Should store associates deliver online orders?

Photo: Getty Images/JHVEPhoto
Jan 19, 2021
Tom Ryan

Zumiez, the teen chain geared toward skateboarders and snowboarders, has launched a program that puts store associates to use delivering online orders directly to customers’ doors.

At last week’s ICR Conference 2021, Rick Brooks, Zumiez’s CEO, said the overall goal of Zumiez Delivery is to bring the chain’s “amazing salespeople” to customers’ front doors “to create a new kind of brand experience.”

“What we’re trying to do is always localize our brand experience,” said Mr. Brooks. “And with that, we’re always trying to connect our customers and our employees because that is a fundamental part of our brand experience, where our product, customers and employees connect to create amazing experiences.”

As an example, Mr. Brooks said a store associate may help a kid test ride their first skateboard in a driveway.

Chris Work, CFO, said the chain long recognized outsourcing delivery wasn’t in sync with the chain’s “one-channel” focus. He said, “What’s so cool about it is it’s an awesome thing for our customers. It’s a surprise and delight in showing up and saying ‘Thank you!’ at the door.”

Only about five percent of Zumiez’s online sales were delivered by Zumiez Delivery over November and December. The initial launch was limited to trade areas with multiple stores that could support the consolidation of orders. The chain fulfills all online orders with in-store inventory.

For staff, the program provides extra working hours that, in some cases, qualifies part-timers for full-time employment and benefits. Mimicking a pizza delivery model, store associates use their own cars to make deliveries.

In the future, Zumiez plans to explore showing new products, providing advice and upselling, and handling exchanges or returns — all from a customer’s front door.

Mr. Brooks said, “The feedback that we’ve received from customers has been amazing about this experience. Even to the point where we’ve received notes that say, ‘Hey, Bryce came to my door!’. This was so cool that they knew their local salesperson, and that is a brand experience I don’t think can be replaced.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more pros than cons in delivery via store associates? Are certain retailers better positioned to take advantage of this type of service strategy than others?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I like it, as long as it doesn’t become a productivity drain."
"Managing the delivery process using your own employees is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario."
"I think it makes good press but how does it work organizationally with stores already crippled by cuts to labor budgets?"

Join the Discussion!

29 Comments on "Should store associates deliver online orders?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski

I admire Zumiez for creatively deploying their employees to serve customers. Overall I think it’s a good idea, as long as you have employees who are willing and able to participate. The big concern would be related to liability issues of having employees traveling around making deliveries, but these are manageable. While every retailer could theoretically offer this type of personal service, it doesn’t scale very well and so it wouldn’t be practical for every retailer.

Neil Saunders

This model certainly improves flexibility and gives the company more control over the delivery process. The key is to ensure that employees are properly compensated, not just for their time, but for the use of their own vehicles. If employees are happy and are on board with this model then they will deliver good service to customers. Zumiez isn’t the only retailer to use store employees to make deliveries, Best Buy also experimented with this over the busy holiday period. I expect more retailers to look at this as part of the solution for managing elevated online demand.

David Naumann

Having store associates deliver products can add a personal touch with value added services like product information and training. The biggest downside is the cost, as it will likely be more expensive than using third-party delivery services. For retailers like Zumiez with a strong brand personality and premium prices, associates delivering products to homes is a valuable service that can reinforce the brand. Not every retailer can make this a profitable delivery model.

Gene Detroyer

It is a wonderful idea. I don’t know how efficient it is, but in this niche it seems like a perfect fit. The connections with the customer are limitless.

Shep Hyken

For the reasons stated in the article, this is a good idea. Liability and training are two areas that immediately come to mind. For this to work, Zumiez must be very careful in how they go about this. Overall, I like the idea and hope it works for Zumiez and other retailers.

Richard Hernandez

I think it is a great idea provided that that employees want to do it, are covered for liabilities and are fairly compensated. I do not see this being done on a larger scale.

Paula Rosenblum

It’s an interesting concept, actually. It allows customers to potentially get to know their salesperson, and affords those sales associates a window (no pun intended) into the life of the customer. I like it, as long as it doesn’t become a productivity drain.

Nikki Baird
I have long wondered why more retailers don’t take a harder look at this, rather than outsourcing to Instacart or a service like that. The only thing I can think of is that retailers don’t want to invest the time and energy to doing it – they’re taking the easy way out. But as Rick points out, you have an opportunity to own that experience – and differentiate it. The model is there. Pizza delivery has been doing this for years. And the idea of bringing expertise to the front door that not only delivers the order but can give you tips and tricks on the spot – how can you beat that? I do the rough math in my head and I just can’t make the business case NOT pay off – this has to be cheaper to deliver and higher value to customers than some third-party service. And note the initial push in areas where there are multiple stores, which means taking a portfolio approach to store locations to ultimately better serve customers… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum

Apparel retailers have the gross margin to afford it. Grocers and big boxes don’t.

Georganne Bender

I see pros and cons with this idea. Certainly delivering a skateboard and then showing a kid how to use it is a cool idea, as is tying the buyer to the local store. But it is different than a pizza delivery.

Is the Zumiez associate safe potentially entering a customer’s home? What about COVID-19? Are there precautions taken?

Are the associates compensated by Zumiez for using their personal vehicles? During high school my son worked for a popular sandwich shop that one day required him to deliver orders all over the community because he had a car. Are the associates properly insured? In 2020 when independent retailers offered delivery during the pandemic they had to purchase additional insurance in order to use their personal cars for this task.

This program requires more thought than “it’s similar to a pizza delivery model,” especially since most of Zumiez associates are young and may be unclear about all that interactive delivery to consumers homes entails.

