Right now, same day delivery is one of the hottest topics in e-commerce with multiple firms experimenting with different ways of fulfilling on-line orders tout suite. See this Wired graphic-fest for a summary of what different firms are trying.
Then there is this.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc is considering a radical plan to have store customers deliver packages to online buyers, a new twist on speedier delivery services that the company hopes will enable it to better compete with Amazon.com Inc. …
“I see a path to where this is crowd-sourced,” Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com in the United States, said in a recent interview with Reuters.
Wal-Mart has millions of customers visiting its stores each week. Some of these shoppers could tell the retailer where they live and sign up to drop off packages for online customers who live on their route back home, Anderson explained.
Wal-Mart would offer a discount on the customers’ shopping bill, effectively covering the cost of their gas in return for the delivery of packages, he added.
(Wal-Mart may get customers to deliver packages to online buyers, Reuters, Mar 28)
The article describes this as being at the “brain-storming stage” and I must admit that I don’t know where that lands on Woody Allen’s notion-concept-idea spectrum. Indeed, it strikes me as being something of an elaborate April Fools’ joke.
There seem to be several problems with this plan. As the Reuters article notes, there are various issues of liability and fraud. I could imagine that Wal-Mart would ask for credit card from the would-be delivery person so they would have some recourse for when a package didn’t show up. Clearly placing liability on the deliverer would drive up the cost of attracting participants. I might be willing to make on stop on my way home for an easy ten bucks, but I may not be willing to risk being blamed for $200 worth of stuffing going missing for a mere sawbuck. UPS or FedEx can bear that risk because they vet their employees and can easily self-insure. A person who is willing to run an errand for a few bucks may not as tolerant of risk.
There is another flaw with this plan: It is hard to schedule around serendipity. If you are really counting on crowd-sourcing, how do you decide whether to assign an order to a regular shipper instead of hoping that a neighbor will come by in the next half hour? If a the local delivery area is so dense that a neighbor is always coming by, then how many on-line orders will the store be getting as opposed to having people just come in?
There is another way this could play out. It may just be that Wal-Mart wants to cultivate a pool of independent contractors who hang out at the store hoping for the opportunity to deliver packages. That’s not so much crowd-sourcing as taking advantage of a weak labor market. This would take care of some of the fraud concerns since a “regular” who makes frequent deliveries for Wal-Mart would be reluctant to be shut out of steady cash for a quick score. But even this is not free of scheduling challenges. If there is enough work for a deliverer to make two or three deliveries an hour, a person could make a decent wage. However, without active scheduling to control the number of people waiting to make deliveries, some days could see an overabundance of labor that could discourage participation in the long run.