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Toronto-based JoeyCo Inc. sends its freelance couriers around the city picking up and dropping off items. From left are three of its co-founders, President Abir Rais, chief technology officer Samer Ziade and CEO Inaam Shah of JoeyCo are photographed at the company's offices in Toronto (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)
Toronto-based JoeyCo Inc. sends its freelance couriers around the city picking up and dropping off items. From left are three of its co-founders, President Abir Rais, chief technology officer Samer Ziade and CEO Inaam Shah of JoeyCo are photographed at the company's offices in Toronto (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)

BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS

Can small businesses benefit from same-day delivery? Add to ...

Beating the crowds on Christmas Eve looking for one last gift? No thanks. There’s a same-day delivery app for that.

In this age of instant gratification, monolithic retailers such as Amazon, Google and Wal-Mart are getting into the convenience game. Shoppers in select cities can order an item online and have it delivered the same day.

In some cases, as with Amazon’s Prime Now, available in some parts of the United States, items are delivered in one hour. The service could be a precursor to the company’s drone delivery system, which promises goods on your doorstep in 30 minutes or less, some day.

What’s next? Yesterday delivery?

“Same-day shipping is mind-boggling,” concedes Amanda Cormier, director of public affairs and communications for the Toronto-based Supply Chain Management Association. “That you can go online and within a few hours time have your product, I think that’s outrageous.”

Yet what sounds like a godsend for time-starved millennials and parents with young children – the two groups most likely to use same-day delivery, according to a recent Coldwell Banker survey in the United States – not everyone is excited about lightning-speed dropoffs, because with speed comes stepped-up competition.

Vancouver-based e-tailer SHOEme.ca recently launched same day service in Vancouver and Toronto, with plans to expand into Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal and Calgary by year’s end. Now many small- and medium-sized businesses are wondering whether same-day delivery could possibly deliver the goods for them, too.

Infrastructure is the major hurdle. Amazon and its ilk have the means to build large warehouses near urban centres needed to guarantee the service. Companies that want to offer same day delivery require an intricate supply chain, customer support and complex e-commerce software. Not exactly something the average mom and pop has access to.

Enter a handful of companies ready to help small- and medium-sized businesses offer speedy delivery options. Hubbub Deliveries Ltd. in Britain says it can deliver dinnertime ingredients from local butchers, bakeries and fishmongers. Dropoff Inc. helps retailers deliver items quickly in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In April, InstaBuggy rolled out a pilot program in downtown Toronto with grocery retailer FreshCo, allowing customers to buy groceries online and have them delivered to their home or office an hour later.

“These new companies are a nice solution for the retailers that lack the know-how,” says Ms. Cormier.

Even Uber is getting into the game, adapting its ride-sharing platform. It is anticipated to unveil the initiative this fall in New York City, though a quick Google search reveals that the company quietly tried out the concept in Washington, D.C., in August of 2014. Through the Uber app, users could pick from a selection of “Uber Essentials.” Think a folding snow shovel for $20 (U.S.), Doritos Cool Ranch Chips for a buck, and a 12-pack of Trojan Sensations condoms for $11.

Most of these efforts are local services running in a small number of locales, although many hope to expand to a doorbell near you.

That’s JoeyCo Inc.’s plan. The Toronto-based startup, which launched in 2014, sends its freelance couriers (they call them Joeys) around the city picking up and dropping off items within the hour on bicycle, scooter or vehicle. Inaam Shah, co-founder and chief executive officer, says the company keeps more than 300 Joeys in its database but has about 65 in circulation on any given day. Delivery charges start at $5 and clients can communicate with their Joey via the app.

Mr. Shah says they’ve built their platform to be easily integrated with stores’ sales systems. “If they’ve got a website with a shopping cart, they can have JoeyCo as an option to deliver,” he says.

That’s great for smaller companies that want to stay focused on their core business, Ms. Cormier says. But with big opportunities come big risks. If the software doesn’t work, or the courier drops the ball (or the box of fine china), it’s not the delivery company that will take the blame but the retailer.

Small businesses must do their homework before taking the leap with a same-day service: “It’s about managing your supplier relationships and building trust,” she says. “They’re your partners.”

Although such deliveries are supposed to seem easy and convenient for the customer, some items can be a royal pain. Mr. Shah remembers the time a bakery asked that a multilayer cake be delivered quickly to a wedding reception. To build trust and prove that the cake arrived in one piece, his team snapped a photo when they picked it up and another when the cake was in place.

Wayne Parent, president of the nutrition and supplement company Nutrition House Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont., is hoping that companies like JoeyCo will help his business stay competitive with the Amazons. When clients have run out of their daily vitamins or supplements and can’t make it to a store, they don’t want to wait three, five or 10 days for a shipment to arrive. They want it now.

“There’s a premium price, but if someone is time-crunched – which many people are – they can have their product quickly,” he says. “We’re getting dragged along [into same-day delivery] kicking and biting, but retailers have to change.”

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