Would You Pay to Have Gas Delivered to Your Car?
By Aaron Crowe
Some things you may not realize you want delivered to your door until it happens: shaving razors, huge pears, toothpaste, medical marijuana and individualized packets of snacks, along with, of course, hot food.
A company based in Los Angeles — the home of the freeway — is betting that consumers will want something delivered to them that they may not have thought was worth the extra cost or would save them much time: gasoline. It’s one of a few gas delivery companies in the U.S.
“Few people really like to go to the gas station,” says Bruno Uzzan, co-founder of Purple, a start-up aiming at changing the gasoline industry.
For people who already drive a few miles out of their way to save 10 cents or less on a gallon of gas, Purple may be the money-saving app they didn’t realize they needed.
While many people are willing to deal with a 10-minute stop every week or so to fill up their gas tank, it’s still “one of the worst experiences” for many people who would rather save their time for something else and avoid the security problems of getting gas late at night, for example, Uzzan says.
“We are thinking about changing a habit that has been there forever,” he says.
How it works
Delivery is currently free, though $1 is charged for delivery in less than an hour. The company plans to charge a fee for all deliveries eventually, such as $5 to $7 for a rush job, he says. The normal delivery time is less than three hours. Uzzan says Purple, which started doing business in L.A. in May, didn’t start off charging a fee for a simple reason: to gain customers.
“For now we wanted to get the service as accessible as possible for people,” he says.
Its goal for prices for gas is to be below the average prices in each delivery area. In late October in L.A., Purple charged $2.99 a gallon for unleaded 87 octane gas, compared to an average cost of $3.10 to $3.20, Uzzan says.
Purple is currently offered in metro L.A. and San Diego, with the goal of expanding to San Francisco and Seattle by the end of the year, Uzzan says. It plans to start deliveries in 10 cities by April 2016, he says, including New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Here’s an example of how the service works:
You’re low on gas and need 10 or 15 gallons of gas — which are the only increments Purple offers — so you use Purple’s mobile app to request that gas be delivered and deposited into your car in a three-hour timeframe between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Overnight deliveries are planned for the future.
Delivery can be to your home or office, and you don’t have to be at your vehicle when the courier arrives. You just need to leave your gas tank open. You don’t provide your keys to the delivery person, and there’s no need for them to drive your car.
They pour the gas in your tank from five-gallon gas containers they carry. Payment is made through the app.
Designed for the masses
Uzzan didn’t want to specify how many customers Purple has, but said it has a couple of thousand active members that buy regularly.
Luxury car owners in wealthy L.A. neighborhoods made up most of Purple’s early adopters. “A lot of folks driving a beautiful car don’t want to get their hands dirty,” Uzzan says.
More recently, the company is seeing more everyday cars using the service, he says.
Uzzan says he doesn’t expect Purple to kill gas stations. He points out that of the 40 million people who stop at a gas station daily, capturing 0.1 percent of them would equate to 40,000 daily users of the delivery service.
“There will always be people who want to stop at the gas station,” he says.
Gig economy expansion
Because California law restricts gas deliveries to 30 gallons before strict regulations take effect on how gas is transported, Purple’s delivery system relies on Uber drivers and other individuals to deliver its gas on demand.
They’re paid per delivery, and their pay is more than other on-demand industries, including Uber, says Uzzan, who didn’t want to specify the rate.
Other companies fill up gas tanks for customers too. Luxe offered a summer sale on its car cleaning services and offered to fill up customers’ tanks upon return of their vehicle.
Filld offers gas delivery in Silicon Valley between San Jose and Palo Alto for a $5 delivery fee. The gas costs whatever the average price of gas is in the customer’s area.
While gas delivery isn’t a common request at WeGoLook, a company that specializes in sending its agents to inspect autos and do document research, it is a service that it would provide if customers requested it, says Robin Smith, the company’s CEO.
Gas delivery would cost $25 to $30, though Smith says she expects most of the company’s customers to want its hired agents to take their car and fill it up for them instead of delivering gas.
“I don’t know how many people would want us to do that,” she says of filling up on the spot.
“I guess the thing with gas is, it doesn’t take that long,” Smith says. “There are lots of places to go get it.”
But at a time when even the smallest chore is done from a smartphone, gas delivery is one less chore in the lives of busy drivers, says Uzzan, the Purple co-founder.
“People are asking for things to be done in a very, very easy way,” he says.
It doesn’t get much easier than a phone app. You just have to be willing to pay about $5 for a task that would take you 10 minutes or less to do on your own.