Big Business Shipping for Small Business: Introducing On-Demand Deliveries

While global sales are nice to have, it's definitely in your interest to seek and encourage some local buyers to do business with you. In some ways, selling locally is easier so I was very happy to hear Shopify made it easy for any user to integrate with UberRUSH and Postmates, two amazing on-demand delivery companies.

If you've done much online shopping at all from the bigger online sellers like Amazon, you'll already know they offer express shipping as an option.  Wouldn't it be impressive if you could offer your customers exactly the same deal?

Shipping to local buyers with a bulk carrier (big freight companies like Fed-Ex and DHL) removes the primary advantage of buying locally online because it means customers will normally have to wait at least until the next day to receive their purchase.  So you need to find a way to sweeten the deal, and fortunately, there is one.

What if instead of offering delivery the next day, you could offer delivery the same day?  Eh, not bad, but actually what if you could offer delivery the same hour?  Now we are getting somewhere.  This is made possible by companies that offer “on demand” shipping.  It works in a similar way to print-on-demand publishing, where books are printed as they're purchased.  In this case, you can get packages picked up and delivered almost the moment they're ordered.  This is how you can impress local buyers and lure them away from more remote alternatives, even if the bigger sellers can undercut your price.

You may have to shop around a bit yourself to find a reliable service, but depending on where you live, we may have a couple of good leads for you to follow up already, especially if you're using Shopify.

1. Uber Rush

Ever used a private taxi service called Uber to get around town?  If so, you'll already know how convenient and simple that is.  Uber Rush takes this concept to the courier business, and it's actually even better than using Uber as a taxi service.  Currently the service is available to the following areas:

  • Chicago
  • San Francisco
  • Manhattan
  • Brooklyn
  • Queens

It's possible that if the experiment proves successful, the business will expand into other cities, so don't be too disappointed if your area is not on the list, it may be there soon.  And while you're waiting for your city to be added, you might want to check out Postmates as well, which you can read about in the next section.

It couldn't be simpler to understand how Uber Rush works.  It's just like ordering an Uber taxi, except that instead of moving people, you're moving packages.  In fact, with Uber Rush, you're not even allowed to move people (or animals).  They also won't let you send anything that's dangerous (obviously), illegal, or for which the recipient would have to prove they were legally eligible to receive it (alcohol, for example).

When you request a pickup, the closest Uber Rush driver to your location will be sent to pick up the order from you.  They'll already know where to take it, because when you make your request to Uber Rush, you'll be telling them where you are and where your package is being sent to, along with any special instructions that the driver will need to be aware of.

Then if you want to, you can actually watch in real time as your package makes its way across town and is delivered, because Uber Rush provides real time tracking as part of the service.  And that doesn't mean the kind of tracking that you get with the bigger courier companies where you have to memorize some ridiculously long tracking code, enter it into your computer, and then get a message telling you the package just arrived at the Duluth processing center and is being loaded onto a truck.  It means you can actually see the progress of the delivery moving on the map as your courier navigates to the destination.

Prices vary a little bit between different cities.  In New York City you currently can pay just $5.50 for the first mile and then $2.50 for each additional mile.  In Chicago, you'd pay $6.30 for the first mile and then $1.80 for each additional mile.  And for San Francisco, the cost is $6 for the first mile and $3 for each additional mile.

So for example, if a single package was to be delivered 5 miles from your warehouse, you would pay the following amount for each city:

  • New York City: $15.50
  • Chicago: $13.50
  • San Francisco: $18

These rates are incredibly low, and they're all the more amazing when you consider that the package will probably arrive at the buyer's location more quickly than if they had personally come into your store to pick it up themselves.  Obviously the actual time of delivery will depend on the traffic density and any other relevant factors, but you'll still get it there faster than would otherwise be possible.  More information is available at the Uber Rush page.

2. Postmates

This service is a solid on-demand courier business with a far more extensive network than Uber Rush, currently serving 90 cities in 24 states (still US only at the moment though).  It works a little differently from Uber Rush because it's more oriented towards the consumer end than the merchant end.

Users have an application for their phone that lets them place orders directly with local merchants.  To take advantage of that to the full, you need to register your business as a partner with Postmates and provide them with your full catalog of products and services, including current prices.  Users of the Postmate app are also able to purchase from other merchants by creating a custom order.  That's fine, but it's far better to be a registered merchant partner.

Users pay for their deliveries when they order using the Postmates app.  The cost in this case would be a fixed delivery fee of $2.99 or $3.99, plus a service fee equal to 9% of the value of the transaction, with the customer (Postmates user) bearing the cost of these fees.

That situation can be flipped if you set it up with Postmates.  This way it looks to the user like the shipping is being charged directly by your business and the customer pays you directly for the entire transaction, and you'll be responsible for paying the shipping amount to Postmates after the customer has paid you.  Bear in mind that due to the way online payments work, you may actually have to send money to Postmates before your account has been credited with funds from the buyer, and it's possible in certain circumstances that you can lose money if something goes wrong with the transaction.

The process to do all this is not contained in the customer service section of the Postmates page, because as previously stated, they're mainly pitching the service as a way for consumers to order items directly through their phone app.  Consequently their help information is not very helpful from a merchant's perspective.  Just as strange, the only way to get more information is to contact with the subject “Postmates Help Center Support Request”.


The other thing that could be a concern is that 9% service fee.  Whereas the Uber Rush delivery charge is based solely on mileage, with the value of the package not being a consideration, the situation at Postmates is the opposite.  Here the mileage is not considered at all, and the value of the package is massively important in calculating the shipping cost.  If the product is not a high value item, this won't make a huge impact.  But if you're selling expensive jewelry or electronics, you may find customers balk at a 9% fee, which would add an extra $180 onto a $2000 order, quite a lot more than most customers would be willing to pay for shipping something across town.

Learn more about this on the Shopify On-Demand Deliveries page.

header image courtesy of Fireart Studio

Emma Grant

Emma Grant is a professional freelance content writer from Ireland. Over the past three years she has travelled the world while running her business from her laptop. You find her at