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.
Tapping customers to deliver goods would put the world’s largest retailer squarely in middle of a new phenomenon sometimes known as “crowd-sourcing,” or the “sharing economy.”
A plethora of start-ups now help people make money by renting out a spare room, a car, or even a cocktail dress, and Wal-Mart would in effect be inviting people to rent out space in their vehicle and their willingness to deliver packages to others.
Such an effort would, however, face numerous legal, regulatory and privacy obstacles, and Wal-Mart executives said it was at an early planning stage.
Wal-Mart is making a big push to ship online orders directly from stores, hoping to cut transportation costs and gain an edge over Amazon and other online retailers, which have no physical store locations. Wal-Mart does this at 25 stores currently, but plans to double that to 50 this year and could expand the program to hundreds of stores in the future.
Wal-Mart currently uses carriers like FedEx Corp for delivery from stores – or, in the case of a same-day delivery service called Walmart To Go that is being tested in five metro areas, its own delivery trucks.
“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.
“This is at the brain-storming stage, but it’s possible in a year or two,” said Jeff McAllister, senior vice president of Walmart U.S. innovations.
Indeed, the likelihood of this being broadly adopted across the company’s network of more than 4,000 stores in the United States is low, according to Matt Nemer, a retail analyst at Wells Fargo Securities.
“I’m sure it will be a test in some stores,” he added. “But they may only keep it for metro markets and for higher-priced items.”
Read more at REUTERS.