Ship happens: Same-Day Delivery Woes

Ordering online gets easier with practice.

Actually receiving what you ordered, however, can be more of a challenge. Until goods can be beamed up, Star Trek-style, e-commerce companies will keep coming up with new delivery strategies.

The San Jose Mercury News discussed the "last mile" this week: the distance from the warehouse to the customer's door. That usually means taking deliveries out of the hands of UPS and the postal service, and it often means same-day delivery. The much-hyped Kozmo.com promises to deliver products like milk, snacks, videos and books within certain cities in under an hour. Streamline.com fills their trucks with customers' dry cleaning, food and rented movies. Even Barnesandnoble.com employed bicycle couriers for same-day deliveries in New York City this December.

Customers love it, but it may not be cost-effective for the companies. "Online grocers need to average about $100 per order before they can make money," wrote Merc reporters Jon Fortt and Joelle Tessler. Kozmo claims its average can be lower because it sends some delivery people on bike or foot, a cheaper option than trucks. Streamline insists delivery by truck costs less than to use traditional delivery services.

Salon writer Damien Cave brought up another shipping quandary: What good is Kozmo's one-hour turnaround if you're not home to receive your purchases? For a $30 monthly fee, Streamline will install an electronic lock in suburban garages or basements, lend customers a fridge, and put the groceries away themselves.

Shipper.com, which will soon offer same-day delivery of household items, will extend its delivery times into the night. A company called MentalPhysics is designing its own tamper-proof metal bins to protect your deliveries until you come home.

The downside of all this shipping convenience? That money thing again.

MentalPhysics boxes are cool, but they're also $300. On the corporate earnings side, Shipper.com charges $10 for deliveries that cost the company $20. Off the books, Salon's Cave worries about quality-of-life implications when the streets become clogged by all these new delivery vans. And, as usual, the community-minded bemoan the possibility of a society of hermits, ordering everything online and never chatting with local shopkeepers. Perhaps, but do these services' presumed target markets - overworked dual-income families and high-speed Gen-X techies - really stop to schmooze with the neighborhood butcher, anyway?

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