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You Say Tomato; I say In-Store Pickup

There's a flaw in the same-day delivery model: the tomato.

Huh? you're probably asking yourself. Well don't worry, I'll explain in more detail soon enough. But first, allow me to tally some of the companies that are working hard to find an effective same-day delivery strategy for online orders. For those of you keeping track at home, the biggest players are currently Amazon, Google, Wal-Mart, eBay, and the United States Postal Service (it almost seems easier to make a list of eCommerce giants who aren't trying to offer same-day delivery).

And these goliaths are imploring all sorts of gadgetry and trickery to make same-day deliveries work. Their tactics range from Wal-Mart, which is leveraging its massive system of store locations; to Amazon, which is rushing to build out fully automated fulfillment centers; to Google, which may deploy an army of unmanned robotic cars to deliver packages to our doors in the near future. It seems there is nothing that companies won't do to get packages from the Web to the porch in less than 24 hours.

But back to that tomato (see, I didn't leave you hanging), you can't squeeze a virtual tomato. It's as simple as that.

Online shopping is and will always be great, but it will never completely replace in-store experiences. Amazon is fumbling around with a same-day grocery delivery service, but it's never going to beat that tactile experience of squeezing a tomato (or shaking a melon, for that matter). Now, if Amazon could offer a service that let shoppers order their groceries online, and then pick up the items in a store without having to wait in line, that might do the trick.

Oh wait, lots of companies already let shoppers do just that.

Alpine Audio, for example, lets me order online and pick up in a nearby store. Here in San Luis Obispo, the nearest store is only about two miles away. So when I order some SPX-17PRO speakers so big and loud they'll shake the fillings out of your molars, I don't even have to pay for shipping. It's just a short car ride to where my order is waiting for me. (And, even better, I can just have the experts there install the speakers properly, rather than letting me electrocute myself.)

So how do they do it?

Alpine Audio doesn't have dozens of fulfillment centers working for them around the country like Amazon, and they're certainly not as ubiquitous as Wal-Mart, but they do have loads of retailers who stock their speakers. To be precise, there are more than 1,000 retailers in the U.S. that fulfill online orders for Alpine. On the other hand, Amazon only has about 40 fulfillment centers in North America.

Ha!

And this same-day model isn't limited to larger brands like Alpine Audio. For example, Hog Wild Toys, a great little toy company based in Portland, Ore., has 196 retailers where online shoppers can pick up their order.

The point is that even a relatively small company can offer free same-day pickup almost anywhere, and without the need for a multi-million-dollar Web system tied to inventory. No warehouses, no automated fulfillment centers, no robotic cars.

According to Retail Info Systems 2013 study, within the next 12 to 24 months, 72% of retailers will allow customers to purchase online and pick up in store. So if you ask me, the future of online retail isn't same-day shipping; it's in-store pickup.

Hog Wild and Alpine can offer same-day pickup because their retailers stock their products and already help them with online order fulfillment, that's all it takes. Any brand can achieve lighting-fast fulfillment simply by tapping into stock on local shelves. And that's where we want stock: on local shelves, not in big warehouses or stuck in the back of robotic cars. On shelves the items can sell themselves or be used to service online orders.

There. I've cracked the code. So, Mr. Bezos, Mike Duke and Larry Page, I'll happily accept a check if you need further consultation on how to make your programs successful.

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