A Complicated Lunch


Realtime concierge services are growing in popularity in urban cities. I live in San Francisco where there are already a number of “get this thing for me now” services including: Postmates, Magic and Fetch. In their own unique way each promises to save you time and simplify the mundane aspects of consumption such as going somewhere to pick up your order and/or searching for the best price.

Different Services, Different Strengths

Postmates is optimized for ordering local food to be delivered now. Magic is optimized for ordering whatever you want via a text message. Fetch is optimized for describing what you need and having a personal buying assistant find the best price.

Let’s try them out: Bring me Chinese food

I decided to see how each of these services would perform against one another. I placed a relatively simple, yet time sensitive request: deliver lunch to my office from Z&Y. I asked four friends for help. One served as the master timekeeper and the other three coordinated with their respective delivery services. Everyone placed their order and hit send at the same time.

How it worked out…

Upon hitting order from the Postmates iOS app they immediately solicited their drivers. A few minutes later we were provided with an estimate for delivery and shown who and where they were. The driver arrived 31 minutes later. Unfortunately, we ordered mongolian beef and it was missing. We called Postmates and they sent another delivery person with it 39 minutes later. It took Postmates 1 hour and 10 minutes to deliver the lunch we ordered.

Magic was sent a text message with the restaurant details, lunch order and the delivery address. It took nearly a dozen text exchanges over the course of an hour before they solicited us to make payment via a secure URL. Once we made payment we had no idea when the order would arrive. After paying they immediately sent us a new VIP phone number to use to talk with them which was a bit confusing since we were sorta mid-order. It took Magic 1 hour and 58 minutes to deliver the lunch we ordered. The order from Magic arrived via a Postmates delivery person.

Fetch was sent a text message with the restaurant details, lunch order and the delivery address via their native iOS apps messaging system. The message appeared to be truncated and it was unclear if they received everything. They wrote back in two minutes saying they would look into it and provide an update within one hour. After 45 minutes we sent a message asking for an update, at which point they said they would have an estimate soon. After more prodding they informed us they could not find any delivery services who could bring us the order, and instead offered to quote a price for pickup. We wrote back informing them that Postmates routinely delivers to us. They said Postmates would only accept deliveries to the location of the phone where Postmates was being used and they were located outside of SF. We suggested calling Postmates and this seemed to work. After some more back and forth regarding the order — it turns out one item was seasonal and not available — we were underway…at this point were were nearly two hours in. It took Fetch 3 hours and 25 minutes to deliver the lunch we ordered. The order from Fetch arrived via a Postmates delivery person. While waiting for our order we received an automated email from their CEO asking to reply with thoughts on the service and whether we had any feedback. We responded nicely explaining this was a bumpy experience and 36 hours later have yet to hear back.

Pricing Details (as of Feb 25, 2015)

Postmates delivery fees start at $5 and are determined by the distance from pick-up to drop-off, and the capacity of the platform. Additionally, a 9% service fee is applied to the purchase price of your items. Tip is not required. All fees are charged to the credit card you associated with your account at sign-up. Postmates additional fees were $9.02 (they charged me $38.37 and the actual food costs were $25.35. They charged a delivery fee of $7.75 and a 5% service fee which was $1.27. I optionally tipped $4.00. Total fees were $38.37.)

Magic investigates the price and gets back to you with a total you confirm before your order is placed. There are “no hidden fees, and tip is included.” Upon placing your first order you get sent a secure URL with a link to establish a credit card with your account. They don’t state their fees but I calculated it based on the raw costs of my order vs their quotes. Magic baked in their service fee which turned out to be 2.5x the price of my order (they charged me $45 and the actual food costs were $21.95. They made $23.05 on this order.) 

Fetch also investigates the price and gets back to you with a total you confirm before your order is placed. They also don’t state their fees but I calculated it based on the raw costs of my order vs their quotes. Fetch baked in a % service fee (they charged me $25.43 and the actual food costs were $14.45. “Shipping” was $7.75 and they gave us 5% off.) It appears that Fetch is currently undercutting Postmates. Throughout my Fetch conversations I received push notifications from the application as well as SMS messages. While not a huge deal I also received duplicate, identical SMS messages.

Bonus Round: Get me a cheap flight to Vegas

The food delivery test was unfair. Postmates has been around the longest, is very well funded, has their own delivery staff, is a outsourced supplier for Fetch and Magic, and is pretty much designed for the primary purpose of delivering food. They had a lot of advantages.

I figured I would see how Magic and Fetch do with helping to book airfare. I reached out to both at the same time, “Can you help me find the cheapest 1-way, non-stop flight to Las Vegas tonight anytime after 7pm from SFO? I don’t have an airline preference.”

Magic responded to my request in 16 minutes, “$240 United one way non stop 2 seats available…”

Magic SMS messages

Fetch responded to my request in 22 minutes, “1 One Way United Airlines Economy Ticket, Nonstop from SFO to LAS, 2/25 at 10:30 PM sells for $227.14 (inc. $14.10 tax + 5% Fetch discount $11.96) on Priceline.com. 2/25” Once again it appears with the Fetch discount that they are undercutting their supplier.

Fetch SMS messages and iOS App

Conclusions: I’ll regularly use Postmates for Food and maybe use Magic for “whatever else”

It’s pretty obvious that if you want food delivered the fastest way to get it is to go direct to Postmates.

Magic is focused on being 100% conversational. I appreciated their stripped down “just text” approach. I can only assume that if Magic takes off they will figure out how to bring costs down. Today, I think Magic is overpriced and I doubt I would use them unless I was in a pinch. I would like to see time estimates/status of the job.

Fetch has a bit too much user interface for me. Even their SMS messages had pics. While they were always the cheapest they were also always the slowest. I doubt I will ever use them again.

For me a “get it now” service is something that I’ll pay a premium for when I need it. Speed is more important than cost. I would suggest dialing back the UI and any un-necessary words.

Postmates appears to be the big winner here. They started out as a more generalized courier service. I highly respect that they identified a core audience and literally focused on catering to them.

I look forward to seeing how these new types of concierge services improve. 

Author Note: I once worked as a courier where one of my jobs involved delivering xmas gifts for Michael Jackson. I was supposed to pickup and dropoff identical silver platters to Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor. Immediately after delivering Mr. Peck’s I realized they had unique cards and I had given him the wrong one so I returned to see if I could swap the cards. The person at the house didn’t answer. Later, when I arrived at Elizabeth Taylor’s house I handed the gift over the front gate, having removed Mr. Peck’s card and screamed, “It’s from Michael Jackson!” :sigh: