Same-Day Delivery?

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Amazon’s prototype drone for same-day deliveries (below) has been all over the news lately. It is probably just a publicity stunt, and I am amazed that so many newscasts and newspaper articles fell for it, and then gave the company what amounts to free advertising. Our innovative idea is to use randonneurs on porteur bikes for deliveries! In fact, we already do that for some in-Seattle deliveries, like the load shown above.

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That delivery by drone would be taken seriously illustrates to what length companies go to provide ever-faster service, since the products they sell otherwise are all the same. Ebay introduced “same-day delivery” in several cities recently, using messengers on bikes and in cars to pick up products at local stores and deliver them to customers, usually within an hour. If it really comes down to the minute for you, you can track the courier on your screen!

For the last-minute shoppers among you, here’s the bad news: we don’t offer same-day delivery at Compass Bicycles. We don’t offer overnight shipping, either, and it’s not because we don’t care about customer service. Our emphasis is on the quality of the product rather than the speed of delivery. We do use Priority Mail through the U.S. Postal Service for most shipments, so you usually get your parcels within a few days.

Our focus is on providing you with the best products possible. We design products, make prototypes, test them, assemble components (René Herse cranks), and even modify them (decaleurs). For our books and magazine, we do actual research, seek out hard-to-find sources, and photograph rare bikes, rather than rely on press releases and ready-to-go publicity shots. That is where we allocate our resources.

We are cyclists and if we don’t answer the phone, we may be out on a ride, in the machine shop, or discussing a project with our engineer. Those rides are important, because they make our products special: They inform our no-compromise philosophy. We know from experience how frustrating it is to have products perform less-than-optimally when you are in the middle of nowhere. We also know how mesmerizing it is to ride on a wonderful bike equipped with supple tires that hum over the pavement. In fact, those experiences led us to start Compass Bicycles in the first place.

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Yes, you’ll have to plan ahead a few days if you want one of our products by a certain date. And when they arrive, you can be sure that the components have been tested extensively on the road, that the books and magazines bring you careful research and wonderful story-telling, and that they all reflect our passion for cycling. We think it’s worth the trade-off.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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30 Responses to Same-Day Delivery?

  1. cbratina says:

    Right on! The drone sounds nuts to me too. Go to a brick and mortar store when you want it now! Start taxing internet sales. The road less travelled is often the most rewarding.

  2. Agarwal says:

    This is one of the most brilliant posts ever Jan!

  3. Skip Montanaro says:

    I agree the drone thing might have just been a cheap publicity trick. I wonder though about the efficacy of using bike messengers for same day delivery. According to their locations page, they have a fulfillment center in Indiana. I assume that serves the greater Chicago area. They’d be hard-pressed to do much bike-based delivery from that location without some intermediate truck or car transport. Once you insert that component into the delivery equation, I think you might as well just partner with USPS, UPS or FedEx.

    • The NY Times reported that it was a special service, where eBay doesn’t even have the product. They send the messenger to a nearby shop, where the messenger buys it and then delivers it. It appears another publicity stunt, because the $ 5 fee they charge for this cannot cover costs. Perhaps they have a deal with the shops they use (big chains, it appears) that they shop at a discount, but even so…

  4. John Hawrylak says:

    The plastic container on the Amazon drone was probably empty, to reduce weight and ensures it performs correctly.

  5. David Pearce says:

    My Sister told me something about the “drone”, and memes developing already, Infonotices that the drone has misdelivered your package, and geotagging now shows your delivery is actally now on your roof, or in the neighbor’s tree, although I guess the drone would be good for dropping your package down your chimney, as long as the wind was right, and you didn’t have a fire going!….

    But I was busy with different things: Let the record show, on this day, December 2nd, 2013, a day that will live in famy, the Green Hornet, the bike bruited about in these columns many times before by yours truly, first set supple tire to pavement, and may have gotten all of a half a mile on its SP and Campagnolo hubs, and let the record also show, the brakes need a little toe-in to stop the horrible squealing! And further, I am finding the Veloce 3×9 speed Ergopower c. 1998 to my liking so far.

    Still to come are the Compass fenders, already in hand, a front rack/decaleur, and lights, and a kickstand, so I bet Compass Bicycles & I are going to be doing some commerce in the weeks to come.

    And then my life will change, from building a bike, to riding a bike!

  6. RosyRambler says:

    If there are folks whose lives are so out of control they need same day delivery, aside from medically necessary items, it’s time they took a look at the quality of their life style. Plan ahead, or drive to the store to pick up your purchases. Better yet, ride your bike to the store!

