Just how fast do you need a copy of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club? Within half an hour, hopes WH Smith, which today announced a 10-store trial with delivery platform Deliveroo.
Along with “bestselling books”, the retailer is offering a range of 600 products which will arrive “in as little as 20 minutes” including stationery, home office products and toys.
With home working a sticky trend of the pandemic – in January, 36% of working adults reported having worked from home at least once in the last seven days, according to the ONS – stationery delivered to the door seems, at first glance, like a sensible offering.
But unlike hunger, which humans are innately driven to satiate as soon as feasible, just how quickly do you really need a notebook?
Some products in WH Smith’s considerable range might fall into the emergency category, where every minute counts. A birthday card when you’ve forgotten, sure. A phone charger cable when yours has busted and you’ve only 10% battery left, maybe. Or, at a push, a GCSE AQA exam practice workbook, if there’s a big test looming in the morning.
But Apple AirPods? David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny Strikes Again? A lever arch file? There can’t be many people who wake up hungover with a craving for paperwork, or whose Friday night just isn’t the same without firing up the home printer.
Most of that can wait until tomorrow. WH Smith already has a decent e-commerce offering, which in the financial year ended August increased sales above targets. Or else there’s Amazon.com with formidable pricing, range and delivery speed.
But on the other hand, why wait? If you realise you need it now, why not have it now?
Having made us accustomed to our favourite food arriving within an hour (or even less with rapid grocery), Deliveroo et al will be hoping to bring those raised expectations to all goods, not just edible ones.
The partnership “will further increase the choice and selection of on-demand convenience products for our consumers” said Carlo Mocci, chief business officer, UK&I at Deliveroo today.
The definition of an “on-demand convenience product” is broadening daily. Deliveroo has partnerships with Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots, delivering medicines and beauty products. Uber Eats in November signed a deal with Currys, offering delivery of a range of 1,800 tech items including headphones, laptops and chargers from 15 London stores. And in February last year, Uber Eats partnered with toy-maker Hasbro to launch a short-lived, dedicated board games store.
Last summer Screwfix launched a one-hour delivery service called Screwfix Sprint. As CEO John Mewett explained: “For many, time is money, and this means not having to leave site to collect a part, tool or other key essential needed for the job.”
Hot food makes sense to be delivered fast. Groceries followed and its quick fulfilment is now the norm. It’s probably only natural that other categories follow suit, even geometry sets.
As analyst Brittain Ladd predicts, takeaway couriers and the emerging rapid grocery players “will pivot and become ‘real time retail delivery’ players capable of making deliveries across different categories, instead of only being focused on groceries. Quick commerce across all categories is a must-have.
“I anticipate consumers will soon begin to ask why they can receive their groceries in 15 minutes but they can’t receive a handbag, cosmetics, apparel, shoes, electronics, and so on in 15 minutes,” he adds.
Indeed a survey this month by GlobalData found 24.9% of rapid-delivery users would like to see much greater category choice on the platforms. However, “whether there is real demand for stationery and books through rapid-delivery services remains to be seen” said analyst Kunaal Shah.
Everything in retail delivery seems unnecessarily fast, until consumers simply expect it.