As 2021 came to a close, Turkish delivery giant Getir was just getting started. In November, the company, which offers “on demand” grocery delivery, entered the U.S. market, first in Chicago and then in New York City. The expansion was coupled with an aggressive marketing campaign: YouTube and TikTok ads featuring influencers apparently too busy to shop for themselves. Getir promised promotional rates and 15-minute deliveries.
Getir is a dominant presence in Turkey and other European cities, but in the U.S., it joins companies like Gorillas, JOKR, and Gopuff in jockeying for market share of what analysts call the “ultrafast delivery” space — where companies operate dark stores to facilitate delivering items in the shortest possible time, usually about 10–15 minutes. While the pandemic created an opening for the near-instant delivery market, four analysts told Rest of World that it’s still unclear whether Getir — or any company, for that matter — will be able to turn a profit on ultrafast delivery in the U.S.
Richard Kestenbaum, co-founder and partner of Triangle Capital, a private investment banking firm that focuses on the retail market, told Rest of World that, to outsiders, the U.S., arguably the biggest market in the world, can seem like a wealthy and homogenous place, where everyone shares the same language and currency. But in reality, it is cutthroat, competitive, and nuanced. “[The U.S.] is the biggest market for those people who can succeed,” said Kestenbaum. “But for many non-U.S. companies in retail, it’s a graveyard.”
Founded in 2015 by Nazim Salur, who also founded the ride-hailing app BiTaksi, Getir is now present in 81 Turkish cities and employs 32,000 people worldwide, including all of its delivery riders. In 2021, the company reported 3.4 million active users and, since launching in 2015, has accumulated some 34 million downloads. Over the past year, Getir has expanded rapidly across Europe, buying up Spanish delivery grocery startup Blok and U.K. delivery startup Weezy and launching operations in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Just six months after its acquisition of Blok, Salur announced plans to launch in the U.S. “One U.S. is equal to all [of] Europe,” Salur told CNBC in an interview in the fall.
Mikhail Doubnov, managing director at Winter Capital, one of Getir’s investors, told Rest of World that the company’s success in pioneering ultrafast delivery in Turkey makes him optimistic about the possibilities in the U.S. market. “They are one of the few players who actually managed to do this kind of quick delivery at scale,” Doubnov said.
Doubnov says that it’s no accident that Getir and other ultrafast delivery companies are expanding to the U.S. during the pandemic. Before quarantines were normalized, investors were skeptical of faster delivery as a central selling point. “Many investors were thinking, ‘We have 30-minute delivery, why do we need that?’” said Doubnov. “But when Covid happened, there was a great demand for delivery services, and it helped [ultrafast delivery] companies to actually demonstrate how there is a product-market fit for this model.”
To finance its rapid expansion, Getir has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. In June 2021, it completed a $550 million funding round, upping its valuation to $7.5 billion, as it expanded further into Western Europe. With its expansion to the U.S. market — and an anticipated new round of funding — Getir is now seeking a $12 billion valuation.
Kestenbaum told Rest of World that even Getir’s massive amount of funding may not guarantee its success. “What we’re seeing is people who have raised a lot of money jump into the market with the belief that buying market share will allow them to be ultimately successful,” he said. But there’s a major problem: “It is,” he added, “an unproven strategy in retail so far.”
The delivery space is a notoriously difficult place to turn a profit, according to Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. In the grocery space specifically, margins are thin, and, in densely populated cities like New York in particular, neighborhood grocers are often convenient options highly calibrated to meet the needs of their specific local customer base. Still, Cohen said that the ultrafast delivery space is awash in funding, with investors worried about missing out on what could be the next big thing. Atif Unaldi, who is an author at Harvard Business Review Turkey and a columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek Turkey, believes that the investor enthusiasm for ultrafast delivery is behind Getir’s push into the U.S. market, rather than any particular strategy on the part of the company. “There is no other strategy — it’s [to] take money and grow fast,” he said. “Salur is trying to expand so much that investors don’t come to him to ask about income.”
Getir did not respond to questions from Rest of World about the company’s strategy in the U.S. in time for publication.
Chicago resident Jeff Engel told Rest of World that he first heard of Getir through a friend and decided to use the service after seeing a Facebook ad promising $25 off any order. Engel got his order of ice cream, Catalina Crunch cereal, snacks, candy, some fruit, and a can of Bubly sparkling water to him in just 12 minutes — but it was the discounts rather than the speed that sold him. “They’ve since reduced the deal to $20 off a $30 purchase,” Engel said. Would he turn to Getir again? “If I really wanted something for some reason and wasn’t planning on going to the grocery soon, I’d consider it,” he said.