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Getting Packages to Customers: Drones, Lockers or Men on the Ground?

Online merchants are looking at ways to get packages into the hands of customers more quickly and efficiently, and this year’s holiday-delivery fiasco demonstrates how tough the challenge will be. The well publicized problems of shipping carriers brought forth more article about ecommerce delivery strategies from the likes of Google and Amazon, including same-day delivery initiatives.

A content consultant wrote in a Forbes column that Google could help retailers solve the same-day delivery challenge through Uber, which is a ride-sharing app – Uber’s mobile app connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. “A local merchant could start doing this today and “hail Uber” with the app and within a few minutes a package could be on its way to a customer, for a fairly low cost,” wrote the columnist.

Retailers’ possible use of Uber is along the lines of eBay’s same-day delivery program it’s testing called eBay Now. eBay CEO John Donahoe had commented about the excess delivery capacity in cities, though he referred specifically to newspaper delivery trucks.

Amazon is looking to drones rather than a “men on the ground” strategy suggested by Google and eBay services. Its announcement about 30-minute delivery via unmanned drones on December 1st was timely – the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Monday it had approved six sites for testing commercial drones.

BizJournals.com said the approval puts Amazon and UPS plans for delivery drones“closer to reality” – more information is available on the FAA website.

But while Amazon says it is planning to use drones, it acknowledged that the reality is years away. In the meantime, it has been rolling out lockers as a safe and convenient way for shoppers to pick up packages. In light of the rash of package-theft from shoppers’ doorsteps, which has come to be known as “Front Porch Shopping,” delivery lockers may be a winning idea in at least some locales.

While Amazon doesn’t say much about its delivery lockers, it continues to deploy them – NBC12.com reported yesterday the online marketplace is expanding the delivery locker service in Richmond, Virginia.

Companies seem eager to try almost anything to help retailers satisfy shoppers’ desire for instant gratification – it looks like the New Year will see even greater focus on solving delivery challenges.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.