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Same-day delivery's big chance

Evan Schuman | Jan. 7, 2015
This Christmas, Amazon made a delivery when not a creature should have been stirring. That could herald great changes on the retail landscape.

Stats about online retailers' holiday performance poured into my inbox as the year ended, but one in particular really caught my eye. Amazon noted that its final Christmas Prime Now (same-day delivery) order was placed on Dec. 24 at 10:24 p.m. -- and was delivered 42 minutes later, at 11:06 p.m.

That's right; someone in New York City went online with just about an hour and a half of Christmas Eve to go, placed an order for the Costa Rica Clementine, Limu Lemon and Molokai Coconut flavors of an antioxidant-infused beverage called Bai5, and the doorbell rang nearly an hour before midnight. Those three 12-packs must have made someone's Christmas morning.

They probably thrilled some people at Amazon as well. For online retailers, the point of same-day delivery is to change where revenue goes on some of the highest-value days in the retail year. Bit by bit and year by year, online retailers have been encroaching on physical retailers' safe ground, those dates that are too close to an event for an online retailer to guarantee delivery on time. Before this year, online retailers had already whittled physical retailers' Christmastime safe ground to Dec. 23 and 24. Amazon's Christmas Eve miracle this year means they're about to make a push to eliminate it entirely. In fact, online retailers, already able to offer shoppers an escape from crowded stores and parking lots that have to be driven to in potentially terrible weather, could better the physical stores again. How many brick-and-mortar retail operations were making sales at 10:24 p.m. on Christmas Eve?

Despite Amazon's ability to save Mr. Antioxidant Beverage's Christmas, we're not there yet. Amazon Christmas Prime now is offered to a very small number of customers in a very small number of urban ZIP codes. (Amazon's statement was a marvel of marketers' ability to suppress relevant facts in service to what is to them a greater truth: "This holiday, Amazon customers ordered more than 10 times as many items with Same-Day Delivery, over 2013." And how many same-day deliveries was that? Amazon doesn't say, but the very absence of that figure makes one think that the comparison says more about how incredibly few same-day shipments Amazon had in 2013 than about how many more it had in 2014.)

Still, the ability to move product that quickly has huge implications for holiday shopping -- and for gift shopping for other occasions, like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations, if customization is up to the job. If Amazon can track events like those effectively, it will be in a position to make a killing among the forgetful people and procrastinators of the world.


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