Monday, July 31, 2017

Will Amazon Prime Restaurant kill the dining industry?

In 2015, Amazon started its slow roll out of Amazon Prime Restaurant in Seattle. Its food delivery service is unlike that of startup giants such as Grubhub and UberEats. The service has since quickly spread across a few markets including Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, Austin, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Portland, and of course New York City.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member in any one of these markets (and it’s highly likely you are since Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated over 63 million Prime members in 2016), then 1-hour food delivery service is available to you with no delivery fee.

Furthermore, Amazon Prime Restaurants boasts only the best, quality local restaurants on its platform and claims to be assisting small businesses that have never entered home delivery services to finally enter the online delivery market. I was surprised myself when I finally opened Amazon Prime Restaurant on my couch last night and found Aita Trattoria on the list of restaurants delivering to my address. Aita’s is a local Italian restaurant in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn widely known for fresh, seasonal ingredients – which makes it quite the neighborhood dinner destination. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost four years now and have never been able to get a table without waiting 40 minutes so to find out that I can simply just click a button to order their delicious bucatini and wait in the comforts of my home was simply astounding. Furthermore, once an order has been placed, a nifty little feature on Amazon Restaurants allows you to track your delivery on a real time map so you’re not waiting cluelessly on your couch.

This discovery, while exciting, also led to me to worry around what this latest proliferation of Amazon’s services might do to the foot traffic in commercial corridors, and consequently the dining industry. Especially restaurants in neighborhood commercial corridors that mainly rely on local residents to eat out on weekends and weekday nights. After all, many of today’s commercial districts continue to be anchored by food and drinking places. Amazon, without even accounting for Amazon Restaurants and its sales, has already led to some decline in overall foot traffic. In fact, foot traffic fell by 32 percent among users of the Amazon App according to research firm Sense360, who also claim it’s been two full years since restaurants could report a decent traffic month.

Sure, restaurants still make up 15 percent of all retail sales and the expenditure data shows that U.S. consumers are spending more on dining in restaurants than on buying groceries but how much of these sales are actually made in person at the restaurant versus made online on the couch via Grubhub or Ubereats or Amazon Restaurants? Also, if the National Restaurant Association surveys are right and 8 in 10 consumers are dining out due to perceptions of convenience from not having to cook or clean up, then ordering more food online to be delivered within an hour to our doorstep would certainly fit the convenience criteria – especially if friends and family already live nearby and if the weather is bad outside. (I was certainly not going out to dinner last Saturday while the summer storms were in full swing.)

The proliferation of online delivery services for restaurants also means that the industry’s profit margins are getting smaller and smaller. As it is, real estate, labor and taxes already make up some of the largest share of operating a restaurant. Now, businesses will also have to worry about being charged by Amazon to deliver their food to stay-at-home customers. As Amazon has pledged not to mark up the cost of menu items, it is instead shifting the burden to restaurants in the form of an undisclosed percent charge of each order. Of course we already knew this – Grubhub, Postmates and Seamless all charge restaurants roughly 12-24 percent of checks to use their delivery services, however, Amazon is reportedly taking 27.5 percent of checks from partnered restaurants.

So while Amazon aims to keep the gap between diners’ cost of buying groceries and ‘restaurant dining’ minimal, small restaurants and eateries will bear the brunt of the costs with smaller profit margins and fewer people walking into their establishments and their neighbors’.

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