 7 days a week, racking up as many hours as possible and collecting as many tips as possible. It’s a true inspiration!
The Delivery Business
When Amazon first spoke about developing their own version of UPS with trucks and drivers, I thought the idea too wildly ambitious. Now those trucks are all over the place. The company found that internalizing the costs of delivery was more efficient than working with a third party. One might assume that it would be impossible to complete with UPS and the Post Office, but somehow Amazon figured it out. It’s “Flex” program is recruiting drivers away from Uber and Lyfte on a daily basis, boosting wages for drivers in ways that no state-level mandates have achieved.
This truly has become delivery nation. The market itself has figured out a way to take those idle resources of millions of cars and drivers out there and make some good use out of them.
Quietly but importantly, last-mile delivery services have dramatically changed American retail commerce. Both Postmates and Instacart are private, with no public stock listing yet, but surely that is coming. These companies are competing for every possible delivery service, along with drivers and cars. Target is following Amazon and starting its own service called Shipt. Walmart too is getting into the business with GoLocal, which is taking direct aim at Amazon. It intends to have its own trucks and drivers too.
A strong incentive for innovating in last-mile home delivery is simply supply and demand. All the conventional services of the past are at capacity. To get the customer the level of service that is expected in a highly competitive environment, the answer seems to be to do it internally.
Your Meals Delivered
In the same vein, you might have noticed that fewer people know how to cook these days. Check out most anyone under the age of 30 in the kitchen; it’s a disaster. On the other hand, capitalism has again come to the rescue with these public companies: Grubhub (GRUB), Just Eat Takeaway (TKAYY), Walmart (WMT), Papa Johns (PZZA), Blue Apron (APRN), and HelloFresh (HLFFF). Again, the experience here is completely beyond me (I like to cook) but it is massively popular and certainly has a bright future.
The world is such a disaster these days that sometimes it is helpful and hopeful to look at the many ways in which creative people can figure out how to cobble together a civilized life, despite everything.
So long as the dollar survives, and even if it doesn’t and comes to be replaced by cryptocurrency, there will be people out there anxious to use every means to make sure that life can continue in a viable way.
As my delivery guy left, I tipped him well, and thanked him for his service. In times when governments are working overtime to wreck life as we know it, these people deserve all our respect and appreciation.
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