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The many delivery businesses that have sprouted up in the past few years make no sense financially and could be turning us into monsters.
I’m talking about app-based companies including Uber, DoorDash, Gopuff and many more around the world. They aim to bring us groceries, pre-cooked meals, cleaning supplies, a barrel of beer or a trip across town – all better, faster and cheaper than the traditional way. we always do.
I’ve tried to be open about these app companies. They are the logical next step in our consumer culture, and they create new kinds of jobs. Delivering anything under the sun can put Amazon’s power in the hands of local businesses and preserve what we like about Main Street with handy 21st-century knobs.
But any bit of my optimism is fading. These app distribution services are at best an economic illusion and at worst add to the misery by making it too easy to ignore their real costs – financial, human and community – in the name of convenience.
For years, my question about companies like Uber was… how? How does it make sense to take a 20-minute trip through San Francisco for the price of a sandwich? How could an app connect me to a courier and a local restaurant and get a burger delivered to what appeared to be peanuts?
The answer in many cases is that it makes no sense. Uber started in business in 2009, and so far, the company has spent so much money to maintain its popularity that it burns 14 cents in cash for every dollar of revenue. That’s not what sane businesses do, and it’s an improvement on Uber. Food delivery companies in the United States are also mostly unprofitable.
As my colleague Kevin Roose wrote in June, fledgling app-based companies built for consumer convenience are no longer a luxury to spend cash in stupid ways. Most of these companies are now trying to buy out competitors, raise prices or squeeze restaurants or restaurants for better terms. Or they are hoping that companies’ economies will be less affected as they supply a wider variety of goods and larger orders. Sure, these tactics can work in some places and some times. Or they may not.
More recently, delivery companies make even less meaningful sprouted everywhere. In 2015, Uber rides seemed unbelievably cheap, but now companies like Gopuff, Dija, Getir, and Jokr – I’ve been opposed to spellchecking with these names – promise to deliver one jar and condom in 10 minutes or less.
These companies operate like little 7-Elevens, except they collect the cost of buying the product and sending a man on a scooter to your home. This can make sense if people pay for the privilege of skipping the store, but the fees or markup on the product is relatively minimal. How?
Two answers: They are subsidized by eager investment companies – now, like Uber and others for many years. And, like other app-based delivery services, they pay for themselves in part by squeezing more from the least powerful in the transaction.
A series of articles this week from Rest of World, and an investigation from The Verge and New York Magazine, paint the picture of impossible requirements for delivery workers for a multitude of services. application based.
Low-wage work is always precarious, and the richer people benefit from it in the form of cheaper products and services. But application transporters are forced to constantly do more, faster and for less money or don’t favor the computer programs that deliver the best jobs.
It is possible that this work can be improved, voluntary or forced. And it’s possible that labor shortages and demand for couriers could force app companies to improve working conditions.
I fear that the most important innovation of these applications is obscuring the true cost of convenience. We are learning to expect things to be quick and easy and not think about the damage people and our communities have to bear.
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Before we go…
Each of these words broke my heart: My colleagues Ryan Mac and Sheera Frenkel reported on a Facebook initiative to spread pro-Facebook disinformation in people’s post streams, keeping Mark Zuckerberg away from scandals and practice. Take other steps to improve the company’s image in the eyes of Facebook users.
Barcelona is the white center of Airbnb rage: Paige McClanahan tracks why so many residents and city officials are angry with Airbnb rentals and what the new ban on short-term rentals means for providers service at home on site.
You will come back to that online article, maybe: THERE IS A LOT OF EMPLOYEES READING AND WATCHING ONLINE. The protocol writes about new apps trying – like many before – to help us find the best content on the internet, save it, and come back at the right time.
It’s the first day of autumn for us in the Northern Hemisphere. Let’s all take a moment to look at big and beautiful harvest moon.
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