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In the COVID-19 era, with many Americans sheltering in place at home, small retailers are facing an existential crisis: an overwhelming decline in foot traffic to their stores.

Small business owners across all industries have taken up the challenge of serving customers when they can’t visit them in-person – and that’s where “crowdsourced delivery” comes in. The term might be new to you, but you’ve likely already tried it, or something like it – if you’ve used an app to have food delivered to your door in the past few months from your favorite burrito or sushi place, they probably used a service similar to crowdsourced delivery to get it there.

The crowdsourced delivery model is essentially “rideshare for packages.” It works by tapping into a network of drivers in their own vehicles to provide same-day and scheduled deliveries. It’s a tremendous resource that goes largely unused: the 250 million passenger vehicles that hit the road every day in the U.S. with four billion cubic feet of unused cargo capacity.

By tapping into a crowdsourced network of delivery drivers, retailers can continue selling while also expanding their geographic reach and creating delightful experiences that go above and beyond to keep their customers coming back.

Crowdsourced delivery is part of the new normal

COVID is finishing what Amazon started – an industry-wide pivot toward e-commerce driven by a growing preference for shopping online instead of in-person. And because Amazon has invested billions of dollars in fast and free delivery, customers now expect to get their purchases almost immediately. Crowdsourced delivery is an easy-to-use and affordable way for brick-and-mortar retailers – big and small – to immediately meet this new expectation.

This shift in shopping patterns is probably here to stay beyond the pandemic. Shoppers say they expect to shop online more even after the shelter-in-place era is over, and only 37 percent expect to strongly engage with physical stores for at least the next six months.

The advantages of crowdsourcing

When it comes to meeting customers’ expectations for quick delivery, crowdsourced delivery has several advantages over the three other options generally available to small and medium-size retailers: 1) using in-house employees to make deliveries, 2) traditional shippers like the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx, and 3) traditional couriers.

The main problem with using existing in-house staff to make deliveries is that it takes them away from their primary jobs, which can hurt productivity and customer service. A single delivery typically takes 30 to 60 minutes. Being short-staffed for that amount of time is likely to disappoint many more customers than the one customer you are making happy with delivery. Hiring staff specifically to make those deliveries can be costly, and they’ll always be at the mercy of finite hours in the day and the limited space in the company vehicle.

Compared to traditional shippers, crowdsourced delivery offers several key advantages: 1) it’s generally less expensive, especially on a per-stop basis, 3) a crowdsourced model allows you to schedule deliveries on-demand – no need to schedule (or pay) for deliveries before you need them, and 3) you may not even need to package the item being delivered, which saves a significant amount of time and money for busy retailers.

And as for traditional couriers, they can be pricey, and they’re confined to their fixed numbers of vehicles. If something’s already on the truck when it leaves the dock, great. If it’s not … well, that’s too bad.

The best crowdsourced delivery companies offer clear, predictable, upfront pricing, with no surprise fees or upcharges, while allowing retailers to control their customer relationships from beginning to end. When choosing a partner, look for one that offers this flexibility.

And because crowdsourced delivery taps into a nearly inexhaustible supply of drivers, it offers another advantage over both in-house staff and traditional shippers: its ability to quickly flex up to meet changes in demand.

Using crowdsourced delivery also enables small retailers to:

  • Close more sales: Delivery is now a key business differentiator. If you can’t offer flexible, low-cost delivery at the point of sale, customers will find someone who can.
  • Save time: Using a crowdsourced delivery service frees up store owners and their team to build customer relationships and move more inventory.
  • Expand reach: Crowdsourced delivery expands a small store’s delivery radius, and same-day delivery extends order cut-off times.
  • Deliver a personal touch: Crowdsourced delivery offers personalized, door-to-door delivery.

Because of the many advantages of crowdsourced delivery, nearly 90 percent of retailers expect to be using it by 2028, according to a recent global study. To learn more about how crowdsourced delivery can help your retail business compete in today’s “I want it now” environment, check out the white paper “How Retailers Can Compete With Nationwide, Same-Day Delivery,” available online here.

Thomas Angst is the head of SMB Development at Roadie, the nation’s first crowdsourced delivery service that’s “on the way.” With over 150,000 verified drivers, Roadie covers 89 percent of U.S. households — the largest local same-day delivery footprint in the nation.

Crowdsourcing stock photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock