How Uber Eats looks to conquer grocery delivery with fresh innovation

Uber Eats introduced grocery into its app just four years ago and in that time it has expanded the offer to 33 countries.

With a shift in demand for rapid grocery delivery services since the pandemic, the firm is turning to innovation in a bid to be the provider of choice in an ever competitive market.

Currently, around 40% of its orders are in grocery, which Uber global head of grocery and retail Susan Anderson says is “still growing fast”.

It’s no longer just impulse products that consumers are after via the home delivery service, but “increasingly a full shop, a lot of fresh food, and buying the food they want to eat today”.

However, Anderson adds that in order to retain customers, Uber Eats has to “invest a lot in technology”, which senior director of product management Therese Lim says “will help increase the reliability, accuracy as well as the overall quality of the shopping experience for customers on the platform”.

Driving in-app innovation

The rapid delivery firm has unveiled a raft of new features which together, look to build a “truly effortless” shopping experience.

This includes ‘courier pick and pack’ which will see customers’ orders matched with an Uber Eats driver who – after accepting – is directed to the store where an app will guide them to find the right items.

The app will help the courier suggest replacements if an item is out-of-stock, communicate with the customer, and check out using a pre-authorised payment method before delivering the items.

The couriers will also be given the exact aisle and shelf location of the items that they’re supposed to be picking to get around much faster under the firm’s new ‘aisle indexing’ feature.

Anderson says this is “a really great way for retailers to be able to offer online delivery without them necessarily having to provide the staff to do that themselves”.

As well as the courier pick and pack service giving customers “access to more stores than ever before,” according to Lim, Uber Eats is also looking to improve the user experience with ‘active order adjustments’, which will allow shoppers to easily edit their orders after they have been placed, until the courier checks out at the store.

While the aim is to create a more efficient shopping experience, the changes bring questions of whether it could instead hinder in-store shopping for supermarket customers by creating a busier destination.

However, Anderson affirms that Uber Eats works “really closely” with store managers in order to limit this, providing messages in the app around what’s needed.

“Typically our couriers are just customers who live in the same neighbourhood and they’re just doing a shop. It’s the same behaviour in a lot of ways to the customers who are walking in and I think in a lot of cases, I’m not sure people would actually know who is a courier versus who is a customer.”

Lim adds: “We’ve invested in efficient picking because nobody wants to be in the store for a lot longer than they really need to be. A lot of our software is geared towards finding items quickly.”

Growing in the retail space

Uber Eats, which collaborates with UK supermarkets including Waitrose, Asda, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and Co-op, says it works closely with its merchant partners.

Earlier this year, Co-op launched in-app member pricing for shoppers using the Uber Eats app, marking a first for UK supermarkets.

Co-op ecommerce director Chris Conway says: “We’ve seen the participation and membership sales grow and grow and grow on the Uber Eats platform and obviously because of that data, we’re able to demonstrate and determine the fact that these are new customers to the Co-op.

“Some of those core members that shop on Uber, just shop on Uber, and that’s the only interaction they have with a Co-op. They’ve never been in our store, they don’t shop on our website but they’re part of our organisation, they own our business and the way that we interact is very well, which is fantastic.

“Partnerships like these, they’re a vehicle for people to use Co-op – we just need to embrace that. We’re strategically aligned.”

Here depicting an Uber Eat driver passing a branded delivery bag to a Co-op staff member

Conway says that Co-op now has a number of shops where 40% of its sales come through ecommerce which is “increasing all the time”.

Sainsbury’s first began trialling a partnership with Uber Eats in 2020 and head of digital trading for on-demand, Rich Squire, says the supermarket giant has seen a shift in how its traditional bricks-and-mortar business is thinking “much more digitally” as a result of the pandemic and the growth of fast commerce.

He admits that for big companies like Sainsbury’s, embracing new technologies can be “quite challenging”.

However, he states: “The proof is in the pudding in terms of the incrementality, customer feedback and just how much now our retailers are embracing this opportunity.”

The future of rapid delivery

Looking ahead, Squire expects that fresh food will only grow in demand via rapid delivery services, like Uber Eats.

“It can be really beneficial to us that customers will buy their fresh groceries online or that big shop that will last two to three days that we can provide through our partners. A greater freshness top up will allow customers to manage their waste, manage their ingredients and the freshness of what they eat.”

Another interesting area will be “blurring between takeaway and grocery”, he says, predicting that shoppers will be comparing the price, speed and freshness of items like pizzas across the two.

“It’s going to be really interesting, the dynamic between ourselves and other parts of the high street, in terms of that share of stomach, and what we can offer and how we can really help our customers fulfil those foods missions, which are more planned these days.”

When considering how big on-demand services will become in UK grocery, Anderson says that while there’s “a long way to go”,  the grocery market is substantial.

“I continue to hear from customers that are time poor, want to eat fresh, want to do the right thing by their families, but to do it in a value for money way and so we’re going to continue to work to make it as affordable as possible in comparison to alternatives. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of trial and repeat usage when people get a great experience.”

The rapid delivery service is one that is continuing to grow and unlock new opportunities for providers and their retailer partners alike.

With a strong focus on innovation and investment in technology to improve both the user and courier experience, Uber Eats is certainly aiming to stand out from the crowd of on-demand grocery providers.

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