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L.A. at Large

Virtual Delivery: From Cyberspace to Your Door

September 05, 2000|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the hellbent cortege of rush-hour motorists careers through Beverly Hills, a Zen-like calm pervades Andy Evans' ice-blue eyes, as if he were tooling along on some peaceful country lane.

"See, this is why I like the night shift, because you'll only have sun for about two hours," says Evans, 21, part-time actor and full-time driver for the e-based home delivery company Kozmo.com. "After that, it's cool. Roll down your windows and enjoy it."

Cool karma aside, Evans is actually blazing trails for a curious new enterprise in this reputedly laid-back but increasingly Type A mega-city. More and more, beleaguered parents and high-strung careerists are learning to cope with L.A.'s manic polyrhythms by hunting for groceries and home entertainment via the Internet, while leaving the actual road time to freewheeling spirits like him.

In their quest to squeeze a few precious seconds from the archaic 24-hour day, tens of thousands of Angelenos are buying into e-based home delivery, a postmodern marketing strategem that supposedly fuses Jetson-esque efficiency with old-fangled personalized service. At least half a dozen dot.com home delivery companies have hung out their shingles in Southern California: Whyrunout, Kozmo, Netgrocer, HomeGrocer, WholePeople and the regional granddaddy, 13-year-old Camarillo-based PDQuick, formerly known as Pink Dot. If national trends continue, that number could double over the next three years, as more cyber start-ups rush to meet the personal whims and culinary caprices of the recreationally challenged.

With the click of a mouse or the purr of a cell phone, consumers can now summon everything from diapers, Dom Perignon and heat-and-eat gourmet pasta to Eminen CDs and copies of "Erin Brockovich," rushed to your family room, office cubicle or college dorm in as little as 30 minutes. Why risk life and limb navigating the 405 when you can sink into your La-Z-Boy, flip on "Survivor" reruns and wait for a smiling, well-groomed young man or woman to magically materialize at your doorstep, plastic goody bag in hand?

Probably someone like Evans, a handsome, affably low-key Houston native who joined Kozmo's Seattle operation last August, as one of its orange-and-green clad "kozmonauts," then moved to L.A. when the company set up shop here in February. Headquartered in New York, Kozmo now serves 11 markets from Boston to San Diego, dispatching videos, CDs and DVDs, magazines, over-the-counter drugs, pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and other sundries by car, bicycle and motor scooter, with no delivery charge.

"We tell you we'll get it to you in under an hour," says Kozmo marketing associate Shelley Oliver, "but the 'wow' factor is, we try to get it to you even faster."

In some ways, the kozmonauts' mission is a throwback to the days when doctors made house calls and most Americans knew the names of the people who brought their milk, eggs, newspapers, electric bills and Saturday Evening Post. Whether living in inner-city high-rises or far-flung suburban ranch houses, modern consumers seem to want both split-second electronic access to their every desire and the reassuring warmth of human contact--however fleeting.

Guys like Evans--and the vast majority of e-couriers, perhaps 90%, are indeed guys--supply a link between Kozmo's disembodied customers, tapping out orders on remote keyboards, and the company's bustling warehouse "spokes." Evans works out of a long, windowless building on a charmless strip of torn-up Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

"Most of our customers are really nice," says Evans, nudging his '94 Ford Escort through a swarm of marauding SUVs westbound on Sunset Boulevard. "I've delivered to a couple of people from 'Saturday Night Live.' Sometimes you'll answer the door and it's like seeing somebody from high school. It's like, 'I know you.' "

This 'Day Job' Has Nighttime Hours

It's a fine late-summmer's eve, and despite the usual bumper-to-bumper creep along Sunset, Evans is making good time heading west. Stealing a glance at his Thomas Guide, he cites another reason he prefers to work evenings: better tips. On top of Kozmo's $7- to $13-an-hour base pay, plus stock options, Evans nets anywhere between $5 to $30 in extra pocket money per shift from clients who appreciate his speediness and can-do demeanor. Not bad for a job that, despite a certain cyber-hipness quotient, is basically a half-step removed from schlepping Domino's pizza.

And by working nights, Evans can devote daylight hours to his acting career. So far, his biggest studio film role has been a bit part in the upcoming "The Family Man," with Nicolas Cage.

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