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Etsy Gives Thumbs Down to Crowd-Shipping Solutions

The appeal of applying the wisdom, or other aspects, of the crowd has led to various concepts about “crowdsourcing” solutions. For example, companies like Uber and Lyft, which connect people needing a lift to drivers, offer an alternative to hiring a ride that delights passengers and alarms the status quo taxi industry.

Such crowdsourcing hints at reaching into the package shipping industry too. The US Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General discussed crowdshipping in February 2014, calling it a “parallel phenomenon” to the emerging ride-sharing community.

The OIG further detailed how big names like global retail giant Walmart and logistics firm DHL have found themselves “toying with crowdshipping.” While something may or may not emerge from their musings, one particular business, Etsy, is content to watch that from the sidelines for now.

Etsy’s Eric Fixler, director of shipping programs, speaking at the Universal Postal Union forum earlier in 2014, noted how 95 percent of Etsy sellers use their national post for delivery. He described how Etsy’s first line of engagement with sellers and shipping “is through the local and national postal service.”

“I don’t feel Etsy is ready for things like crowdshipping solutions,” he said. “I think the national post is the best carrier for dealing with small entrepreneurs. They’re the best point of entry for those people’s packages, they generally provide the best rates. And these are people who know and understand their postage providers and their local post people.”

Fixler would like to see “better and faster” shipping across borders. “I think it would be empowering for those sellers,” he said.

If crowdshipping were to gain a foothold in the package delivery market, several hurdles need to be cleared according to the OIG report. Damaged or missing packages, or delivery delays, will require someone to be responsible for them. Privacy concerns may worry potential customers about having strangers knowing their addresses; what if one of those drivers turns out to be a criminal?

“Would it cost more than it’s worth?” the OIG report asked.

According to one resource, crowdsourcing, of which crowdshipping would be a part, was worth $375 million in 2011. Startups like Deliv, Zipments, and RideShip are among those attempting to gain ground in crowdshipping.

But while challenges exist, some see the potential for profit worth the risks.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.