Should stores make house calls?

14Nov07

One of the few downsides to living in downtown Chicago is the long trek required to get to stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Granted, Target has a store just south of downtown, right by a major train station. It’s only a five minute walk from the train to the store, which makes it fairly easy to get to. So far, so good.

The problem arises after you leave the store. Even if you have a foldable cart to hold your bags, you still have to navigate the cart back to the train station, up the stairs, onto the train, off the train, and back home. As a result, there’s only so much you can carry at once, and the hassle means that I only go to Target when I really need to. Most of the time, I order stuff online or pay higher prices to shop closer to home. This trend can’t be good for Target, since it causes people to buy fewer things, return less frequently, and generally contribute less revenue to the store.

Since the real problem is getting items home, and Target doesn’t sell the same things online, I propose a few solutions. One option is to offer a home delivery service at the store level. You buy your items, drop them off when you leave, and they bring them to your house (within a very limited area) for a small fee, say $10. But this requires a post-sale storage and logistics operation at the store. So I like my second idea better: run a shuttle from the store to high-density downtown areas, perhaps every 30 minutes. To offset the cost, customers would buy a $5 ride card at checkout, or perhaps this could be waived for purchases over a certain amount. Depending on the actual usage, this shuttle could also be used to take people to the store, only operate during popular shopping hours, etc.

I think the customer shuttle approach would be an asset to any retailer that has stores on the outskirts of a major downtown area. And the benefits wouldn’t just be limited to increased purchase size and frequency. Once the word gets out, the added convenience should attract entirely new customers, as well.



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