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    Online ordering: Ways around difficult deliveries

    Michael Baker
    Smarter Writer

    Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

    Michael Baker
    Smarter Writer

    Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

    Difficult deliveries for online orders is holding back e commerce in Australia.

    One of the things that continues to confound e-commerce in Australia is the challenge of delivering parcels quickly and economically over the 'last mile' to a customer's residence.

    Fulfilment is painfully slow, with customers often being told that delivery will be within some ridiculously wide window like, say, 2-7 days, making it impossible for a purchaser to know if something is going to arrive at the front door when it's needed. Often, a customer will actually finalise an order without ever being told in any clear and direct manner how the merchandise is being delivered or when.

    This dismal state of affairs is one of the contributing factors holding back e-commerce in Australia. Without wishing to be one of those tedious whiners who claims, wrongly, that everything is done better everywhere else, the truth is that progress in this particular area has been poor in Australia compared with some of the quite stunning advances being made elsewhere in the world.

    cartoon drawing of the world and different modes of transport

    Same-day service

    One example is the relentless push toward same-day delivery. And some ingenious models are now being devised to get goods from retail stores, shopping centres and distribution warehouses to homes or offices on the same day as purchase – without the shopper doing any of the legwork.

    One of the leaders in same-day delivery is eBay, which offers a courier service called eBay Now in four major U.S. metropolitan areas, expanding to 25 more metros by the end of 2014. Delivery price is $5 for orders above $25 and delivery itself typically occurs within two hours of purchase. If the customer wishes to return an item, he or she sends an email to eBay which dispatches someone to pick it up.

    Google Shopping Express delivers within a 3-5 hour window in the San Francisco Bay area for a similar price to eBay Now. Participating retailers include apparel, office supplies, grocery and general merchandise chains. Meanwhile, Amazon's AmazonFresh and Walmart's Walmart to Go are both trialling same-day grocery delivery in selected U.S. metropolitan markets.

    Of course, the economics of same-day delivery are difficult – retailer margins are at risk and pricing strategy will be a work in progress for some time. In the end, it may remain a niche service.

    Special delivery

    The larger point, though, is that leading retailers are no longer telling their customers that the whole thing is just too darn difficult and they will have to either wait an eternity for their orders to be delivered or go fetch the thing themselves from a click-and-collect destination. They’re figuring out ways of giving customers what they want – instead of telling them what they are going to get because it happens to be convenient for the retailer – this is one of the key tenets of customer centricity.

    An American company called Deliv has come up with an interesting way of doing economically viable same-day deliveries. Deliv does it by crowdsourcing.

    Here’s an example of how it works: the shopper takes his shopping bags to the shopping centre’s concierge desk and leaves them there to be delivered to his home while he continues shopping or goes on to some other activity. Deliv arranges for the delivery later that day at a cost to the customer of about $5.

    But how?

    It uses a crowdsourcing platform lets private citizens to drive their own cars as a fleet of delivery vehicles. As the company’s website puts it, Deliv’s crowdsourced delivery people are “friendly, awesome people in the community who are either under-employed, retired, parents with grown children, or folks who just want something more interesting than a standard desk job“.

    Key to Deliv model’s is its highly sophisticated route management technology that makes each driver’s itinerary as economically efficient as it can be.

    Although the above example involves delivery from a shopping centre’s concierge desk, the Deliv crowdsourcing model can also be used to deliver goods from a conventional retail store or an online retailer’s distribution centre.


    While a brilliant idea, it’s not workable in 100 per cent of situations. However it does show how seemingly intractable problems can be solved if businesses really put their minds to it.

    Once thought to repose on the scrapheap of things retailers deem ‘impossible’, competition among some of the world’s best retailers on the basis of same-day delivery is just starting to heat up.

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