(MoneyWatch) As retail continues to move online, fast delivery becomes critical to maximize consumer instant gratification and compete with physical stores. Walmart (WMT), which operates both online and in its massive number of locations, is considering a new twist on delivery. The company might use its existing customers to act as a delivery force, according to an interview with Reuters.
Although still in the early planning stages because of a number of potential problems, the plan could go into operation within a couple of years. This could conceivably allow the retail giant to control its costs and gain a large available delivery force. The move might also add some competitive advantage over major competitors like Amazon (AMZN).
Walmart's goal is to ship orders directly from stores, which would cut time and cost getting products to online consumers by leveraging the company's massive logistics infrastructure and widespread presence. Reducing the time to the customer helps get closer to the instant purchase experience that going to a store grants.
For example, Walmart has trials of a same-day delivery service, called Walmart To Go, in five different cities. That is likely a response to same-day delivery service from the likes of Amazon and eBay. Google GOOG) has also begun to test a same-day delivery service it would offer to large retailers.
Walmart needs to keep pace and currently uses FedEx to deliver from stores. Getting local customers to drop off packages on the way home from a Walmart store might drop the cost, even if only used as a supplementary form of delivery. However, there are some significant hurdles:
--Walmart could face liability for any problems the crowdsourced delivery people might cause, like damage to a customer's home or to a car in a traffic accident.
--Walmart might find itself responsible for workers' compensation in case delivery people get injured on the job.
--There could be reliability issues if deliveries don't happen as quickly as expected or if someone's personal transportation breaks down before completing a delivery.
--The potential for theft, fraud, or other criminal activities offer risk.
--The lack of company branding, or a recognizable brand from a major delivery company might leave consumers disturbed.
Ultimately, the scheme could work and even might offer some additional twists, like Walmart offering product discounts that would be cheaper than the same amount paid as cash because the company's profit margin would effectively reduce the face value of a coupon.