Curbside is an app that let’s you shop on your phone from select stores, including Target and Best Buy. Employees will grab your purchases, and bring them out to your car when you arrive.
COLMA, Calif. – As the clock ticks down to Dec. 25, procrastinators and those simply short of time can turn to online retailers, including some tech start-ups, that provide nearly on-demand service.
For last minute deliveries, “Amazon is the leader of the pack,” said Greg Aimi, an e-commerce analyst with Gartner.
However, a small flotilla of startups stand at the ready to come to consumers’ aid.
In a crowded Target parking lot in Colma, just south of San Francisco, Sandra Cunanan tried out Curbside the week before Christmas.
The service allows users to order from hundreds of stores nationwide, then in two hours or so drive to the store and either pick up their purchases at a will-call desk inside or have them brought out to the curb.
“I’ve got a 4-year-old,” Cunanan said, gesturing to her son in his car seat. Most stores have far too many enticing items at grabbing level, she said.
“If I set foot inside Target, I’ll come out with something I don’t want,” said Cunanan, 38.
The experience went smoothly. Within two minutes of pulling up to the clearly-marked Curbside loading zone in front of the Target, an employee in Curbside’s distinctive blue shirt came out, checked Cunanan’s driver license against the receipt and handed over her bags.
Cunanan was on her way in less than five minutes.
“That went well,” she said. As she stashed the bags under the seat where her son couldn’t see them, she whispered, “it’s all toys.”
Curbside is available in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.
“The cost of the service is picked up by the retailer so it’s free to consumers,” CEO Jaron Waldman said.
Postmates, Amazon Prime Now
For those who don’t have time to stop by a store, there are several same-day options available.
Amazon Prime members have access to Prime Now. This offers free two-hour delivery in many large urban areas and one-hour delivery in most for $7.99. Prime memberships cost $99 a year.
Courier delivery service Postmates originally was meant to deliver ready-to-eat food using Uber-like independent contractor drivers.
At its start, about 90% of the company’s deliveries were food, but “once people use Postmates, they start to see other ways we can be used,” director of communications April Conyers said.
Now, food makes up 70% of the company’s deliveries.
To capitalize on that, this year it launched a holiday campaign featuring a daily, curated list of gifts.
People can use Postmates to buy presents in other cities and have a courier deliver them. Gift wrapping isn’t available, unless the store itself offers it, Conyers said.
There are few truly down to the wire “buy, wrap, deliver” options available, Aimi said.
Putting together that entire package “is a very challenging thing,” Aimi said. “It’s just not in place yet.”
A behind-the-scenes option is Deliv. This service uses independent contractor drivers to pick up orders at retailers and deliver to customers. It pops up as an option at participating stores when the consumer shops on the retailer’s website.
“That flexibility makes it possible to place an order as late as 1 p.m. in some areas on Dec. 24 and have it arrive that day,” Deliv CEO Daphne Carmeli said.
For those trying desperately to get a gift to someone on their list at the last minute, it’s possible to order something from a retailer near the would-be recipient and have it delivered.
However, there’s no way to order directly from Deliv, so it would take some clicking around to find the right gift at a store that offers the service. And gift wrapping isn’t available, unless the store you’re buying from already offers it.
Another last minute possibility is Uber, which is offering quick items in Chicago, San Francisco and New York City in its UberRUSH program.
The service offers a curated list of gifts for each city which can be ordered as late as Dec. 24 between 12 and 5 p.m.
Also out there is Instacart. Primarily a one-hour grocery delivery service available in 19 urban areas across the USA, it delivers from Whole Foods, Costco, Petco and many local supermarkets.
However, as the holidays loom, Instacart offers users quick-pick lists of local gifts and food items as well as an assortment of gifts for pets. The company’s contract-worker drivers deliver from 9 a.m. to midnight every day.
Not common, yet
Truth be told, the number of people looking to buy and have presents delivered in the 11th hour before Christmas is still pretty small. But it’s growing.
“And there are lot of companies that are experimenting with the idea,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, principal e-business strategist for Forrester.
“We’re not used to it yet,” she said “But I could see how that could completely shift the way we buy.”
So far, at least Postmates finds that as Christmas draws near, people aren’t’ so much buying gifts as the things that go with gifts.
“It’s often decorations or wrapping paper or batteries,” Conyers said.
And the day after Christmas?
“It’s all about food,” she said. “You have holiday hangover. No one wants to cook.”
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