In an effort to increase customer loyalty while simultaneously reducing costs, aggregators are experimenting with robotic delivery. Uber has recently announced its plan to expand its existing partnership with Cartken, a sidewalk delivery robotics company, to offer autonomous fulfillment in Virginia’s Mosaic District shopping mall. This move builds on the pilot test of robotic delivery that Uber Eats and Cartken conducted in Miami and launched in December.
Noah Zych, the Head of Autonomous Mobility and Delivery at Uber, expressed his excitement about the new partnership with Cartken, stating, “Alongside our partners at Cartken, we’re thrilled to work with Mosaic’s outstanding merchants to serve such a vibrant community of diners, shoppers, and residents. With our shared passion for innovative urban design, sustainability, and technology, we believe that robot delivery with Uber Eats is a great fit for Fairfax consumers looking for a fun and convenient way to grab their next meal.”
Uber Eats is not the only aggregator looking to automate the delivery process. In November, DoorDash, the leading aggregator in the United States, announced that it is experimenting with automated drop-off in Australia in partnership with Google’s drone delivery subsidiary, Wing. Additionally, in October, Grubhub announced its collaboration with Starship Technologies, an autonomous delivery services provider, to offer robot fulfillment via sidewalk rover at U.S. college campuses.
These developments come as aggregators aim to lower the cost of delivery to improve their margins while also making delivery more affordable for consumers. PYMNTS’ February study, “Connected Dining: Rising Costs Push Consumers Toward Pickup,” revealed that nearly half of all United States consumers (48%) are more likely to pick up their restaurant orders themselves than have them delivered because of inflation.
Tony Xu, the CEO of DoorDash, stated in the company’s most recent earnings call that keeping costs down is a top priority for aggregators. “On the affordability side, we’ve taken down transaction costs for consumers by about 8% in the past year, and we’re always trying to drive this down,” Xu said. “When it comes to affordability, certainly, DashPass [the aggregator’s delivery subscription] has been a big driver, but at the same time, we’re working on quite a lot of other initiatives as well to make sure that we can keep making the service more and more affordable.”
Several restaurants are also experimenting with robotic delivery. Charleys Philly Steaks, a cheesesteak chain with more than 700 locations across 17 countries, has partnered with drone delivery company Flytrex to bring items to consumers’ front yards or backyards in Durham, North Carolina. Chick-fil-A has also begun testing autonomous fulfillment, working with autonomous robot delivery company Refraction in downtown Austin, Texas.
Ali Kashani, the co-founder and CEO of robotic delivery company Serve, explained in an interview with PYMNTS that even as these sorts of robotic deliveries become more widespread, it will take time to overcome resistance to the new technology. “There’s [a] ton of demand already,” he said. “…It’s just a matter of time. It’s just patience. You have to go through this process, put the robots out, take care of the integrations, go through the manufacturing of more robots. It takes time to engage regulators, engage customers… There’s an education component, making sure people understand why this exists, why it needs to exist.”