Last week, a mysterious bottle of chili lime hot sauce appeared on my co-worker's desk. It was clear we needed fried chicken to go with it, he said. Too bad there isn't any good fried chicken nearby, he moaned.
As if that mattered.
Within minutes I had pulled up a handful of on-demand delivery apps in San Francisco that would drive delicious breaded poultry parts right to my office: Postmates, Grubhub, Seamless, UberEats and DoorDash.
You must be thinking, "Congratulations, Rebecca. You just solved a first world problem by throwing a little money at it." And you're not wrong. But on-demand services aren't just solving my personal, trivial problems.
They're giving urbanites time, flexibility and choice. Heck, some of these services can even save you money (more on that later).
For parents, farming out the midweek trip to the store might mean an extra hour playing with the kids. Or maybe it's the difference between going on that jog, or bonding with your honey in front of Netflix -- or not.
On-demand services have evolved past food delivery and need-it-now cabs. Investors are pouring serious money into these apps, hoping to revolutionize any number of industries needing a technology boost. Whether that's buying insurance, booking child- and eldercare, or sending a hairstylist to your home, startups are bringing us solutions to problems we weren't even aware we had. Even Delta Airlines launched an on-demand helicopter service this past month, adding to the growing list of on-demand services tailored for the super wealthy.
On-demand services are having a moment, and we all get to benefit.
No, honestly, how did we ever live without them?
I used to dedicate an entire Sunday to washing and folding my laundry. Now, there's Rinse, an on-demand laundry and dry-cleaning service. If I wanted help moving, I had to offer copious amounts of beer to my three strongest friends. Now there's Lugg, an on-demand moving service. And, god forbid, if I wanted a cab at midnight, I had to call a number and hope they'd show up within an hour. Now there's Lyft, and a ride is never more than 10 minutes away.
These services exist because the 20th century made huge strides in trying to simplify errands, chores and menial tasks. Yes, innovations in technology allowed for such progress (honestly, go hug your vacuum), but there was also an enormous social demand to buy us all more free time. Who wants to spend every night sweeping and hemming trousers when live music, gyms and movie theaters call?
On-demand services feed that desire to free up more quality time, especially since I don't need a long-term servant or housekeeper. I just want a little extra help once in awhile.
And as we've come to find out with services like Task Rabbit, there are plenty of people willing and able to do case-by-case errands for a price. On-demand apps simply give customers and service providers an easy way to connect. I may not be able to single-handedly hang a shelf on the wall, but someone within a few blocks of me will be happy to help for $20.
All the sweet benefits
The debate continues on whether these on-demand services are profitable in the long term or not. Plenty of them come and go within a year, and living in Silicon Valley, the tech capital of America, I have found myself becoming a human guinea pig for many of them. (RIP Fluc, and your terrible name.)
Still, the demand exists because of all the amazing benefits. The big one for me is the ability to outsource something that I hate to do: driving in a major city, let's say to the supermarket. I painfully remember all the passive-aggressive fights I've had in a grocery store parking lot because someone forgot to get the parking ticket validated. With grocery delivery service Instacart, the hassle is gone.
Ride-hailing services that can ferry you door-to-door also mean fewer cars on the road. For some, the ease of getting around and getting what you need is an extra incentive to permanently ditch their wheels.
On-demand services are also bringing competition to stagnant industries and improving customer service. I generally have very positive experiences with Lyft and Uber drivers (more so than with a traditional taxi) -- though of course, Uber and Lyft drivers have come under fire.
Meanwhile, my last cab driver spent the entire ride picking his teeth with a toothpick and sucking on it loudly, while driving like a maniac and asking me incessantly for directions. No, thanks.
Some services also aim to cut costs through collective buying power. MealPal, which is sort of like a college meal plan for local restaurants, can get customers lunches for around $6 per meal and saves you the aggravation of waiting in lines. Considering the average lunch in my neck of the woods can range anywhere from $8 to $16, this is a new service my wallet appreciates.
People talk about how the internet connects us globally, but I'm just excited by how connected I've become locally. I'm trying new places and I'm doing more in my own community because of the free time these on-demand services have given me.
I don't know if I'll ever try Delta's fancy helicopter service, but it's nice to know that it's an option.
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