Gary Sankary

Anything that makes experiences with a retailer more customer focused and personal should be applauded. I like the idea of this, I don’t know that I’ve heard of other retailers doing this (maybe the old school door-to-door folks). My question is, how does this scale and how does the retailer ensure their customers are getting consistent great experiences? And as mentioned here already, what are the liability implications? I do like the creativity and innovation around this.

Paula Rosenblum

Jack Mitchell wrote a book, “Hug Your Customers” where he explained the success of his very high end store(s). And it’s all about high touch like this. The big question for me is, can it work at a lower price point? It certainly works at the high end.

George Anderson

Sounds like a great idea if, as others have pointed out, it makes financial sense for the associates and the retailer. I do wonder, however, how many online orders are placed where a level of personal service is required upon delivery. I have rarely even known a delivery was being made in the past without hearing the dog bark or the bell ring. I’m perfectly happy to have Alexa tell me a package is here and go out to the front porch to retrieve it. Will Zumiez and others be happy to have an associate spend 15 minutes or more on the clock talking with customers or will the associates be looking at their smartwatches trying to move along to the next delivery?

Bob Phibbs

Back before the Internet, Nordstrom used to do this and if memory serves was sued in California and lost for employees delivering things. I think it makes good press but how does it work organizationally with stores already crippled by cuts to labor budgets? I think it is much more important to juice demand – get the sale in-store using human beings rather than using your best employees as delivery agents. And of all the generations, do these customers really want a person saying thank you at their door other than the pizza guy?

Rich Kizer

Well said, Bob.

Rich Kizer

This ads a brilliant personal touch and will build valuable word of mouth among their target customers. But one warning: Liability for all, even the company. Say a delivery person shows a customer how to go down the driveway and the customer breaks a leg. Get insured.

David Mascitto

This is a great idea that can drive down delivery costs and expand the brand experience into the last mile. The critical piece is that the associates doing the deliveries live and breathe the brand values.

Dick Seesel

It’s a great way for Zumiez to build brand equity — by connecting its associates in a novel way with its customers — but there are risks involved along with the economic costs. Beyond the obvious liability questions (especially when associates are driving their own cars), there is the added risk of face-to-face interaction during a pandemic. If Zumiez can manage the risks, it’s an experiment worth pursuing even after normal traffic returns to its stores.

Ken Lonyai

This is hard to fathom as a sustainable business model. How much time will an associate spend on a delivery/training/sales call? How will that impact the next delivery stops on their agenda? What if they demo something and the customer wants a variant not with them — will they come back again? Etc…

Lee Peterson

I see this as a key retail position/division going forward. I always think, well, pizza did it a long time ago, why can’t retailers? Also Target does it now and man, in 20 minutes you’ll get what you need. The problem is making money doing it — some products are not conducive to some people’s mode of transportation and, of course, insurance is a bear but I think, like with e-commerce margins, it’s something retailers are going to have to solve. I should say, the “All Delivery Economy” is just another thing retailers of the 21st century are going to have to figure out.

Steve Montgomery

Managing the delivery process using your own employees is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario.

Using a third party means they represent your company to the customer for good or bad. Using your own employees means you are taking them out of the retail store so they are not available to service in-store customers, adding liability issues and it is not necessary a cheaper option. What the retailer gains is more control over the final step in the purchase process. My vote would be to use store staff that had been trained to specifically handle deliveries.

Scott Carter

I love the idea. Zumiez is putting people to work who want/need the extra hours, and they are smart to differentiate themselves at the point of customer experience, even when that’s the customer’s front door.

PS: I just ordered a couple pairs of Vans from Zumiez — interested to see who drops them off.

Ananda Chakravarty

The question is really about specialization in delivery or not. Do you hire new associates, dedicate current associates, or find a third-party delivery service to become your company ambassadors when delivering goods? In some cases these folks become your entire customer experience (outside of the order). Cost savings would be a wash, although offering this up to employees added to other perks can be a morale booster and adds some variety. Insurance, schedule management, and delivery training become new facets of the job.

Perry Kramer

What a wonderful way to build a memorable and personalized relationship. That relationship/experience (good and bad) will feed social media and word of mouth 10 times faster than any in-store experience. Done right with store staff scheduling, consumer scheduling, the right talent, and the right insurance, this could be a winning model for many specialty retailers. Get a makeup lesson at home, learn to skateboard, personalized dress fitting, etc. Having a consistent way to schedule and meet expectations with talented people will be key to growing the model.

Cynthia Holcomb

The mindset of snowboarders and skateboarders is a niche market. At some point the young snowboarders and skateboarders “age out” of these sports, which are reprioritized by adult lives of family, children and careers. The excitement of a fellow snowboarder delivering products to the door with gung-ho enthusiasm may not be as appealing as it once was. Short term: liability and safety concerns. Long term: fond memories of youth when Zumiez delivered store to door skateboards.

Craig Sundstrom

I see far more cons: store associates are — in theory, at least — specialists who should be in the store helping people. The reality may well be that they’re simply warm bodies standing around, but that’s an operational issue that should be addressed, not made worse by diminishing (even further) their sales floor presence.

That having been said, there are retailers like appliance or computer (or as here a skateboard) stores where something other than a simple delivery is performed, so there might be some logic in the practice.

Rachelle King

This is certainly a unique value proposition, have to give the Zumiez team credit for that. But something just feels like scaled growth will challenge this novelty. There is a reason why CVS does not have their sales associates making door-to-door deliveries. If this business model grows to scale, then I can see a sales team coming on board. For now, there is marked personalization and novelty in this approach and it seems a good way to build a loyal customer base.