London Startup Pocket Shop Launches 1-Hour Supermarket Delivery Service Powered By Local Pedestrian Pickers

Too time-strapped to get your grocery shopping in? Can’t face another dinner made from polenta and rice crackers, the two remaining foodstuffs in your cupboard? Bleeding to death because you keep cutting yourself shaving and forgetting to buy plasters? London startup Pocket Shop feels your pain. It’s just launched a one-hour supermarket delivery service so the chronically time-strapped/overworked don’t starve to death at their keyboards. Yes, it’s pretty similar to Instacart, but serving London — not San Francisco.

Pocket Shop’s delivery service is powered by a local network of pedestrian pickers who do the carrying on foot to cut carbon emissions and presumably keep costs (and time stuck in traffic) down. Power to the on-foot delivery people, as it were.

Supermarkets supported by the service at launch are Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with M&S and Waitrose listed as ‘coming soon’. However the exact options available to you will depend on where you live — I found my London postcode area only offers goods from Sainsbury’s, for instance.

Pocket Shop, which was founded last November out of London’s Forward Labs startup foundry (which has invested £300,000 in Pocket Shop), says it’s been trialling its service in North London before today, and has apparently managed to deliver 3,500 items thus far. As well as one-hour delivery, which costs £6.50, it also offers slightly cheaper two hour (£5.50 ) and three hour (£5.10) options.

These delivery costs are on top of a minimum order price of £20 — meaning the cheapest possible order with the service is currently £25.10. In addition, Pocket Shop’s prices are not the same as supermarket prices — it says it charges a mark-up on supermarket products, adding that its prices are comparable with convenience store prices — so this is very much a convenience-oriented service for the time-poor, not the cash-strapped. It does say it will add free delivery in future, on orders over a certain price threshold, and plans to incorporate some “major” supermarket offers, like two-for-ones. But make no mistake you are paying a premium for the convenience of getting your food faster.

The disruption here, aside from the offer of very speedy delivery, is to allow online grocery shoppers the luxury of not needing to plan ahead (albeit, at fairly steep cost). Supermarket online delivery services typically require choosing a delivery time-slot that’s at least a day out. Using a network of locally-based pedestrian as pickers gives Pocket Shop the ability to be that little bit faster — and thereby steal some of the supermarkets’ lunch (or that’s the idea).

Customers must currently order their shopping from Pocket Shop’s website but it has iOS and Android apps in the pipeline (due in “a few months”). The ordering system only allows customers to buy products that are available in the stores closest to their delivery location. Once they have sent in an order, Pocket Shop routes it to the closest picker to fulfill. (Another advantage it’s touting over using a supermarket’s own online delivery services is that Pocket Shop says it’s trained its staff to select only the best looking fruit and veg, not try and fob you off with any old rotten bananas.)

To keep its pickers quick, Pocket Shop has apparently created a dedicated app to guide them with the picking in-store and route them from the store to the customer. Its system also includes sending a text message to the customer when their order is on its way. Customers can also opt to receive a weekly restock reminder email if they want to set up a regular shop with the service.

Supermarkets’ own online delivery services can be a distinctly underwhelming experience — with goods ordered online frequently swapped out for substitute items if they are not available at the store where the order was made up (e.g. the cat’s favour brand of cat food being swapped for one they won’t eat). However Pocket Shop isn’t going to be able to avoid this issue, being as it’s relying on local stores for its inventory, as do many of the supermarket ecommerce services.

Indeed, substitutes may end up being even more frequent with Pocket Shop if your local store is small and frequently runs out of your preferred brand/item. According to its FAQ, pickers will “always” substitute a missing item with “the most suitable replacement”. So be prepared to get full-fat milk when you wanted semi-skimmed. The service also has to operate based on the local store opening hours — so if you want one-hour delivery at 3am and your local supermarket shuts at 11pm you’re going to be out of luck. (For that sort of delivery convenience you’ll need to relocate to New York.)

There’s also a “hard weight limit of around 15kg” per delivery, being as the shopping is being carried on foot. The startup says it’s  “toying with using bikes” to allow it to cater for larger orders. As it’s also pushing the green angle of using on-foot deliveries these would presumably be bicycles, rather than motorbikes.

Pocket Shop currently has a team of 20 shoppers located around London to fulfil orders but says it’s in the process of moving to a crowdsourced model — “allowing our shoppers to cherry-pick the hours they want to work and deliver for us”.