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SCDigest Expert Insight: Keep It Moving

About the Author

Marc Wulfraat


MWPVL International, Inc.

Marc Wulfraat is the president and founder of MWPVL International, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm.  Marc has 27 years of supply chain consulting experience across a variety of industry sectors and countries. His expertise is in supply chain strategy, facility design, material handling systems, automation, and supply chain execution technologies. He has managed many complex consulting mandates to help a diverse range of companies with their supply chain challenges. For more information, please visit

By Marc Wulfraat

July 24, 2013

E-Fulfillment Wars - Will eBay Over-Promise and Under-Deliver?

Top Five Reasons that The New "Virtual Shopping Mall" Concept Will Not Work in the Real World

Wulfraat Says:

Without a highly optimized transportation operation we end up with the scenario that is similar to the pizza delivery guy who drives through your neighborhood and runs every stop sign to get to the customer on time, except now we are talking about delivery vans.
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eBay recently announced that they intend to compete head on against Amazon and Walmart by providing home delivery of consumer orders within a one-hour time frame.  This is the emerging "virtual shopping mall" concept that allows a consumer to shop from multiple retail stores from the comfort of their home and receive their goods within one hour.  Talk about great customer service!  But let's face it folks, there are at least a dozen reasons why this concept will not work in the real world. 

My top five reasons are listed below:

1. Traffic congestion in the target markets is a major challenge
that will result in the "over-promise and under-deliver" syndrome as far  as the one-hour delivery promise is concerned.  Four hours maybe.  One hour - only if you get lucky.

2. The accuracy of retail store inventory is never as good as inventory accuracy in a distribution center because consumers are constantly touching and moving the stock.  In a distribution center, the inventory being moved is recorded by internal associates.   In a store, anyone can throw an item in a basket and later take it out and dump it somewhere else.  There is also inventory held in the back room that the eBay valet can't access but can show up as being available for sale.  There is also the issue of theft which causes inventory at the store to be less accurate.  This implies a higher percentage of unfilled order lines when they are being filled from stores versus from a distribution center. This equates to a lower customer satisfaction rating and a higher defection rate over time.

3. Peak shopping season (Cyber-Monday, Christmas, etc.) is a nightmare in most retail stores and I feel sorry for the poor eBay valet who has to get in and out of multiple stores to buy multiple items to deliver to a customer in one hour during this time of year.  Good luck.  I have trouble just finding my car in the parking lot.

4. Scalability is constrained by the fact that the more stores that are introduced to the mall the harder it becomes to execute with the one-hour promise.  After all, the valet has to get in and out of all of these stores to get the orders picked.  Introducing more stores implies a higher probability that the consumer will order from more locations which will increase the time required to execute.

Columns by Marc Wulfraat

Locus Robotics - An Independent Consultant's Review Part 2

Supply Chain Comment: Locus Robotics - An Independent's Consultant Review Part 1

Keep It Moving: What Economic Impact Will the Amazon Sortation Network Have on UPS and FedEx?

Keep It Moving: The AmazonSupply Threat to the B2B Distribution Market

Supply Chain Comment: If You Thought that Amazon was a Game Changer in 2015, Hold onto your Hat

Logistics Comment: Amazon is Building a New Distribution Network - Quickly and Quietly

Keep It Moving: A Tale of Two Retailers - Amazon and Target

Keep It Moving: How the "Amazon Effect" is Changing the American Manufacturing Industry Forever

Keep It Moving: Should US Companies Think More Like the Europeans When it Comes to Automation?

Keep It Moving: Amazon Same Day Delivery - Last Mile Economics and Challenges

Keep It Moving: How Close to Reality is Amazon Same Day Delivery?

Keep It Moving: E-Fulfillment Wars - Will eBay Over-Promise and Under-Deliver?

Keep It Moving: Looking to Increase Warehouse Storage Capacity?

Keep It Moving: Goods to Person Automation - A Multishuttle Primer

Keep It Moving: Global Age Dependency Ratios (ADR) Will Drive Increasing Automation Investments

5. This level of uber-service comes with a big price tag.  Profit needs to be made after all and retail is a business of pennies.  The slightest deviation away from efficiency will kill profits.  Let us say that I order five different items that total $25 (to meet the minimum order criteria) and I do this for five different retail stores and now I expect the goods in one hour.  This can easily generate at least three hours of labor to pull off.  Let's say that the valet labor costs $15/hour fully loaded thus we spend $45 on the valet alone, never mind the cost of the truck delivery.  Now in reality most orders will be for one or two items so this example is extreme but it serves to make the point that this concept is very expensive to pull off.  Especially when one considers that the delivery fee is $5.  I am sure that many of us spend at least $5 in gas when we go shopping so profit margins can quickly be eliminated.

To be successful at this game, you need to have enough volume and precise execution so that deliveries are spaced apart by 5 - 10 minutes as opposed to being spaced apart by 20 - 30 minutes.  This requires a centralized dispatch and optimization concept. The idea of course is to maximize the deliveries per hour.  Stop and think of the military precision with which UPS runs its operations and the decades that it has taken to develop their logistics systems.  Now imagine that this type of logistics execution excellence needs to be deployed overnight.  Without a highly optimized transportation operation we end up with the scenario that is similar to the pizza delivery guy who drives through your neighborhood and runs every stop sign to get to the customer on time, except now we are talking about delivery vans.  

As you can see I am a skeptic that this concept will fly and I suspect it will eventually need to be modified significantly to work.  Frankly I think this is a reaction to the ever-increasing Amazon and Walmart threats.  In my opinion, eBay needs to think this one through differently.

For starters, this concept might be more effective and plausible if (a) a centralized distribution concept was introduced and (b) the delivery window time was opened up to 4-6 hours.  Here's how it would work:


1. Consumer visits virtual mall and places orders of multiple items from multiple retailers. 

2. The retail stores are responsible for picking hourly batches of orders from their stores and having a truck move the goods to an eBay distribution center located in close proximity to the store and to the target market. This can be a small facility since it is mainly intended to flow through and stage merchandise in a quick time frame. The key is to obtain the right automation equipment to minimize warehouse labor expense.

3. The goods are received and consolidated using automated and semi-automated material handling equipment so that the consumer's order is married up into a standard entity such as a tote.

4. The drivers and fleet equipment are centrally managed so that shipping routes are optimized and released in waves to minimize the time between deliveries. Clearly the wider the delivery window, the greater the opportunity to reduce costs by better optimizing the outbound routes.

5. Drivers are dispatched to specific regions of the city. Trucks are equipped with the latest GPS and traffic reporting systems to enable dynamic re-routing on the fly.

Final Thoughts

There's much more to be said on this topic but in the interest of time I will end by saying that there needs to be a reality check put in place when these headline-grabbing concepts are announced. Heck, if I can't even get my local Chinese restaurant to deliver take-out within the hour on a Friday night, how are they going to pick, pack and ship multiple orders from multiple retail store locations in one hour when the Queen's Midtown Expressway is locked up in traffic?

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