How Services That Come to Your Door Are Coping Amid the Coronavirus

'These are certainly not times for business as usual'

delivery person and dog
Dog walking companies are urging customers who may be working from home that their pets still need to stick to their routine. Getty Images

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In recent days, businesses across every industry from major retailers to cruise lines and entire sports leagues have ceased operations to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

But while closing down comes with a whole set of problems for businesses, remaining open presents another. Especially if the core of your business involves visiting people’s homes.

Three industries in particular—food and grocery delivery, mail and package delivery, and dog walking—are attempting to find a balance between meeting demand while keeping both customers and employees healthy. It’s not an easy feat given today’s level of uncertainty and anxiety.

“In this state, people are more likely to imagine negative possibilities rather than harmless ones,” warned Collette Eccleston, senior vice president at marketing consultancy LRW.

She argued the best path forward for companies still operating in this climate is to communicate their intentions and be as transparent as possible. “Notifying consumers of actions being taken and the reasons for specific actions will go a long way,” Eccleston advised.

Food delivery is more crucial than ever

In line with Eccleston’s advice, food delivery services—like many companies across the country—are sending messages to customers related to the coronavirus. Several have begun offering a no-contact option, which creates a safe social distance between customers and delivery drivers while allowing orders to keep flowing.

Online grocery platform FreshDirect, for instance, has sent an alert to customers notifying them that “out of an abundance of caution, our delivery personnel will bring your order up to your door, but cannot enter your home at this time.” FreshDirect is also no longer collecting bags, advising customers to either reuse or recycle them.

In an email to customers, Tony Xu, CEO and co-founder of DoorDash, wrote that beyond monitoring the situation, his restaurant delivery service was “taking active measures to make sure the food that gets delivered to your home is safe and secure” by distributing hand sanitizer and gloves to delivery personnel in affected areas. Xu also stated that if customers prefer a no-contact delivery, they can request it in their delivery instructions. Otherwise, Xu noted in his letter, DoorDash was working on enhanced drop-off options in its app to make no-contact deliveries easier to enable.

Likewise, Postmates recently introduced a drop-off option, which allows customers to request that their order be left on their doorstep or in their building’s lobby.

“Community health and safety is paramount at Postmates, and we continue to issue in-app, precautionary [Centers for Disease Control] guidance with those carrying out deliveries so that they are aware of the latest preventative measures,” according to a statement Postmates provided to Adweek. “We’ve taken a number of steps to ensure our platform is safe.”

Instacart, which has seen a sharp increase in new customers since the beginning of March, has rolled out a ‘Leave at My Door Delivery’ feature. Originally, the feature was designed for customers who might not be home when their delivery arrives and limited to a subset of customers, but an increase in demand led Instacart to make it available to everyone on its platform.

Last week, more than 25% of all orders on Instacart used the Leave at My Door Delivery option, according to the company.

Uber Eats and Seamless have also instituted contact-free delivery for their services.

Packages are still being sent

With more people at home and more stores closed, Amazon is seeing a surge in people placing orders. Someone, however, still has to deliver all those boxes.

The United States Postal Service is still running, and the agency is sharing CDC guidance with its employees through stand-up meetings, news articles, messages on bulletin boards, videos and an intranet site, according to its website. Although the Postal Service has experienced “minor operational impacts,” and notes that consumers might see delays in mail sent to and from China and some parts of Europe, it has assured the public that the CDC, World Health Organization and Surgeon General have all determined that, as of now, no evidence exists showing that COVID-19 is spread through the mail.

FedEx is frequently disinfecting its delivery equipment, as well as wiping door handles, self-service copiers and counters every two to four hours at its consumer-facing office stores. The company has also relaxed its rules around requiring a signature when making a delivery.

“Whether social upheaval or a natural disaster, we are adept at implementing contingency plans at a moment’s notice, and we have the flexibility across our network to make the necessary adjustments so that we can continue providing the best service possible,” reads a statement on FedEx’s website. “It is the magnitude of the event that dictates the degree of implementation of our plans. For COVID-19, it is all hands on deck.”

The United Parcel Service has also maintained its delivery services, noting that all of its staff continue to receive guidance on how best to prevent the spread of the disease. On its website, UPS states that all customers can sign up for a program called UPS My Choice, which is aimed at addressing the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses. The feature allows users to instruct UPS drivers where to leave deliveries and when they can expect to receive them.

Dogs still need to go for walks

“As an owner of a dog walking and boarding company, we are directly impacted by the pandemic, and it feels scary,” said Tiffany Lewis, CEO of Pet and Home Care, which offers dog walking and other pet services in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C. “We need to encourage our clients to continue to use our services, and remind clients how even if they need to work from home, dogs need to stay on their regular schedule and get their walks and playtime.”

Lewis pointed out that while dog walkers don’t always have direct interaction with each other or their clients, her employees are taking extra precautions not to spread germs between homes by washing their hands frequently and not coming to work if they feel sick.

“We are trying to operate as normally as possible, but with a large portion of our clients canceling, we are naturally operating on a lower level than usual,” she said.

Similarly, pet care service platform Rover recently sent a letter to both pet owners and pet care providers stating that the company would continue to operate as usual while monitoring all developments related to the virus. The company encouraged owners, as well as sitters, walkers and groomers, to help keep the community safe by washing their hands, avoiding hand-to-face contact and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

A spokesperson for Rover told Adweek that the company will soon debut a new online content hub with safety tips and information pertaining to the virus.

Pet care app Wag sent an email to its users encouraging pet owners to limit interaction with dog walkers by communicating through the in-app chat feature and having the dog’s harness and leash on ahead of time, making for a “simple handoff.” The company also provides small lockboxes to pet owners who request them, making the exchange of household keys a no-contact situation—“essentially, a built-in social distance feature,” said a Wag spokesperson.

According to Wag, nearly 70% of its services are completed with a lockbox or hidden key.

A spokesperson for odd job marketplace TaskRabbit, which has more than 2,500 people available for pet sitting and dog walking available in its system, told Adweek that the platform has not added a no-contact policy. Like several other companies, however, TaskRabbit has also sent an email to its members offering tips to help keep its community safe and stating that it’s closely monitoring the situation.

Establish clear expectations, even if they’re less than ideal

Eccleston of LRW stressed that beyond reiterating basic CDC recommendations, such as washing one’s hands and social distancing, companies still in operation should be clear about both what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

“People are more likely to be satisfied with an outcome that is not ideal if they believe that the process leading to the outcome is fair,” Eccleston said. “In this moment, difficult decisions must be made, and some consumers will undoubtedly not get what they want or need. Transparency and fairness in the decision-making process will help to minimize consumer dissatisfaction.”

She added: “These are certainly not times for business as usual.”

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.