Disruptive TechSeptember 27, 2019

When Delivery Services Go Faceless

From Milkman to Drones: The Evolution of Retail Delivery

By SHAMONTIEL VAUGHN | CONTRIBUTING WRITER‍

[RETHINK Retail] — Before 2005, the idea of choosing eBay over Amazon was a no-brainer. At the time, Amazon’s online marketplace was known for selling books and DVDs. While Amazon —then valued at $18 billion — was clearly not struggling to make a profit, eBay was far more popular and worth $33 billion. But when Amazon introduced two-day shipping for a $79 annual rate in February 2005, the lesser-known company made all other online marketplaces (and brick-and-mortar stores) reevaluate their own shipping times.

In 2019, it’s more common to find retail stores and online marketplaces in an even bigger rush for consumers to get their items quickly.

 

  • Target and Walmart have two-day free shipping if the order is more than $35.
  • Best Buy has free shipping with a $35 purchase. Free two-day shipping and free scheduled deliveries are available through the Elite and ElitePlus memberships.
  • Mariano’s provides customers with the option of getting their groceries in a one-hour delivery time for a $5.95 delivery fee and $6 service charge.
  • Whole Foods Market offers free two-hour deliveries for Amazon Prime members, which costs $12.99 per month or $119 annually.

But with all of these delivery options comes the need for drivers. And retailers must find drivers who are ready and willing to be available at specified times, dates and locations.

 

From popular namesakes to the everyday Joe

 You know them when you see them. One delivery person wears a black and purple shirt, zooming up near the neighbor’s lawn to deliver a FedEx package. Another delivery person is decked out in brown with gold lettering, racing from one side of the street to another to deliver packages.

But even before FedEx let its ground-shipping contract expire with Amazon, it wasn’t always clear who would be arriving at a consumer’s door for quick shipments. Other delivery drivers for Amazon don’t have the kind of recognizable uniform post-millennial shoppers are used to. And it has certainly come to the attention of a few celebrities, namely Tracy Lauren Marrow — more popularly known as Ice T, who suggested an Amazon vest for security reasons. Dave Clark, the senior vice president of worldwide operations for Amazon, noted that Ice T may have a point about improving tracking details. (He did not, however, respond to the suggested Amazon vest or other uniform attire.)

This social media conversation between the two brought up another valid question though: If the everyday person who doesn’t work for a company like UPS or FedEx can deliver packages, does it financially make more sense for other retailers to do so?

 

Losing customer service, gaining drivers

The average base pay for a UPS driver is $32 per hour. FedEx drivers make $18 per hour. Amazon Flex drivers can make anywhere from $18 to $25 per hour, but the rate depends on location, tips, the length of delivery time and other unspecified factors. The latter amount was confirmed via a CNBC report from a driver who earned $70 for a 3.5-hour commute.

However, when looking at the job requirements for UPS and FedEx versus Amazon Flex drivers, one of the most noticeable duties missing is pretty important in the retail industry: customer service. While UPS and FedEx drivers clearly don’t blend in due to the uniforms and the trucks, an Amazon Flex driver just may look like a visitor dropping by to hang out with a neighbor.

Guidelines for knocking on doors and/or ringing doorbells are not as strict with Amazon as is with the first two. Slips are left behind if FedEx or UPS cannot leave a package, meaning the delivery person must stay near the residence long enough for passersby to see him, or for the homeowner to potentially notice. Excluding frozen items from grocery delivery stores, Amazon Flex drivers may have minimal interaction with any of the package recipients during their entire shift.

For some consumers, the trade-off is worth it. Whether recipients interact with freelance drivers or not their packages ideally will get to them within the promised timeline. But because Amazon Flex drivers are setting their own hours, mail recipients cannot quite narrow down the time when the delivery will get there and tracking numbers for these quicker shipments are also difficult to track until the package is dropped off. For retailers who choose FedEx, UPS and even USPS, text alerts allow them to know where the package is and if there were any complications dropping it off.

And with the gaining popularity of Amazon Prime Air, there will be no human interaction for delivery online purchases at all. In such a tech-savvy world, where humans are more likely to text and type on social media than have face-to-face contact with loved ones and strangers alike, the ever-changing face of the delivery representative may seem like it was bound to happen.

But in an industry that emphasizes personal connections and customer service so much, is it worth it?