By Bike, Hand or Van, Barnesandnoble.com Gets Books Delivered

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Barnesandnoble.com, New York, is testing a service that has bike messengers and delivery vans delivering books purchased on the Web to the doorsteps of Big Apple customers in 24 hours.


The service costs $3.95, the same as standard delivery, which takes three to seven days; additional books ordered at the same time cost 95 cents each to deliver. So far, the online bookseller isn't telling its customers that they will get their packages delivered faster. It has contracted with Early Bird Messenger Service in Manhattan, which picks up boxed orders from barnesandnoble.com's warehouse in Dayton, NJ, twice each day.


The trucks bring the orders to Early Bird's delivery operation; orders are then distributed among individual messengers who deliver them by foot, bike or van. The delivery takes less than 24 hours, and orders placed in the morning are often delivered later that day.


"This service adds value without adding costs for the customer, since the costs of the courier are in line with postal rates that you would pay if you had books delivered to your house," spokesman Gus Carlson said last week.


The bookseller is testing the program with an eye toward expanding it to other metropolitan areas, possibly even using books off the shelves of its brick-and-mortar stores to fill orders in areas where it doesn't have warehouses. But the company is quick to admit that the program itself is really a test for a specialized, alternative delivery service that can work only in a very specific kind of area.


"New York is a wonderful incubator for this kind of experiment," he said. "A lot of book buyers live here, and there is an infrastructure set up - including the availability of courier services - that made it easy for us to see how this process would work."


Carlson said the program, which has been in place for a few weeks, has been well received so far. However, it's "really in its infancy and we are just using it to see how all of the pieces go together."


Insiders said barnesandnoble.com is attempting to address one of the biggest complaints about online shopping: It can take too long to receive products bought on the Web. In addition, it could give an important edge in its battle against its rival, Amazon.com. A 40 percent stake of barnesandnoble.com is owned by Barnes and Noble Inc., New York, the nation's largest bookseller, with a network of 530 retail superstores.


Amazon.com officials, however, remain unconcerned.


"We're pretty comfortable with the delivery services we have right now," said spokeswoman Sharon Greenspan. "We do things that our customers want, not just in response to what our competitors are doing. If our customers asked for something like this, we would do everything we could to try and deliver what they are asking for."
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