Could Amazon’s Flex Drivers be the Shopping Mall’s Saviors?

Malls.  So 1980s.

Malls, so 2022 – and on the cutting edge of omnichannel commerce.

To that end, it may be Amazon, that bastion of online commerce, that gives the bridge to malls, that bastion of brick and mortar retail, to make the move toward cross-channel sales.

Amazon is testing a new program that will leverage its Flex driver network to bring deliveries to consumers’ doorsteps from malls in a few select locations, including in Las Vegas, Virginia and Texas.

Per commentary from the company: Kate Kudrna, an Amazon spokeswoman, said a few “existing Amazon sellers” are participating in the program. In terms of the mechanics, the Flex driver picks up the orders from the mall-centered retail outlets and delivers them to the consumer’s home.

“We have been delivering from third-party stores for years,” Kudrna said in a statement. “This is another way we are able to connect Amazon sellers with customers via convenient delivery options.

The program is in its nascent stages, and it remains to be seen if it will be expanded onto a bigger stage.

Read Also: Amazon Tests Same Day Mall Deliveries

Casting an Omnichannel Net 

But should there indeed be a wider net cast with this model, for the malls, the connection to the marquee name in eCommerce tethers retails more closely to the digital age.  Beyond the confines of ordering online, pickup in store, the models now would allow consumers to get delivery to the doorstep — which might incentivize them to hit the buy button. That’s a way to keep revenues buoyant, and move inventory.

For Amazon, of course, the movement is there, too, to push more fully into brick and mortar channels. With wheels on the ground, so to speak, ferrying goods to customers on-demand without, say, a one- or two-day delivery window is a way to push up against the likes of Uber, which have, in their own initiatives, been moving beyond grocery delivery.

Amazon’s already been broadening its third-party offerings with Prime. In this case, with Flex, the company has a firm toehold in the gig economy. Delivery is, if anything, flexible (no pun intended with Amazon Flex).  Continuing to monetize its last-mile infrastructure and staff would be a strategic advantage for Amazon.

And, that omnichannel effort — here with the malls in focus — also is proof positive that the great digital shift may not be the total tidal wave that we’d seen in the darkest days of the pandemic, but the desire for a quick and seamless experience is paramount.

As noted by Karen Webster in a recent column, 57% of merchants now allow consumers to use their stores as fulfillment centers because it is as good for the consumer who wants to “buy now and get now.” Bringing a same-day option quickens, in at least some sense, Webster’s “inevitability that digital and physical will become one integrated experience as ecosystems emerge.”  Along the way, Amazon might help malls not just survive but thrive.

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