Shipping in the Sharing Economy

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Zipments Vancouver | BCBusiness
Image by: Zipments
Zipments relies on the sharing economy to provide same-day courier services.

Local same-day courier service Zipments aims to disrupt the retail game

Shopping and sharing aren’t exclusive to the holidays—they’re part of the sharing economy, which just got a bit bigger in Vancouver. With the launch of Zipments.ca, a same-day courier service, Vancouver’s sharing economy now connects retailers and consumers directly to individual couriers.

Zipments originated as a New York-based app that connects bicycle couriers by using technology and a network of “lifestyle couriers”— individuals who sign up to receive alerts that a package needs delivering in their area—to make same-day deliveries in the city. Vancouver-based entrepreneur Robert Safrata brought the app to Canada and has partnered with Mountain Equipment Co-op and Edible Canada for its launch.

Safrata’s resumé ranges from attending the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics as part of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team to founding a chain of driving ranges and becoming CEO of West Coast Sightseeing. Since acquiring Novex Couriers out of receivership in 2000, Safrata has been in the delivery business, which is where he saw the potential of a peer-to-peer delivery network last year.

Safrata discovered Zipments while researching successful sharing-economy companies, such as accommodation website AirBnB and driver-on-demand app Uber. “Zipments was the app I wanted to build,” says Safrata. Following meetings in New York with Zipments CEO Garrick Pohl, Safrata attained the rights to launch in Canada, trialling it in Vancouver with plans to roll out to Toronto and Calgary in the new year.

Retailers work with Zipments to offer same-day delivery at point of sale on their website or at their call centre. Zipments connects the consumer directly to the courier using a combination of traditional couriers (including Novex) and lifestyle couriers. Consumers can even text their courier to change the delivery address and receive a photograph and live-tracking updates about their package.

“Trust is key currency in the sharing economy,” says Safrata. “Our lifestyle couriers and technology allow us to make a delivery in two to five hours for the same price as it usually costs to be delivered in two to five days.” The average cost of using the New York-based Zipments is between US$10-15.

Safrata and his team—including director of operations and workforce Brad Beattie, who coordinated 25,000 volunteers for the 2010 Winter Olympics—choose, vet and on-board the couriers. “Once our lifestyle couriers have been on-boarded they work directly with the customers and our job is to very consciously step back and let it work,” Safrata says.

Companies abroad have already adopted this peer-to-peer delivery model—such as Hermès, which has 9,500 lifestyle couriers in the U.K.

MEC sees the partnership as a way to become the best omni-channel retailer in its sector. “It’s all about putting customers in charge,” says MEC’s head of operations, Gary Faryon. “It’s about removing barriers to service and the letting customer dictate how, when and where they want the product.” The feature, currently a call-centre option for MEC, will soon be available on the website and mobile apps. “We expect a slow start after Christmas but it will become a very big part of our business,” says Faryon. “We see this as the future of retailing.”

Safrata says retailers want and need this service to offer a quick delivery service available outside of standard operating hours. Eric Pateman, president of Edible Canada, agrees: “We’re now able to offer a cheaper alternative for in-town shipping and a much more reliable service. It’s incredibly attractive to have an easy online ordering system all in one place at a reasonable price point.”

Zipments launched with a partnership between Mountain Equipment Co-op and Edible Canada, with plans to work with Purdy’s Chocolates and other local retailers in 2014. Expansion will be driven by the existing customer base of the retail partners. “We have the manpower, system and technology to roll it out quite quickly,” says Safrata. “If it works once well, then we can do it well a thousand times.” Future plans include a consumer-to-consumer delivery option and a continued focus on the triple bottom line to encourage eco-friendly transport options for couriers.



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