  7. Dylan says:

    My new set of Grand Bois tires were ordered on black Friday (I refuse to capitalize the b) and arrived today, Monday. Maybe not drone fast, but as fast as could be hoped for. Hopefully as fast I’ll be on my new tires! Good work.

  8. Jym Dyer says:

    ☼ Overnight and same-day delivery is spun as another form of instant gratification (as is shopping online), given away “free” as a perk or offered late in the game as an upsell. It’s a marketing gimmick, and little is said about its environmental impact.

    If I must have something shipped, I go for the slow ground transportation option. Everything else has a much higher carbon footprint, subsidized by oil wars.

  9. My feelings exactly. I think we need to slow down in order to recognize the really important topics.

    Actually, the media probably didn´t fall for the drome stunt; no-one in his right mind could. By now the Internet economy has become so powerful they just can´t afford to reveal it.

  10. marmotte27 says:

    I went to a bike shop recently to buy some spare parts, and when I asked for bearing balls in the traditional sizes for front and rear wheel as well as bottom bracket, the woman behind the counter didn’t know what those were (1/4″ and 3/16″, I didn’t have them memorized myself, but then I’m not working in a bike shop either). The other stuff I wanted had to be ordered in, too. So much for getting your stuff fast; even the slowest delivery by mail is quicker than that.

    • We are lucky in Seattle to have a large number of excellent bike shops all over town. Neither your request for bearings nor any other technical question short of how to overhaul Maxi-Car hubs would faze them. I even know of three places I’d check if I needed a spare part for a 1970s Campagnolo derailleur…

      • Matthew J says:

        Speaking of which – is there a shop you trust with your Maxi-Cars?

      • Maxi-Car hubs use technology that is more common in cars and motorbikes than in bicycles. So most normal bike shops will have a hard time figuring them out. If you give a good bike shop the instructions on overhauling the hubs that we published years ago in Bicycle Quarterly, they might be able to work on them.

  11. Ulrik Haugen says:

    Pvp online had an amusing take on the Amazon story:

    http://www.pvponline.com/comic/2013/12/03/last-minute-shopping

  12. GuitarSlinger says:

    The funniest thing being the extent to which everyone in the media is completely misquoting the 60 Minutes episode on this IMO ludicrous venture by Amazon that answers the question no one ( that I know ) is asking

    Three cheers for you good sir though for placing ‘ quality ‘ above convenience and quantity . And guess what I just found on the newsstand of my favorite bookstore today ? ( The Tattered Cover )

    Yup … Bicycle Quarterly ! I finally get to peruse an entire issue to convince me to subscribe . Suffice it to say after a cursory glance … you’ll be hearing from me come January ;-)

  13. Aaron says:

    I’ve seen drop bars with a porteur rack before but never understood the choice unless that’s just a temporary setup. I went full porteur for those rare occasions when I take a wide box home from work where or have a lot of stuff to pack in my rack bag.

    • It’s a compromise – this bike is set up for performance first and cargo capacity second. I don’t want to ride flat or swept-back bars for long, speedy rides. My deliveries and “commutes” in Seattle easily cover 30 miles over hilly terrain. Having drop handlebars is a big plus for me on these rides. They encroach on the cargo space a bit, but since I usually carry pretty specific cargo (boxes of books and magazines) that fits between the drops, it’s not a big deal.

      If I lived in flat and small Paris, I’d probably use swept-back bars and maybe even a single-speed…

  14. Andy says:

    Amazon now says that this is something in development, and would not be in place until 2015 at the earliest. I still have doubts that a small craft can really carry 5 pounds for 30 minutes of flight and still make the return trip, though maybe batteries are getting more powerful.

    It amazes me the speed that people “need” things. Usually when there’s a product I want, I wait a week or two before buying. I want to make sure that it’s really something I want, and not just a spur of the moment purchase that will then sit unused or trashed. That means my spare bike parts bin is rather small, since I only buy what I intend to use, and if I do upgrade something, I’ll sell the old part if I don’t have a plan in place to use it somewhere else.

    This could be a good solution for medical supplies though. We’re only going to see more powerful storm systems and more of them, and getting relatively small packages of medicines to people unreachable by roads would be a life saver.

    • Amazon now says that this is something in development, and would not be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

      I am willing to bet a set of René Herse cranks that we’ll never hear about this again. Just imagine the number of drones you’d need to keep up with the assembly line they showed in the promotional video… to say nothing of the dangers of landing drones in your front yard.

      I am quite certain that it was a clever publicity stunt that plastered the company’s name all over the news on the biggest shopping day of the year. The video cost maybe $ 20,000 to make, whereas buying that much TV time would have cost many millions. And since people have a short memory, there won’t be any downside when the program never is heard of again.

      If the practice catches on, we’ll have April Fools’ Day twice a year!

