In Which We Send an eBay Now Valet on a Citywide Hunt for Vibrating Condoms

"Will an alternate sex aid suffice?"

You can buy a lot with eBay Now, the new service that allows iOS users to order items from the eCommerce company’s brick-and-mortar partners for same-day delivery. You can buy televisions from Best Buy and iPods from Radio Shack; something from Guitar Center, perhaps, or organic formula from Babies ‘R’ Us. Or, you know, a Whitman’s Sampler and a vibrator-and-condom two-in-one kit.

Betabeat was on hand when eBay fired a shot across Amazon’s bow when it announced its eBay Now app last month, saddened only that the service would gets its first test in San Francisco. When we heard that the company was bringing the beta version to Manhattan—and that the company was shaving $15 dollars off users’ first orders and waiving the $5 delivery fee on the first three—we were pretty sure we had to try it out.

But what to order? The new app offers same-day delivery on items from eBay’s featured partners, including Macy’s, Best Buy and Urban Outfitters, but a new flat screen or even a holiday sweater would stretch our expense account. Walgreen’s offered a lower-cost option: A box of Ding Dongs, perhaps, to ease the pang of nostalgia struck by news that Hostess Brands was moving to liquidate. A case of beer, to drown our sorrows? Funyuns are always a hit.

Sadly, those items were unavailable through the app, and after some hemming and hawing with the Betabeat staff, we finally placed our order:

So juvenile! But there’s something about the idea of same-day delivery at the press of a button that called out to our adolescent selves. Besides, before we could put the action of pressing the ‘buy’ button together with the consequence of of a bike messenger scouring pharmacy shelves for our preferred brand vibrating contraceptive, it was too late:

Quickly, the app notified us that we’d been assigned a “valet,” and provided an expected delivery time. (Considering we’d placed our order a few minutes after 10 a.m., we were impressed by the ETA.) Moments later, we heard from Carmen herself, who called to check our address (our iPhone’s GPS had mis-located Betabeat’s offices by a block, and we suppressed a giggle as we gave Carmen our actual address).

10:45 came and went, and the app updated expected delivery to 11:13. On the dot, Carmen rang us back: the first three Duane Reades she’d visited didn’t have our favored brand in the same packaging advertised on the app. Some awkwardness ensued. Carmen couldn’t quite bring herself to say “vibrator” or “condom” or “vibrating condom.”

We summoned what dignity we could marshall. The courier asked if we’d accept a similar product, and if we’d cover a discrepancy from the advertised price. There was no turning back. Just get them here pronto! Try to get us the online price!

And so we waited, and emailed an eBay spokeswoman for a little more info on how the service works:

All of the items are locally available at our retail partners, which include Urban Outfitters, Best Buy, Toys R Us, Macy’s, Target, and many more. Valets go to the closest store that has the item in-stock, pick it up there, and bring it to anywhere within the delivery area that the customer wants. That means we can deliver to apartments and offices, but also to coffee shops, bars, etc.

We aim for delivery in as little as an hour and so far, we’ve been pretty close to that goal on almost all orders. Of course, orders with more than one item in them tend to take a bit more time, as do orders where the store is extremely far from the shopper. At this time, valets do one order at a time.

Good to know.

At 11:32, Carmen arrived. We met her at the front desk and swiped our card through her PayPal dongle, chitchatted while her iPhone processed the transaction. (She’s been a bike messenger for years; she thought that other retailers would have likely honored the online price, but with Duane Reade, no dice.)

What did we make of the service? We have to say we’re pretty pleased. There was no beer or snack cakes, and the featured products were a little odd (something in Target’s market research apparently led it to believe eBay Now users will have a pressing need for shower rods). The car icon on the eBay Now map doesn’t actually track in real time, and once we placed our order, we couldn’t figure out how to purchase another item. (Finally, after our order was paid and delivered, we “canceled” the order, allowing us to browse again.) And as evidenced by our faulty GPS/proclivity for hard-to-find sex aids, the app relies heavily on human couriers.

For now, the eBay spokeswoman told us, the company is relying entirely on contract employees. That worked out well for us this time, but who knows what will happen as the holiday shopping season revs up. Will delivery times increase? Will eBay meet its need for dedicated valets as demand for the service ramps up?

Perhaps not, in which case, we probably should have opted for a bigger box.

In Which We Send an eBay Now Valet on a Citywide Hunt for Vibrating Condoms