Wal-Mart Stores Inc is considering a radical plan to have store customers deliver packages to online buyers, a new twist on speedier delivery services that the company hopes will enable it to better compete with Amazon.com Inc.
Tapping customers to deliver goods would put the world's largest retailer squarely in middle of a new phenomenon sometimes known as "crowd-sourcing," or the "sharing economy."
A plethora of start-ups now help people make money by renting out a spare room or a car and Wal-Mart would in effect be inviting people to rent out space in their vehicle and their willingness to deliver packages to others.
Such an effort would, however, face numerous legal, regulatory and privacy obstacles, and Wal-Mart executives said it was at an early planning stage.
Wal-Mart is making a big push to ship online orders directly from stores, hoping to cut transportation costs and gain an edge over Amazon and other online retailers, which have no physical store locations. Wal-Mart does this at 25 stores currently, but plans to double that to 50 this year and could expand the programme to hundreds of stores in the future.
"I see a path to where this is crowd-sourced," said Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com in the US.
Wal-Mart has millions of customers visiting its stores each week. Some of these shoppers could drop off packages for online customers who live on their route back home, said Anderson. The company would offer a discount on the customers' shopping bill, covering the cost of their gas in return for the delivery of packages.