The Pandemic Helped Grow Food Delivery Apps. Now, They’re Innovating to Keep Customers

DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats and Postmates are battling for consumer loyalty

The four biggest competitors in the food delivery space are finding their own ways to connect with customers. Ubereats, Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates

Key Insights:

Amid an influx of online orders amid the pandemic, food delivery services are booming. The industry’s top competitors are fighting for the attention of customers, and have begun to utilize acquisitions, promotions and diversified services to combine forces and carve out larger portions of the market.

The past few months have been boom times for all of the major players: DoorDash, GrubHub (recently acquired by Just Eat Takeaway) and Uber Eats, which just acquired Postmates. According to studies from InMobi Marketing Cloud, 17% of Americans—and 28% of millennials—increased their food takeout and delivery ordering between February and May.

Breaking it down by the four titans:

  • DoorDash app installs rose by 53% in February, followed by a 29% rise in the first three weeks of March. The brand then had a dramatic spike in sales in mid-to-late March.
  • GrubHub app installs rose by 54% in February, and 29% in the first three weeks of March.
  • Uber Eats app installs rose by 30% in the first three weeks of March.
  • Postmates app installs rose by 64% in February and 39% in the first three weeks of March.
Third-Party Food Delivery Trends from InMobi Marketing Cloud

Why did some apps do better than others?

When the pandemic hit, Uber Eats and GrubHub sheltered in place with the rest of America, and didn’t engage much in advertising, while Postmates and DoorDash took a different approach.

Postmates’ delivery services already went beyond just restaurants, also offering groceries, alcohol and office supplies. Families didn’t want to leave their homes to shop, so Postmates pushed this angle, and when it supplemented its offering with contactless delivery in mid-March, app installs jumped significantly.

Greg Archibald, senior vice president of media at InMobi North America, believes this success, coupled with the brand’s ability to offer diversified products, placed it in a much more favorable position to be acquired by Uber Eats.

The food delivery space operates on razor-thin margins,” he said. “The ability to use acquisitions as a way to drive operational efficiency just makes sense, and this allows Uber Eats to break into new demographics and geographies.” 

DoorDash also stepped up quickly after the pandemic hit, launching its “Open for Delivery” campaign in mid-to-late March to encourage customers to support their local restaurants, and led to an incredible spike in delivery orders through the app.

Jeremy Huber, head of audience intelligence North America for InMobi, said that campaign was key to the brand’s success.

“DoorDash was always ahead of the competition,” Huber said. “But once this campaign launched, we’ve seen the brand extend its lead over others in the space day-over-day, month-over-month.”

What’s next for food delivery services?

InMobi has reported a 5% rise month-over-month in the general population ordering groceries and food delivery online since the pandemic began. While this growth has recently begun to level off, Huber doesn’t see it dropping down anytime soon, especially as Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise in some parts of the country, with the potential for a second wave in recovering areas, as well as cold and flu season.

“Now there’s a playbook,” Huber pointed out. “When the pandemic originally hit, nobody, brands or consumers, knew what to do. Now there’s more comfort using delivery services.”

This comfort aligns with findings from the World Health Organization that there is no evidence of food packaging spreading Covid-19.

Archibald believes comfort in ordering through food delivery apps will stick.

“This time has made people shift in ways that are going to change how the space operates forever,” he saud. “Ordering food online has become a habit for consumers, and it isn’t leaving.”

Brands will also be able to operate better during future crises based on what they’ve learned over the past few months. “The companies that did nothing learned from the success of DoorDash and Postmates,” Huber said.

How will brands continue to distinguish themselves?

Archibald doubts consumers will ever be exclusively loyal to one food delivery service, especially since many offer the same products from the same restaurants. The key is offering the best deals and services to keep users coming back.

Apps that offer diversified services and consistent promotions are going to win,” Archibald said. 

Brands are taking note. Many are partnering with restaurants: DoorDash teamed up with Chick-fil-A; GrubHub partnered with Taco Bell; and Starbucks delivers exclusively through Uber Eats.

They’re also utilizing subscription services. DoorDash’s DashPass, Postmates Unlimited and GrubHub Plus are all paid subscriptions that include free deliveries from eligible restaurants.

Uber Eats signed partnerships with Chipotle across the U.S. and Canada, as well as Dunkin’ and Shake Shack. It also partnered with Carrefour, Sysco and Shell to enable grocery and convenience stores to sell essentials through the app. This coincided with a 14% overall increase in online grocery ordering in May.

Delivery services have also begun focusing on enhancing the customer experience. DoorDash is creating virtual backgrounds and playlists to make customers feel like they’re at a restaurant.

These capabilities and operational efficiencies may grow as brands continue to team up through acquisitions. The technology used for in-app purchasing also allows brands to connect purchases to the end consumer, which could be great leverage for food delivery services.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if food delivery companies began to explore how they can leverage this data to CPG brands,” Archibald said. “They could allow marketers to better engage with consumers.”

But there may soon be changes to the way food delivery service apps are regulated. After reports from around the country that the platforms take an abnormally large portion of profits from restaurants in delivery commissions, processing fees, and promotions, some states are fighting back.

The City of Portland, Ore., recently voted to limit the amount third-party delivery services may charge restaurants to 10% during the pandemic. New York City, Seattle and Washington, D.C. capped the fees at 15%.

The food delivery space is a complicated one, filled with clashing competitors, thin margins and a constant effort to claim loyal customers. As such services are poised to accelerate, the way consumers buy food will continue to evolve.

Kaila is a graduating senior at Villanova University pursuing a degree in PR & Advertising and Journalism. She is currently working as the Social Media Manager for CLLCTVE, and covers brand marketing and retail stories as a contributor for Adweek.