Readers across the UK will have spotted ads for rapid delivery services popping up in recent months. Having entered the UK market shortly before the pandemic, the growth of the rapid grocery delivery category has been, well, rapid. Backed by billions in investment – Getir recently secured $768m in funding – these services have expanded into most major UK cities, each time bringing a wave of OOH ad spend and leaving advertisers asking how it all works.

After the rapid delivery wave reached British shores, their popularity exploded during the COVID-19 lockdown, as house-bound Brits sought new ways to shop online, buoyed by attractive sign-up offers. By late 2021, the market was valued at £1.4bn, with growth expected to treble. But can this be sustained?

In short, it’s unlikely. While the category does have room for growth, the crowding of the market and resultant SOV wars will eventually necessitate a maturing market. Already, some cannibalisation is occurring, with Getir acquiring rival Weezy, and Jiffy announcing it was ceasing delivery operations. Moreover, inflationary pressure has forced a revision of previously exponential headcount growth, with Getir and Gorillas in the process of laying off hundreds of UK employees. While funding should be enough to prevent an immediate crisis, such funds will eventually dry up, and investors will expect their return. Just look at Deliveroo, which continues to bleed cash despite healthy sales growth.

Such a turnaround is possible – Uber Eats finally became profitable in Q4, one quarter after its big sister – but it is likely only one or two brands will survive, with public image will playing a major role in this. With brands operating in the gig economy suffering greatly from negative PR, Getir chose to recognise its workforce as company employees, thus entitling them to sick pay and other benefits. While this positions them as category frontrunners, their closest rivals, Gorillas, entered into a ‘voluntary partnership’ with GMB Union this month in a bid to assuage critics.

So, how worried should traditional retailers be? Currently, any threat lies mostly in major cities. In February 2022, the7stars’ Lowdown found awareness of rapid delivery apps among 16-34s in London to be 94%, versus 69% outside the capital. Moreover, half of current app users admit they only order when they have a voucher code – lucrative offers which are unlikely to be sustained once delivery apps pursue profitability.

Indeed, rapid delivery brands draw credibility from the quality of their offering, the key to which is held by legacy retailers. While supermarkets are unable to match delivery apps for speed, their products hold more appeal than dark-store lines. As such, many have sought mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Iceland partnered with Uber Eats to offer 20-minute delivery in the South East. Luxury retailers, notably Fortnum & Mason, have also dabbled, showing that rapid delivery’s rise has caught the eye of both ends of the grocery sector.

Let’s be clear: the weekly trek to the supermarket is unlikely to be replaced by a scooter-bound rider anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s clear that, once they iron out their business models, delivery apps will have a role to play in consumers’ lives. In the way that Just Eat disrupted a previously stable takeaway delivery market in the 2000s, the rapid delivery revolution threatens a shake-up of shop aisles in the 2020s. But such disruption need not be negative for existing supermarkets: if partnerships continue to blossom, benefitting retailers and delivery apps alike, the shopping experience may change for the better.