Groceries, flowers, cosmetics, prescriptions and pet supplies: just when we thought the ride-hailing app Uber had evolved into a full-blown delivery empire, it has now dipped its toes into a booming market by adding weed to its menu. Partnering with Tokyo Smoke, an award-winning cannabis retailer, Uber is officially letting users in Ontario, Canada place their orders for vapes, edibles and more—right through the Uber Eats app.
According to a press release, Ontario-based users can either select the newly-added ‘cannabis’ section or search for ‘Tokyo Smoke’ on the app to start ordering. A warning screen will then pop up, where the customers will have to confirm their age to access the virtual storefront. After confirmation, they will be redirected to the menu of a local Tokyo Smoke store (out of 50 existing outlets) to select and place their orders—which Uber claims will be fulfilled within the hour.
However, there’s a catch. Customers will have to pick up their own orders from the store where a CannSell-certified employee will cross-check their identification proof as required by regulations. ‘What’s the point then?’ I hear you ask. According to Ontario’s cannabis curbside pick-up and delivery regulations, only cannabis retailers and their direct employees who hold a certification from CannSell may deliver cannabis to customers. And a third party (like Uber) may be used for transportation only if the product is in the secure possession of a certified employee at all times.
In short, Uber can’t deliver weed legally to your doorstep… yet. Instead, the ride-hailing giant is on a quest to streamline the process for ordering cannabis in Ontario at the moment. “We are partnering with industry leaders like Tokyo Smoke to offer safe, convenient options for people in Ontario to purchase legal cannabis,” said Lola Kassim, general manager of Uber Eats Canada, in the press release. “By combining a streamlined ordering process through the Uber Eats app with Tokyo Smoke’s in-person pickup service, we’re creating a new end-to-end experience for responsible cannabis ordering across the province.”
The aim of the partnership doesn’t end there. Ever since Canada legalised the recreational use of cannabis in 2018, the country is trying to fix its ailing pot market—where illegal producers are still controlling a large share of its annual sales. According to both the companies, the new venture will help crackdown on this underground market, which presently accounts for over 40 per cent of all non-medical cannabis sales in Canada.
“Further, recent research from Public First shows that driving after cannabis consumption remains prevalent, with 1 in 7 (14 per cent) of cannabis users admitting to having driven a vehicle within 2 hours of consumption,” the press release noted, adding how options like Uber Eats could help decrease impaired driving and improve safety on the road—if and when the laws evolve to include deliveries in the future.
While this is Uber’s first foray into the cannabis market, it seems to be a well-calculated one. Back in April 2021, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CNBC that the company will consider delivering cannabis as soon as the legal coast clears in the United States. However, touching base with Ontario makes sense for the company looking to test the waters—given how the market here has fairly matured over the three years of legalisation. Clusters of shops and dispensaries have also been popping up across the province, further cementing the demand for the product.
With the legal marijuana market expected to hit $70.6 billion by 2028, global delivery services undoubtedly look like the next horizon we’re headed to, in terms of weed on-demand. When asked about the possibility of further expansion, an Uber spokesperson told Quartz: “As we learn from this partnership in Ontario, we’ll continue to watch regulations and opportunities closely market-by-market. And as local and federal laws evolve, we will explore opportunities with merchants who operate in other regions.”
Be it DoorDash, Lyft, or Bolt, on-demand delivery services are undoubtedly having their moment. What if beauty brands could piggyback on the ultra-flexible and fast services such companies offer and maybe deliver dinner with a side of blush?
After acquiring Postmates Unlimited, a loyalty programme that offers unlimited deliveries for a monthly fee, ride-hailing app Uber is now providing an updated service on the menu for Los Angeles-based subscribers. Enter the pandemic-accelerated world of on-demand beauty products. Featuring cult indie brands like Furtuna Skin, Summer Fridays and Corpus Naturals, the app is offering a bundle of 18 products curated by beauty experts—delivered straight to the consumers’ doorstep for a price of $375 (£275).