  15. Larry T. says:

    It’s easy to dislike Amazon, especially if you live in a place like Seattle where pretty much everything is available locally. Strange bike parts, Italian food items and similar things are simply not available in places like Sioux City, Iowa, so it’s an operation like Amazon or nothing.
    Your business philosophy (like ours) is all too rare, keep up the good work!
    Note to the guy who wrote about Campagnolo Veloce 3 X 9 – our standard rental bikes in Italy have the Mirage groupset. I’ve used Veloce parts myself for many years and am coming to believe the 3 X 9 groups are some of the best stuff ever made in Vicenza when it comes to longevity and reliability. I’m putting together another bike right now for myself with these same parts.

    • I am not opposed to mail order, especially when specialty items aren’t available locally. What bothers and alarms me about Amazon and others is their predatory behavior. Their goal is to drive others out of business. It started with small bookstores… A company that encourages people to go to stores, look at products, perhaps get expert advice and then scan the barcode to see whether they can get it for less online is not somebody I want to support. In a previous blog post, I wrote why we chose not to do business with Amazon.

      • David Pearce says:

        I like your previous blog post. Good for you! I didn’t realize until just now, what you had done. And that was in 2011. Imagine how much faster our world is turning at the end of 2013! It must be strange for you, being in a beautiful city and area like Seattle, full of diversity: Isn’t Amazon based in Seattle? In the end, you often find in these big doers, like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, that there are often some very devilish bargains that they have made to perfect their products.

      • There will always be a niche to provide products for those who don’t believe newer and more technological is better. The very act of going for a long bike ride is a way to get away from the always-connectedness and rapid pace of modern life.

  16. David Pearce says:

    To Larry T., thanks for your comments, I’m sure I’ll be reporting more as I get a chance to ride the bike and adjust it to myself and also adjust myself to it!

    My sadness about Amazon is thinking about the “huge-box” fulfillment centers, and the anecdotal working conditions we’ve heard about them–that is just not right. I don’t need things that fast that others have to suffer for my enjoyment. And I also don’t need “the Cloud”, with visions of some air-conditioned server center somewhere huffing and puffing its diesel generators to life every time I want to watch one of my iTunes movies! If you don’t watch it you guys, I’m gonna go off the grid entirely, and then try to find me!

    As far as the Amazon drone thing, it’s funny how we’re thinking about it–like it’s going to land on our front lawn or something. For everything new to us, we revert right back to childhood thinking: People are going to want to interfere with the drones, or try to capture them with crossbows. Those propellers must be sharp right? Can they be shielded with protective venturi to keep people from getting their hands cut off?

    We’ll have to start thinking about them like what they are, air vehicles. Like every other air vehicle, it’ll need a port. It’ll be like another address to fill in in the checkout line–a drone-port, with its own beacon and GPS coordinates. In my mind’s eye, I see something like a modern trampoline-looking landing pad, complete with safety fencing around the circumference, and some lockout device to prevent customers or evildoers from entering the landing site when the drone is landing or taking off. It would be great for apartment buildings I guess, or hospitals, with one drone pad on the roof, and the concierge would retrieve the boxes and alert the customer their package had arrived. You’d have to provide a safe corridor in the air for the drones and for the people interacting with them.

    Enough! I gotta go! I’m happy to wait for Jan to deliver my books!

  17. Wait, does this mean Jan is going to show up at my house with my crankset strapped to his rack? Vancouver is not so far away, certainly not out of rando distance! It’s a bit chilly right now though, wear lots of wool and I’ll meet you at the door with hot cocoa.

  18. David Pearce says:

    This quick delivery service thing is getting out of hand! Case in point: Cyber Monday, Dec. 2, I ordered a computer setup for my Dad from Staples.com. Laptop, keyboard & mouse, printer. I believe they said the shipping would be in two business days, so okay, Wednesday. Fine. Great, even. Then I get at least one–maybe two emails that one part of my order has been delayed ONE DAY. AND I received an obsequious phone message as well, practically begging me not to be mad, and offering to allow me to cancel my order if the new delivery date was not satisfactory. So now the 2 or 3 boxes are being delivered today, not yesterday. I don’t care! Within a week is fine for goodness’ sake! It’s enough already.

    • It’s interesting to me how much group-think there is. Right now, accepted wisdom is that fast shipping is key to winning customers. Next year, it may be pretty shipping boxes… and everybody will be doing the same thing.

      • When you can’t differentiate on product because the products are identical, what is left?

        While I’m very sympathetic to your post, more or less everyone is going to prefer fast shipping to slow shipping if all else is equal. The real trick is effectively subsidising (or concealing) the costs of rapid shipping from the consumer to make that comparison possible.

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