Gorillas’ Retreat Signals a Reckoning for Delivery Apps

The banana is a recurring motif at the delivery app Gorillas: The fruit is sometimes handed out free to customers, representing the company’s promise to deliver fresh food within minutes. But at the business’s warehouse in the Eilandje neighborhood of Antwerp, Belgium, this symbol has spent the last few months rotting. Piles of gone-off bananas and old salad had to be thrown out every three days due to over-ordering, one person who worked in the warehouse told WIRED. “If you know that you only need to sell 50 bananas a day, why do you order 400?”

In hindsight, this could have been taken as an omen. The company arrived in Belgium in June 2021 amid a flurry of funding and enthusiasm for quick-commerce apps. One year later, the German company has decided to leave, as the mood toward the sector sours. Gorillas’ six Belgian warehouses, also known as dark stores—two in Antwerp and four in Brussels—have been shuttered since June 25 and local media has reported that more than 200 people have been laid off. The Berlin-based company is also expected to exit Denmark, Spain, and Italy to focus on more profitable markets.

“We are not in a position to provide a definitive number on how many employees will ultimately be affected by our strategic shift to long-term profitability,” says Melissa Largent, a Gorillas spokesperson. Products hitting their “best-before” dates before they were sold was a problem experienced across the industry, including at traditional supermarkets, she adds.

During the pandemic, Gorillas was flush with cash. The company raised almost $1 billion in October, an amount even the company’s CEO, Kagan Sümer, described as “extraordinary.” But the quick-commerce sector has become another victim of investors’ new aversion to loss-making startups as they worry about the economy. Gorillas’ retreat is emblematic of pain being felt across the sector in Europe. Gorillas’ rival Getir said it planned to cut its global head count by more than 800 people, while Zapp said it expected to lay off 200 workers, leaving British cities Cambridge and Bristol entirely, and Jiffy has stopped deliveries altogether to focus on software.

“All those logistics–supply chain–IT companies that rely on cheap money, you can see they are now panicking,” says Roel Gevaers, professor at the University of Antwerp, who researches last mile delivery.

Part of the problem in Belgium, where Gorillas charged consumers 1.8 euros ($1.90) per delivery, was that demand stayed low. One person who worked at a Gorillas warehouse in Brussels said some warehouses received only 80 to 90 orders a day, and order growth stalled after coronavirus lockdowns were lifted. At the same time, labor costs in the country are high. According to Gevaers’ calculations, the wage of a rider or warehouse worker in Belgium costs a company around 25 euros per hour, once taxes such as social security are factored in— 20 percent more than in the Netherlands.

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