It’s become normal, thanks to Silicon Valley, for companies to periodically burst, unannounced, into our feeds to tell us they are ACTUALLY VERY GOOD FOR SOCIETY and then recede into shadows til the next battle with regulators. Why is DoorDash here, now, with a report telling us it saved the restaurant industry during a pandemic, you ask? Could be that there’s a month on the clock and many millions of dollars thrown behind Prop 22, the potentially calamitous California ballot initiative that would exempt gig economy companies from labor laws, perhaps. Maybe it’s just proud of itself.
Anyway, let’s hear them out.
DoorDash put out a whitepaper aiming to show what an economic boon it is, and how (based on surveys of a relatively small number of restaurant operators and delivery workers) we wouldn’t have ordered in during the pandemic if not for DoorDash.
The whole paper relies on pretty thin evidence, concluding that DoorDash, specifically, was “critical” in “connecting customers with the restaurant industry” and in “allowing them to order restaurant meals for at-home consumption during the pandemic.” In other words, DoorDash is a popular delivery service.
Incidentally, this whitepaper does not seem to include the arguments of restaurateurs who claim DoorDash is a monopolistic go-to service which has historically extracted an up-to 30% tribute, cutting into already slim profit margins which leave them vulnerable to even a small reduction in revenue. If you’re wondering if this is just idle griping, it isn’t: customers, too, have gone to court to make this case. (DoorDash temporarily reduced commission fees from April to May, but the restaurant industry still had to plead for government intervention for delivery apps, and cities have had to impose still-high caps across the country.) DoorDash declined to tell Gizmodo its current maximum commission fee but said that “every restaurant is unique” and that the company offers “pricing to suit each restaurant’s needs.”
In a move as brazen as it is financially confusing, DoorDash used their whitepaper to baldly claim that, in 2019, its platform “added $6.9 billion to the U.S. economy that otherwise would not have existed.” The whitepaper makes zero effort to show how it got to this number or what it’s derived from. When Gizmodo asked, DoorDash didn’t offer specifics.
It does mention that the majority of restaurant operators surveyed claim that DoorDash helped them reach customers they otherwise wouldn’t have; later, the report states that “it is impossible to quantify” the impact DoorDash has had on restaurants’ revenue and the aid thanks to its “relief and programs” in 2020, which is odd, because money is amazingly quantifiable!
DoorDash commissioned the Mellman Group to survey a small sample of 808 Dashers, but we don’t know how they were identified. It’s also unclear what proportion of the 750 restaurant operators surveyed by Technomic are chain restaurants, but the restaurants DoorDash chooses to quote are Bob Evans, the Carolina Ale House, and Goodcents Deli Fresh Subs. Among their findings, 73% of operators “agree that third-party delivery platforms are good for the restaurant industry,” and 65% “agree that profits have increased during COVID-19 because of DoorDash.”
If I sound like a cynical gremlin harboring a very specific grudge against third-party delivery services, there’s reason to be skeptical of a company study with thin methodology and no details on funding. Another specious study based on internal data from Uber and Lyft—which are also throwing millions behind this same ballot measure—has recently created some confusion over whether the gig economy is great or terrible. Generally, when some pack of ghouls pays a consulting firm to sing their praises in a “report,” your gremlin senses should be tingling too—if these claims stood up to any sort of scrutiny, the underlying data would be made public, or at least provided to unbiased researchers.
Even if DoorDash were the savior it purports to be, it’s pushing a stale Silicon Valley fallacy every wireless company and delivery service has ratcheted up in their ads throughout the pandemic—that these companies have been there for us in a trying time and are therefore morally good. A company isn’t a friend, nor does it have beliefs. It’s just a company, and its only purpose is to make money.