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OM in the News: The Critical Last Mile at eBay

November 25, 2013

eaby nowThere’s a hot new job in tech: delivery guy. As the holiday shopping season gets underway, same-day delivery has become a new battleground for e-commerce, reports The New York Times (Nov.24, 2013). For all the sophisticated algorithms and proprietary logistics software involved, many services come down to “valets,” who race to a store, scan the aisles for the requested items, buy them and rush them to the customer. The app for eBay Now, the company’s local shopping service, promises that valets will complete a shop-and-drop-off not just in the same day but “in about an hour,” a timetable crucial to the company’s intensifying efforts to one-up Amazon in the delivery game.

It wasn’t so long ago that overnight delivery seemed amazing enough. Then Amazon started building huge “fulfillment centers” near major U.S. cities to be as close to customers as possible. With 40 such centers encompassing more than 80 million square feet and employing 20,000 full-time workers, Amazon offers same-day delivery in 11 cities.

EBay, which last month announced plans to expand eBay Now to 25 cities, has a different model: use existing stores or “retail partners” as distribution centers and beat Amazon in the race against the clock. The personal, labor-intensive valet approach doesn’t translate easily into profit. “You just can’t get any hourly worker to do this — you need someone with a work ethic and a willingness to go out of the standard operating procedure to delight the customer,” said a Forrester Research analyst. “It is an H.R. issue, not a tech issue. Many of these companies are coming at it from a tech standpoint. One thing Amazon has done very successfully, is they’ve owned the entire value chain. They’ve owned the last mile, the moment when the package arrives. Once you can own the moment that matters, you build a loyal customer base.”

There is a 2 minute video attached to the article which illustrates the eBay Now system.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What has happened to earlier quick delivery companies?

2. What are the OM issues involved in eBay Now?

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