Postmates CEO: Online and Offline Commerce Will ‘Melt Into One’

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San Francisco-based hyperlocal delivery startup Postmates wants to help you get access to whatever you want in your city, in short order. The service aims to keep an accurate track of inventory across a wide range of local stores, so that its couriers can deliver food and retail items anywhere in a city within a couple of hours.

Street Fight recently spoke with the company’s CEO Bastian Lehmann about how delivery and logistics services factor into the local marketing landscape. Lehmann will be appearing on a panel about hyperlocal logistics at the Street Fight Summit in New York next week.

How is Postmates part of the wider hyperlocal marketing landscape?
For me, I think we do a few things that are wonderful. First of all, we give our consumers what can be seen as a remote control that allows them to browse the inventory of a city, buy an item, and have that item delivered in under an hour. At the same time, we are, for all the merchants in the city, an infrastructure that they can use and leverage that will ultimately let them compete with e-commerce platforms like Amazon.

Do you think Postmates is changing the way that physical stores compete with online retailers?
We believe that online and offline commerce will melt into one. Over the last couple of years, the local retailers were kind of neglected. A lot of the activities that happened in e-commerce were concentrated on building companies without a local presence. But, in the last few years we’ve seen a lot of tools and a lot of startups helping local retailers, for example, accept better payments, understand their inventory better, understand integrated loyalty systems.

We want to do the same thing for them with shipping. Because you have cities like San Francisco where there’s millions of aisles of inventory in that city, and if you understand where that is at a given time you have huge advantage in shipping that to your customers in an hour versus Amazon where it takes 1 or 2 days before a piece of inventory arrives. We see our job as being a great infrastructure that retail stores can leverage.

Postmates recently partnered with Whole Foods with the delivery of groceries. Are you planning to partner with any more local businesses?
We don’t really need to partner with any stores, that’s the beautiful thing. We’re putting the infrastructure in place without the need for any partnerships. Ultimately, what we have is a scenario where the consumer would pay for the delivery. We would basically walk into a store, purchase an item for you, and deliver it to you. Long term, what we want to do on this platform is allow retailers to control the inventory, control the prices of the inventory [that gets delivered]. So that is the long-term goal.

How does local delivery relate to local marketing?
I can give you an example of what’s already happening, which I think is always a good sign of things to come. If you look at a company like Nordstroms, they have warehouses and department stores. What they did recently, is they combined the inventory of both. What they can do now, they understand that not only do they have a specific shoe in their warehouse, but they understand in what department store they have it, and they started shipping from specific department stores. Which is amazing if you think about it. For a long time there was a huge challenge. The e-commerce unit of a company was always detached from the local retailers and vice versa. I think that is a great approach about how the future of local commerce can change and how the technology that drives that can change.

Postmates is in the process of expanding. What do the next few months and years look like for you?
We want to understand the inventory in a city the same way that Amazon understands inventory in a warehouse. We believe that if you can do that, you can do very beautiful things. Now we had to start somewhere, so we started with restaurants … So, we did that and we now have this huge number of people that loved to order from our platform. We believe these are the core group of users that will give our platform the density and capacity that we need in order to expand it.

So, we look at supermarket items next, and once we have supermarkets nailed, we can look into retail. Once we have retail nailed we take a step back and say, ‘oh look, what we have now in place is a network of super fast deliveries, what else could we do?” … We have a long-term goal that really goes beyond the “Get it now” app to an infrastructure that you can use in many ways. Whatever Fedex does on the global level, we want to be able to do that on a micro-urban level.

Do you think that more businesses and platforms will start to think the way Postmates does and instead of just competing, and start to connect with one another for a better local infrastructure?
Well, I can tell you about companies that we like. We like Square for example. You can imagine beautiful things with their Square wallet product if you already have all your favorite stores in there, Now, how beautiful would it be if you could also order from that and the delivery would be fulfilled by Postmates. That’s one thing, that if I think about it, could be really exciting. The second thing that could be exciting is think of GrubHub. Imagine if we worked with GrubHub how we could extend their reach … In specific, these are two ways where I can see that companies can work together to create a better system.

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.

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