Of the many advantages offered by online over brick-and-mortar retail, one of the least spoken about is delivery in retail. The way in which retailers deliver product into the hands of customers has gone through many changes throughout the years. Mail-order era companies like Sears and Roebuck gave way to the department store, followed by the mallrat era, when malls became the center of teenage social life. Next came the rise of the supercenter and finally the contemporary age of online retail. Customers need only tap a few times on their phone, and have their product delivered within 24 hours — or sometimes, even sooner.
On paper, nothing can beat brick-and-mortar when it comes to speed. Not only can an experienced, savvy shopper be in and out of their favorite grocery or hardware store in under an hour, but convenience stores and their pharmacy cousins are designed to fulfill customer needs in a matter of minutes. That’s something online retail hasn’t been able to pull off yet. However, those times don’t account for all the variables involved with visiting a store, and besides, sometimes customers just don’t feel like shopping.
That’s why many brick-and-mortar retailers are looking to expand their offerings into delivery services. By leveraging their existing footprint, these companies can bridge the gap between online and in-store through tech-enhanced delivery methods, lending them an advantage in the changing marketplace.
Delivery in retail used to be a trade-off. While lower prices and larger selections gave online retailers an edge, shipping and handling was a hassle to be avoided. Items would take various lengths of time to be delivered with no guarantee as to arrival date. Then of course, there was the matter of returns.
Amazon, through a deal with the United States Postal Service, has managed to mitigate some of the cost of shipping millions of packages. Promotions and loyalty programs like Amazon Prime have passed that savings on to consumers, allowing for free two-day shipping and reduced-cost overnight delivery for thousands of items throughout the store. And that’s just what’s done through the postal service. Amazon also offers same-day delivery on select Prime items, as well as its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service.
Which, of course, is where Whole Foods comes in.
Chances are, when people think of same-day delivery they’re thinking of restaurants. For decades now pizzerias, Chinese take-out, and many other eateries, both chain and local, have been offering fast and fresh delivery to consumers too tired or strapped for time to eat-in, or go to the grocery store.
Delivery in retail has traditionally taken the form of next-day delivery at the soonest, or more commonly, delivery after a wait of several days, with the trade-off of lower prices. Jet.com sought to maximize this model, by offering a wholesale club-inspired model of a subscription service which sold goods at cost. Eventually Jet.com dropped the membership model in lieu of slightly shallower discounts. Noting the success of the company, Walmart purchased Jet.com and is continuing to improve the service, offering same-day delivery. Now, Jet.com seeks to distinguish itself by better predicting what shoppers want, as well as sourcing products local to the serviced area.
Other companies have embraced alternative models for delivery in retail, such as the gig economy. For example, The Kroger Company has expanded its deal with Instacart, bringing the service to more of its grocery brands and locations nationwide. Instacart relies on a network of independent contractors who fill grocery orders in-store, then bring the order to customers.
And of course, the online giant and new player in brick-and-mortar, Amazon, has made its own foray into same-day grocery delivery. Amazon Prime Now offers same-day delivery from a variety of locations in several cities around the US. AmazonFresh is available as an upgrade to Prime members and offers a huge selection of grocery items.
And then there’s Whole Foods, which Amazon purchased to much hoopla. Delivery is also offered under this brand, but the real advantage for Amazon’s purchase of the grocery chain comes from their expanded urban footprint. Now, Amazon has the opportunity to use Whole Foods locations as warehouses or fulfillment centers for same-day grocery delivery, a boon not only to Whole Foods which is now more closely tied to a tech giant, but also via AmazonFresh, which can expand its offerings substantially by leveraging the Whole Foods industry and supply chain. Delivery, like in-store pickup, is an area where brick-and-mortar and online retail can come together to deliver a stronger retail experience than just the one or the other.
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