Is it really necessary to train a personal grocery shopper how to pick a good banana?
It’s a question that Nate D’Anna, serial entrepreneur and founder of personal shopping platform Dumpling, asked rhetorically when recounting his days as an Instacart shopper, an experience that he said he makes all of Dumpling’s team members also experience firsthand. On his first day, he said he remembers being taught how to do things like pick a good banana.
Dumpling is a reinvented version of the gig platform model that matches personal shoppers who want to build their own micro-shopping businesses with consumers who want someone to grocery shop for them.
D’Anna said that Dumpling’s micro-business platform delivers a more curated, customized and upgraded version of the shopping services that Instacart and Amazon Fresh offer. D’Anna said the firm doesn’t offer banana-picking training because the personal shoppers on its platform don’t need it. What they need — and what Dumpling aims to provide — is help building a small, successful and profitable personal shopping business.
“[Our shoppers] don’t need us to explain how to think about bananas because they already know,” D’Anna said. “What our shoppers want is help on business coaching and things like creating Facebook pages and a customer base, and marketing themselves. That’s where we are spending our time because those are the skills that our shoppers need to be successful.”
How Dumpling Is Different
In some sense, the Dumpling model should seem familiar to anyone who has ever used Instacart or a similar service. A user logs into an app, inputs payment information and then creates an order that’s handed off to a personal shopper who’ll deliver goods to the customer’s door.
But those similarities are rather superficial, D’Anna said. While some apps allow users to choose things like the stores that they want their shopper to go to from a pre-screened list, Dumpling lets them choose their shopper, input much more complicated order lists, and shop from a list of stores that also includes hyperlocal markets and shops.
Shoppers can advertise their specific areas of expertise, which locations they serve, what days they deliver and an individual pricing model for their services. Once the user has chosen a shopper, the customer can send the person on the same varied journey the typical U.S. consumer normally chooses — picking up different groceries at multiple stores. (The average is four.)
“So now the customer has the ability to ask a shopper to go wherever they would want them to go, to a farmer's market and to Trader Joe's and to Costco’s meat market,” D’Anna said. “This is a truly personal experience.”
And because the consumer chooses their shopper and develops a relationship over time, Dumpling allows users to delegate more responsibility to that shopper over time. That includes the authority to do things like modify a shopping list when requested items aren’t in stock or substitute with something that’s similar.
An empowered agent in the field is the real differentiator in the service Dumpling is looking to offer to consumers, D’Anna said. Meanwhile, the shoppers get to build a business they can actually control and customize to clients’ needs.
Building Better Businesses
Dumpling shoppers are given a lot of control over the businesses they create. They can choose what days they want to deliver and from where, which gives them the ability to actually generate operational efficiency by batching their orders. For example, if Thursday is the only day a shopper wants to go to Costco, they can do that and handle several orders at once.
D’Anna said that the typical behavior is a customer who orders groceries once a week and who wants to input their entire grocery list, including specific instructions for an egg stand at the local farmer’s market. That makes the orders bigger for the shoppers, and more lucrative, as well.
In fact, how much a shopper earns is up to the person, as Dumpling lets shoppers set their own prices. Dumpling charges a 15 percent fee for the service, and shoppers can set a delivery fee and minimum gratuity over that. (D’Anna said 15 percent is about average, although tips can range as high as 30 percent.)
And importantly, customers know exactly what all those fees are, as they get to see the original store receipts. D’Anna said Dumpling aims to build trusted relationships between shoppers and their customers — and a cornerstone of that is price transparency.
He said the pandemic has rapidly increased consumer demand for things like grocery delivery — and created a host of workers who once might have taken on gig work as a side hustle turning to such jobs full time. Bringing them together on a platform designed to let both sides curate and control the experience seems like a no-brainer.
As D’Anna put it: “It is the kind of improvement I wanted when I shopped for Instacart — and the upgrade the gig marketplace needs right now.”