Wal-Mart wants customers to act as couriers

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ASDA’s American parent company Wal-Mart is working on radical plans to get shoppers to drop off other customers’ orders on their way home in return for the price of their petrol.

The idea is that customers who are going shopping will let the store know in advance. The store will then use the customer as a courier to deliver online shopping for someone who lives on their journey home.

Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com in the US, said customers would get a discount on their shopping bill, effectively covering the cost of their petrol in return for the delivery of packages.

Jeff McAllister, senior vice president of Walmart US innovations, said: “This is at the brain-storming stage, but it’s possible in a year or two.”

Leeds-based Asda declined to be drawn on whether it will follow its parent company and ask customers to act as couriers.

A spokeswoman said: “We’re always looking at ways to make shopping more convenient for our customers.”

Asda’s chief executive Andy Clarke is spearheading the grocer’s move into popular new areas such as m-commerce – shopping by mobile phone.

If the plans are put into practice it would allow Wal-Mart to deliver goods much more cheaply and more quickly, helping it to compete against online shopping giants such as Amazon.

However, the plans are at a very early stage and would face a number of legal, regulatory and privacy obstacles.

Wal-Mart is making a big push to ship online orders directly from stores in order to cut transportation costs and gain an edge over online retailers, which have no physical store locations.

Wal-Mart, which has millions of customers visiting its stores each week, currently does this at 25 stores, but plans to double that to 50 this year and could expand the programme to hundreds of stores.

It currently uses carriers such as FedEx Corp for delivery from stores.

It is also testing a same-day delivery service called Walmart To Go using its own delivery trucks.

Matt Nemer, a retail analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, said the likelihood of getting customers to act as couriers across the whole network of more than 4,000 US stores is low

“I’m sure it will be a test in some stores,” he added.

“But they may only keep it for metro markets and for higher-priced items.”

US start-ups such as TaskRabbit and Fiverr already let individuals rent out their time and expertise to companies and people looking for small jobs to be completed.

Zipments was founded in 2010 as a crowd-sourced delivery network that allowed anyone over 18 years old with a vehicle, a text-enabled phone, and a PayPal account to bid on courier services for local businesses.

Such online match-making businesses often push legal boundaries – and a Wal-Mart delivery programme would be no different, according to Mr Nemer.

The analyst said online packages delivered by customers may never reach their destination, either through theft or fraud.

He added that a customer delivery service may not be as reliable as FedEx or United Parcel Service, which have insured drivers.

“You are comfortable with a FedEx or UPS truck in your driveway, but what about a stranger knocking on your door?” he asked.

Zipments now screens its drivers before allowing them to be part of its delivery network, chief executive and co-founder Garrick Pohl told Reuters in an interview.

It now serves big cities including New York and Chicago.

Mr Pohl said that theft, fraud and late deliveries have never been a problem, but insurance and licences can be an obstacle.

Drivers often need personal liability insurance to cover package delivery activities and cargo insurance is also needed.

Mr Pohl said Zipments self-insures this risk up to $250 (£165), but the firm encourages its couriers to buy additional coverage for higher-value packages.

In some areas, like downtown Chicago, people also need a courier licence to deliver things.

“Zipments now helps people get all these things set up before allowing them to deliver goods,” Mr Pohl said.

He said that the issues are not insurmountable, citing pizza restaurants which use part-time drivers to make deliveries.