Termed ‘Beauty on Demand’, the service follows Uber’s vision of broadening out from its origins as a ride-sharing app. Part of the company’s strategy is to build customer loyalty by doubling as a delivery service. “In the post-lockdown landscape, service has become an overriding priority,” said Julie Kim, Postmates’ global head of membership. In an interview with Vogue Business, Kim highlighted how brands are increasingly investing in mechanisms and solutions to ensure reliability and convenience for their customers.
Beauty on Demand, therefore, follows the launch of Uber Direct—a project which builds upon Uber Eats’ expansion into grocery and convenience store delivery. The white label solution essentially allows the company to partner with fashion and beauty brands to fulfill deliveries that originate on the companies’ own websites or apps. “Uber Direct is a great tool for retailers who want an operationally efficient way to reach their customers,” Kim added. “Anybody who has an e-commerce mechanism can basically utilise our backend technology to enable same-day service.”
However, this isn’t Uber’s first maneuver into the beauty industry. In May 2021, the Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) became the first beauty company to partner with Uber Eats to fulfill deliveries in the US. Available across 60 store locations, customers can presently order ELC-owned brands like Origins and Jo Malone London through the Uber app. Last month, the company also partnered with Dr. Barbara Sturm to provide Hollywood-approved skincare on-demand for consumers. LA-based members of Uber’s Eats Pass, a monthly subscription package offering unlimited food delivery, can not only have Sturm products delivered to them within 35 minutes but also receive a free anti-aging body cream and cleanser with purchases above $300.
“These launches are the first in a series of member-only experiences being lined up by Uber,” Kim said, adding how the company’s membership programmes are presently on the quest to make everyday life effortless for its customers.
On the other end of this conversation, a linkup with Uber could be the first big step into on-demand services for many beauty brands. “We’re testing it to see how people react to buying products on instant delivery,” said JP Mastey, founder of Corpus Naturals. In the interview with Vogue Business, Mastey added how the company had initially decided to offer free domestic shipping, primarily to meet the expectations set by retailers such as Amazon. “With the pandemic, people have become really used to ordering and receiving goods within hours or minutes. If that’s the way people want to consume and purchase, then we’ll have to meet them there—and services like this are ideal for that.”
With retail research finding 77 per cent of gen Z and 82 per cent of millennials to be regular online shoppers, Uber’s attempt at shaking up the beauty industry might just be a successful and cost-effective one. However, experts warn how convenience doesn’t necessarily equate to luxury. “If you don’t make your consumer dream about who you are then you’ll face challenges,” said Audrey Depraeter-Montacel, global beauty lead at Accenture. According to the expert, Amazon has been trying to penetrate the luxury and fashion industries for years, “but I’m not sure that they have succeeded because they are still perceived as a convenient platform.”
Then there is the bigger question as to what such initiatives could cost everyone involved in it. “Uber wants stuff for free that it can add to a loyalty programme with as little cost to it as possible. The brands and retailers want Uber to give free marketing. Consumers just want free stuff,” said Sucharita Kodali, vice president of retail at the research and advisory firm Forrester. If everyone just wants as much as possible for as little as possible, how do you create a compelling offering that someone wants and is a win-win-win?
For Uber to succeed with on-demand membership, plenty of benefits will need to be baked into a loyalty programme to encourage its regular use. According to Kodali, Uber’s operation will also need to be seamless and in sync with the inventory carried by brands. With American beauty brand Coty landing a deal with the food and alcohol delivery service Gopuff and Sephora inking a partnership with grocery service Instacart for pickup and deliveries, curation is another factor that could help set Uber apart.
As of now, the company plans to announce more benefits and partnerships with brands in November 2021. So don’t be surprised if you suddenly have the option of ordering a $50 overnight serum alongside $1 french fries from McDonald’s.