How food delivery businesses are operating during COVID-19

March 18, 2020

As the world struggles to slow the spread of COVID-19, some local delivery businesses are experiencing a surge in demand as more people are forced to stay at home, self-isolate, and practice social distancing.

The pandemic has disrupted travel worldwide, leading to flight cancellations, quarantines, and the closing of borders. Locally, consumers have been stocking up, clearing stores of key supplies and causing long lines and episodes of panic-buying in some areas.

In response, many of the world’s largest delivery companies have now adopted curbside or ‘contactless’ deliveries. Delivery is an easier option at a time like this — most orders can simply be left at the doorstep with no person-to-person contact required.

Such services were first offered in Wuhan, China last month, where COVID-19 first began spreading. As most of the city’s stores had closed, delivery was the only option for the local population. Now, as COVID-19 spreads across the United States, large companies like Amazon and Instacart have set up something similar with a ‘leave it at my door’ option for customers.

The move is resulting in an exponential growth in demand for home deliveries.

Last week, Instacart announced sales had surged 10x. Other grocery delivery services are also experiencing unprecedented surges, according to new data from app store intelligence firm Apptopia.

But not all delivery companies have the resources to scale up delivery operations in a flash. Many local delivery businesses are struggling to keep up with the exponential increase in demand. As a result, some customers feel they aren’t able to depend on delivery companies to get them the supplies they need quickly enough.

Here are some ways delivery businesses are coping with the new demands during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Communicate new protocols with customers, but only if absolutely necessary

Over the past two days, our inboxes have blown up with coronavirus-related memos and even promotions tied to the pandemic. Some of these messages are thoughtful and helpful, but unfortunately, some come across as opportunistic.

When you’re communicating with the public about COVID-19, make sure you’re sharing something that’s 100% useful such as a change in the delivery schedule, new rules and steps you’re taking to ensure safety and hygiene, as well as any adjustments to your return or exchange policies.

2. Offer curbside or contact-less delivery

Having delivery drivers drop off food by the curbside or doorstep is one easy way to limit person-to-person contact. You can offer this as an option or even make it the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Many companies are also instituting more stringent hygiene protocols and have stopped accepting cash. Here’s something meal prep company FreshPrep recently sent out to their customers:

  • Delivery drivers are required to use sanitizer after each delivery; clean any touchpoints in their vehicles with disinfectant wipes; are limited to accessing only the loading bay in our facility; and to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of illness.
  • Our delivery drivers are being instructed to practice no-contact delivery. This means they will limit their contact with our customers by only knocking or ringing the bell, then place delivery bags in front of your door.

3. Create a detailed response plan so your team knows what to do

While clear communication with customers is key at a time like this, internal communications within your team is equally as important.

With this in mind, online grocer SPUD has created and circulated a detailed plan that outlines what their employees need to do as the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve. The company has also formed a dedicated team to deal with the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brings.

CEO Peter van Stolk says business has tripled since last week with an influx of new customers and with people buying more items per order.  The team, he said, is working hard to find ways to fulfill the surge in demand for deliveries while making sure all employees take necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved.

”We believe the key to defeating this challenge is to act with Transparency and Trust, and understand the Facts Not the Fears. As with any public health emergency we all have a role to play and we are asking you to read the information provided, take the appropriate precautions to ensure the health of our community, families and fellow citizens," van Stolk wrote in a company-wide memo.

“It is in times like this where we all need to understand that we will get through this. These challenges will make us stronger and this disruption will not last. But we must be diligent while being sensitive to each other’s burdens in this situation. I have every confidence in all of our team members' ability to pull together as one team, focus on the critical issues and deliver a service that is so needed in our community at this time.”

To download a copy of SPUD's detailed response plan, click here.

Please feel free to re-use or re-purpose parts of it for your own delivery team.