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-Top8, 2015

5 On-Demand Services That Can Make Your Life Easier

6/26/2015 U.S. News

"The on-demand economy has taken off because, as a society, we've come to demand things faster – whether Internet content, movies from the theater to home or products we order online," says Rob Howard, CEO of San Francisco-based Grand Junction Inc., a technology platform that large and small businesses can use to offer their customers same-day and local delivery.

Of course, it's easy to imagine how longtime business owners and corporate executives could think it's a little crazy to be referring to on-demand businesses as a new phenomenon. After all, since shopping was invented, all businesses have been about making sure the customer gets what he or she wants, as soon as possible.

But in recent years, stores have been changing the definition of what's possible.

Much of that has to do with the technological innovations behind the supply chain, says Michael Fritsch, president and chief operating officer of Confoe Inc., an Austin, Texas-based business that helps companies improve their operational performance.

"Technology implementations that cost several million dollars just a few years ago can now be done with open-source software at a fraction of the cost," Fritsch says, adding that smaller and bigger firms alike have benefited from these technological advances. 

Howard agrees that on-demand services seem to be exploding now because "mobile technology has reached the point where the demand and supply can be quickly matched to one another," he says.

Still, if you live in a big city, you're much more likely to have access to on-demand services than if you're out in the country or even, in some cases, a populous suburb.

If you want to know how to make your life easier with what's available now, or on the horizon, here's a roundup of types of services you may want to check out.

On-Demand Groceries

There have been some interesting developments in this space in recent years. You no longer have to push your cart through aisle after aisle. You can have your groceries delivered to your doorstep, if you live in the right city or suburb. For instance, Instacart, a grocery delivery business that began three years ago in San Francisco, now services 16 metro areas across the country, including Denver, Atlanta and Chicago. Generally, you can get your groceries within an hour.

Peapod and RelayFoods are a couple other grocery services out there, and chances are, your own grocery store may deliver food. Amazon.com has its AmazonFresh service, which offers same-day and early morning delivery. Amazon also has a Prime Now service, in which for $7.99, you can get your food within an hour (available only in certain cities).

In sum, whether you can access these services largely depends on your ZIP code – and your willingness to pay the service fees, which are usually less than $10 and often free for the first order.

On-Demand Restaurants

Sure, delivery services have existed for a long time, but it was generally always pizza being delivered or maybe a local deli would send over a guy with sandwiches.

But in recent years, restaurant chains have been getting better at recognizing that they might serve more customers if they take the food to them. Some sit-down restaurant chains that don't have drive-thrus are offering carryout, and slowly but surely, they're offering delivery as well.

These days, there's a good chance your favorite restaurant is part of GrubHub. You go to the website, GrubHub.com, type in your ZIP code and what type of food you're craving and voilà! – you can have it delivered. Other services are also emerging. Yelp has a website called Eat24Hours.com, designed to  help you find restaurants that deliver, and OrderUp, which enables customers to order delivery from a favorite restaurant, is in 58 towns (so far) across the country.

On-Demand Transportation

In the old days, if you didn't have a car, you would order something called a taxi, and the taxi driver would pick you up and take you somewhere. People would also often ride a bus.

So on-demand transportation has existed for some time, but now the options are increasing. For instance, you can visit Uber.com and request a taxi "with no whistling, no waving," the website quips, or you can have someone pick you up in a private car or an SUV.

There is also Lyft, whereby someone in your community picks you up within minutes in his or her own car, assuming your city is serviced by Lyft. And of course there's Zipcar, a car-sharing service that may or may not be offered in your city. It's basically a cheaper alternative to renting a car. Sidecar is another growing car-sharing service that, like taxis, doesn't require you to drive but will often have you sharing a ride with someone else, which reduces the cost of your trip.

Incidentally, Ford Motor Company just announced its own car-sharing pilot program, which will be available in six American cities and London, enabling customers who finance their vehicles through Ford to also rent them out. So someday you may end up getting your on-demand transportation through a Ford customer.

On-Demand Services

There seems to be no shortage of on-demand services, especially if you live in a big city. For instance, Unwind Me (so far just in San Francisco) offers on-demand massage therapists who come to your home. Zeel offers the same, and is available in San Francisco and several other cities, including New York City, Los Angeles and Miami. Want someone to park your car? In New York City, there's Valet Anywhere, which will send a valet to park your car in a garage throughout the city, for $11 an hour or $42 per day.

On-Demand Retail

But it's in retail where things are really heating up. As has been widely reported, Amazon.com has been experimenting in some American cities with same-day delivery service, which has set off something of a retail war among its competitors. Uber has been testing the concept of getting merchandise delivered to customers in the same day, using its drivers as couriers. And some national retailers, such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus, have been experimenting with same-day delivery service – though again, not available nationally.

Postmates is another fast-growing on-demand service, available in 27 cities so far. Meanwhile, Curbside is a shopping app for iOS and Android users that lets you pick up merchandise curbside (get it?) from local stores, including Target, Home Depot and Toys R Us. There's no charge. You just pay for the merchandise online, drop by and pick it up.

But don't get too excited, unless you live in the San Francisco area. So far, Curbside is only available there.

Still, Howard is optimistic that we'll be seeing many more on-demand companies nationwide. "Slowly, retail delivery is moving, clearly prodded along by Amazon going all in on same day," Howard says. "I expect many more providers to emerge in this segment."

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