As online retailers eBay and Amazon fight over turf in the same-day shipping wars, Walmart is thinking of enlisting its own customers in the fight.
The retail giant wants to find ways to crowdsource delivery of products from its stores, Reuters reports. Customers who deliver to other customers could get discounts on Walmart products and reimbursement for gas.
Although Walmart.com Chief Executive Joel Anderson said the idea is in the "brainstorming stage," it could be a reality in a year or two.
Letting customers do the legwork would solve some of the major obstacles to expanding same-day shipping beyond a handful of cities: It would save money over hourly courier wages, and avoid wasted wages for couriers who aren't out on delivery. It could also be more efficient than hired couriers if delivery orders are mapped to customers who live or work in the same area.
Challenges of the crowd
But as Reuters points out, crowdsourcing would also bring some legal headaches. Drivers may need to get liability insurance and cargo insurance, and some areas require licenses for all couriers.
There's also a risk of damaged or stolen packages, and the general creepiness of having a stranger who isn't employed by Walmart show up at your door. Although startups like Zipments and TaskRabbit told Reuters they haven't had theft or fraud problems in their own crowdsourcing efforts, Walmart operates on a much larger scale, possibly increasing the risk of questionable behavior.
The news comes on the same day that Google began publicly testing its own same-day delivery service, called Google Shopping Express. For now, Google's service is only available to a limited number of people in San Francisco, and at the moment it's free, as the company tries to figure out a long-term pricing strategy.
Other online retailers have dipped their toes into same-day shipping as well. Amazon offers same-day shipping in ten cities, at a rate of $9 per shipment plus $1 per item. eBay has kicked off pilot programs in San Francisco, New York, and San Jose, charging $5 per delivery (an unprofitable rate).
Meanwhile, Walmart is testing its own same-day delivery service in several cities, using UPS to handle delivery. A UPS spokesperson said the company values Walmart as a customer, but otherwise declined to comment on the possibility of crowdsourced deliveries.