Crowdsourcing apps aim to fill gaps in delivery supply chains

As the coronavirus pandemic creates a shopping frenzy for toilet paper, water and food, crowdsourcing delivery apps aim to meet the increased demand.

With restaurants across the nation closed and “social distancing” mandates in place, people have flocked to online shopping for everything from groceries and medical supplies to home goods.

Roadie founder and CEO Marc Gorlin said “volume has gone bananas” and “is off the charts” since mid-March. 

The Roadie app acts as a marketplace between people who want to send or receive an item quickly and drivers who are “already heading that way.” It is an app designed to let drivers monetize their daily commute or local drive.

“We are seeing massive increases in delivery in all kinds of spaces, including grocery, pharmacy and home improvement,” Gorlin told FreightWaves. “Walmart’s doing a great job of getting customers their groceries.”

Roadie drivers have been busy delivering goods including groceries, medical prescriptions, medical supplies, home goods and more, Gorlin said.

Atlanta-based Roadie is available in more than 11,000 cities across the U.S. It has a crowdsourced network of more than 150,000 drivers. 

The company began working with Walmart last year to offer customers same-day grocery delivery.

“The cool thing that we’re seeing with Roadie is the delivery times and the number of engaged drivers is actually getting better,” Gorlin said. “As more and more volume comes into the system, in some ways, it’s like a Cyber Monday on steroids. We’ve seen massive jumps in volume across the board, and we haven’t really had a whole lot of issues with it.”

Amazon, the nation’s largest online retailer, also said it is seeing an increased number of online orders for groceries. Like Roadie, Amazon Flex also hires drivers to deliver packages to people’s doorstep.

“We’ve seen a large increase in people shopping online for groceries through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. We’re also increasing capacity for delivery and pickup options — and working around the clock with suppliers to get the items we know customers need back in stock,” Amazon said in a statement.

Online food ordering and delivery platform Uber Eats has reportedly seen a 10% surge in business since mid-March, according to a report from news outlet The Information.

Uber Eats, along with other food delivery platforms Grubhub, Postmates and DoorDash, have all recently announced protocols to keep drivers and customers safe.

“We’re changing the default delivery method to a no-contact option to minimize contact between Dashers and customers,” Tony Xu, DoorDash’s co-founder and CEO, wrote in a blog. “With this update, ‘Leave it at my door’ will be the default drop-off option.”

Gorlin said he sees the coronavirus pandemic changing the way companies think about their supply chains. He envisions companies seeing crowdsourcing apps like Roadie as another delivery option.

In addition to working with Walmart, Roadie partners with Home Depot to offer same-day delivery. Delta Airlines also uses Roadie’s drivers to reunite delayed baggage with its owners. 

“I think people are going to realize that there are major advantages to crowdsourcing that they’re not getting with their own fixed-asset or other courier-type companies with just an app slapped in front,” Gorlin said. “The crowdsource people are going everywhere. We deliver for up to 70 miles regularly for some people and it’s not a big deal.”

Gorlin said the key to crowdsourcing’s success is the “distributed workforce,” a term used to describe a workforce outside of a traditional office environment.

“The key to understanding what makes us powerful and amazing is that the distributed workforce is way more powerful,” Gorlin said. “You’re not having single points of failure, because you are able to do this across all geographies, across all sorts of designs, product types that can go into the business. And the net result of it is it makes businesses more resilient.”