Urbery brings ice cream to customers' doorsteps

New chatbot program with Ben & Jerry’s allows customers to purchase products through a simple, conversational interface

In a trial of a new direct-to-consumer business model, online delivery service Urbery.com is getting Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to downtown Toronto customers faster than they can say “brain freeze.”

The service has partnered with Unilever Canada on a new program called #DoughToDoor, which offers curbside delivery of three flavours of Ben & Jerry’s within as little as 30 minutes (and often within 5-10 minutes) through the use of the latter’s Facebook Messenger “chatbot.”

“I’m amazed that people are getting it so fast,” says Urbery founder and CEO Mudit Rawat. “Even at peak times when there are a lot of people ordering, we’re still able to figure out how to get this ice cream to them.”

Rawat says that the service addresses growing consumer demand for online shopping with shorter wait times, while also facilitating a direct relationship between brands and their customers.

Urbery and Unilever are directing customers to the Ben & Jerry’s Facebook page, which presents them with its Facebook Messenger “delivery bot.”

Essentially an automated customer service representative, the bot gives customers the ability to obtain product information, such as facts about the featured flavours and nutritional information. Unlike traditional automated programs, the bots adopt a conversational tone, occasionally even using colloquialisms when “talking” with consumers.

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Users can order ice cream at a cost of $8.99 per pint plus a $4.50 delivery fee (which is waived if people buy two pints or more). Like the standard Urbery service, users receive a text message when their order is processed. They can subsequently follow their order in real-time via their mobile device.

Jessica Armstrong, director of digital, e-commerce and omni-channel at Unilever in Toronto, says that “#DoughToDoor” was conceived as a test of two “key capabilities” for the packaged goods giant: Chat-bots and on-demand partnerships.

“If both prove successful, we will explore the opportunity of having an always-on strategy for certain brands and products,” she says. “Our strategy is one that always puts our consumer first, so we hope to learn from them throughout this campaign to help shape this strategy to best serve them in the future.”

Armstrong did not reveal how many pints of Ben & Jerry’s have been ordered, but says the program – a global first for the company – is achieving its targets. Rawat says that one office customer ordered 25 pints. “Some people just like ice cream,” he says with a laugh.

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Armstrong says that direct selling tactics such as this are “definitely becoming more common” for brands, with the emergence of on-demand platforms like Urbery enabling companies like Unilever to test which brands and products its customers are interested in. “A chat-bot is a great medium for facilitating that connection,” she says.

Rawat says that the program allows companies such as Unilever to bypass traditional retail channels and sell directly to their customer, with companies like Urbery serving in a back-end fulfillment role that he likens to the online retailer Amazon.

While the timing of the program seems somewhat at odds with Ben & Jerry’s reputation as a summer treat, Armstrong says the brand enjoys “tremendous loyalty” that makes it less reliant on seasonal sales than traditional ice cream brands.

“With students back on campus and the Netflix binging season just beginning, we knew that this would be an ideal time for us,” she says.

Earlier this year, Uber’s Chris Messina coined the term “conversational commerce” – and the hashtag #convcomm – to describe the rise of chatbots and their ability to facilitate online sales for companies.

“The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal,” he wrote on Medium.com.

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