Your Guide to On-Demand Services

Johnna Kaplan

All of a sudden, it seems like everything that used to require a phone call, a complicated planning process, or a wait in a long line can now be done instantly with a tap on your smartphone. That’s because of a recent proliferation of on-demand services – that is, applications that instantly connect consumers with providers of goods and services – and an increasing number of customers eager to take advantage of the convenience they promise.

If you’re curious about how on-demand applications can change how you eat, shop, travel, and do just about everything else, here’s a look at some of the companies trying to become a part of your daily life.

Transportation

You can rent a private jet through an on-demand app, but for the most part, on-demand services in the transportation category focus on cars. The big name here is Uber, which is often cited as a prime example of the “disruptive” force of services with business models that upend traditional markets – in Uber’s case, taxi companies.

Convenience is the main pro; your driver (a contract worker) comes right to you, and Uber handles your credit card payment – no tip required. Competitors like Lyft and Sidecar offer similar services. One downside of these services is that they can’t be found everywhere; residents of larger cities will have more options. Then again, in busier locations, greater demand for rides can drive prices up.

Another option when you need a ride is a car sharing service like ZipCar. In this newer take on a car rental, members pay a monthly or yearly fee to access a fleet of vehicles parked in lots around the world. When you need a car, the app lets you reserve a vehicle for up to a week.

If you have a car but find parking a pain, on-demand parking services can do everything from providing valets anywhere (LuxeValet) to finding and reserving spots in garages. (SpotHero.)

Food

You’ve probably heard of Blue Apron; the company, which delivers semi-customized dinner recipes with pre-measured ingredients, is seemingly everywhere these days. Services like Blue Apron and competitors like HelloFresh, and Plated, can be enjoyable if you have the money, time, and desire to cook but don’t want to shop for groceries or plan meals on your own. However, they don’t allow for a ton of creativity in the kitchen, and while you do have options – e.g., vegetarian meals – they can’t always accommodate all food allergies or specific dietary needs.

Not all on-demand food apps deliver raw ingredients; many simply bring you a meal from a local restaurant. This isn’t like ordering directly from your favorite Chinese restaurant, pizzeria, or deli. With services like GrubHub and Seamless, the person who brings your food isn’t employed by the restaurant, meaning you can order from many eateries that don’t otherwise offer delivery. If you’re in a city with a large enough on-demand delivery service, this can open up a whole new world of takeout options.

And then there’s plain old grocery delivery, which has stepped up its game considerably from the days when the local grocery store employed a driver with a van. There are lots of options here, but some recognizable names are AmazonFresh, and Instacart, both of which offer same-day delivery. However, due to the limited locations these services cover, you might just be better off ordering from your local or regional supermarket chain.

Retail

With the rise of on-demand services to facilitate shopping and delivery, buying almost anything is becoming easier than ever. Take Curbside, which lets you order from drugstores, department stores, and restaurants, then pick up your order – without getting out of your car. It might sound silly, but then again, if you’re with young children, have difficulty walking, or are extremely strapped for time, it might sound amazing.

Most on-demand shopping applications deliver products right to your home or office, like Postmates, whose couriers will bring you takeout from your favorite restaurant along with any item sold by any merchant in town.

And while the above apps and their ilk provide variety, many others are devoted to specific types of products. For example, BloomThat, which offers next-day delivery of flowers across the country, and same-day delivery in a few large cities.

Leisure

There’s nothing new about Netflix – the company began mailing DVDs of movies and TV shows to customers ages ago. But its streaming service and original content has successfully disrupted the way film and television are consumed and produced. The appeal of Netflix, and of its competitors like Hulu and Amazon, is obvious: they’re cheaper than a night out, you don’t have to wait until something you like is in theaters or on the TV schedule. Plus, you don’t even have to leave your couch. (For days.) The downside is that none of these services will have every movie or show you’re looking for. And if you subscribe to all of them, plus extra for premium channels and more content, the costs can really start to add up.

Even if you’ve never heard of on-demand services before reading this article, chances are you know all about Airbnb. Who needs hotels when you can stay in private homes, which are often more affordable, more unique, and bring you closer to the people and culture of the place you’re visiting? Airbnb does have some potential negatives, though – safety can always be a concern when staying in a stranger’s home, which isn’t regulated the same way a hotel would be, and in some locations the service is illegal or exists in a sort of legal grey area, which could lead to – at best – an awkward situation.

Home

Finding a handyman, plumber, or house cleaner has always been a bit of a difficult process. Do you go by word of mouth, an online review site, or the good old Yellow Pages? How do you decide who to trust, and what if everyone you find is booked solid for a month? A bevy of on-demand services have sprung up to make it easier to get help in your home. Rinse, for example, will do your laundry (in select locations.) Handy will send a screened professional to clean, paint, assemble furniture, or help you with a variety of other home tasks, large and small. Pro.com will match you with a contractor. Porch.com‘s professionals handle everything from roofing to landscaping to pest control. HomePolish will find you an interior designer.

There are even on-demand applications to help with what might be the hardest home-related decision you’ll ever make: OpenDoor and OfferPad promise to simplify the process of selling or buying a home. While both still operate in limited markets, they claim additional areas will be added soon.

Hiring

While on-demand apps for finding a carpenter or having a bouquet delivered are high-tech updates on traditional business models, another category of on-demand services revolves around a new – and growing – form of employment. These apps let you hire freelance workers to do the kinds of odd little chores you’d previously have needed a personal assistant – or a very patient friend – to do for you. Hop on TaskRabbit, for example, and you can find freelancers (who you pay by the hour) willing to wait on line to buy you tickets for a show, help you move, or hand-deliver a document across town. They’ll also clean your house or assemble your IKEA furniture.

Other services have a narrower focus, like FancyHands, which matches you with virtual assistants (who you pay by the task) to plan your vacation, phone your utility company, or schedule an appointment.

Health and Beauty

Until recently, if you wanted a haircut, a massage, a pedicure, or a facial, you had to book the service weeks in advance or take your chances as a walk-in. You also had to leave your house. But now, in an expanding number of cities, apps like Zeel (for massages) and GlamSquad (for hair, makeup, and nails) bring nearly-instant beauty treatments to you.

For those looking to lose weight, apps like Rise pair you with a nutritionist for daily virtual feedback on your diet. These services provide more individual attention than standard calorie-tracking apps, with more convenience and accessibility than old-school, one-on-one appointments with a diet expert.

This growing trend extends to physicians as well. Telemedicine apps let you schedule an old-fashioned house-call, thanks to a number of on-demand apps like Heal, or, if there’s no such service in your location, make a virtual appointment via an app like Doctor on Demand. Other apps hook you up with virtual specialists like dermatologists (e.g. Spruce) or mental health providers (e.g. Talkspace and Betterhelp.) The benefits of these services are obvious for anyone who can’t get to appointments on their own, and while virtual doctor visits won’t always match the care patients might get in person, services like these give many people, with and without insurance, access to medical professionals they might not otherwise be able to find.

As you’ve probably realized by now, the services mentioned above are just the tip of the on-demand iceberg. Especially if you live in a major city, chances are that if you ever need a dog groomer, personal trainer, or language tutor, there’s an on-demand app for it. And as the economy continues to evolve and more and more consumers become accustomed to increased convenience, there are sure to be even more options to try. If you’re interested in more ways technology can improve your life, read more about these apps that help you enrich your free time.

So now that you’re overwhelmed with services aimed at making life easier, which of these you would consider giving a go. Maybe you’re already using one of these services? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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