These days there seems to be a competition amongst top retailers, as to which can be the first to offer the latest and greatest in terms of new product and services and service types.  Thus Home Depot and Staples count themselves as first for offering 3D printers and then related products as national brick and mortars.  Staples quickly followed by offering customers lessons in the use of these new-vogue items in a couple of major metropolitan markets, hopefully to be followed by a wider rollout.

Walmart and Amazon have long been leading the charge in designing methods of achieving efficient free and same-day delivery systems.  For Amazon this is a necessity to be truly competitive, as everything they sell must be delivered.  Same-day services puts Amazon more in line to compete with the instant gratification brick and mortars naturally offer shoppers.  Among Walmart’s ideas to reduce shipping costs was to have customers deliver to neighbors.  This was likely not enacted after considering ramifications that some neighbors might be less than honest or want to charge a separate delivery fee.

Retailers of major appliances have long used reduced and free delivery and installation services to build and compete for business.  The same goes for many categories of carpet and flooring.  Lowe’s and Home Depot mirror this for each of these categories.

The chains listed above reflect big box competitors, who own all of their stores and can easily manipulate prices.  Some of these competitive pricing calculations are done through systematic loss-leaders, including free shipping for purchases above a minimum total value.  Amazon of course is famous for this.  Here Wall Street is often unhappy with Amazon as the company drives up sales figures, often at the expense of profits.

Now another kind of retail chain is entering the delivery fray, though at least at the start it is not expected to be free.  Ace Hardware Inc. is a hardware co-op.  Its members are basically neighborhood hardware stores, which compete through knowing most of their customers and being able to offer ‘personal’ services including DIY instructions.  To many Ace customers Ace seems like a 4,000+ chain of hardware stores.

Actually, all Ace stores are independent members of the co-op.  Some are smallish local or regional chains.  Through membership, stores get to order product through Ace’s gigantic buying program.  Thus local hardware stores can achieve buying terms better allowing them to compete with even big box chains.  Ace also offers members programs in marketing which include strong pricing promotions, in-store merchandising tools and instruction.

Ace’s new Express Delivery service is a next step in placing member stores more firmly in the senses of current and potential customers.  It also places Ace further ahead of competing co-ops such as True Value and Do It Best.

Express Delivery offers same day delivery for customers who order by 1 p m.  As Ace estimates that over 60 percent of customers live within five miles of their Ace dealer, same-day delivery to those customers is seen as a service long overdue and very doable.

This service can be invaluable to customers who are in a rush to finish a project.  It also allows people to shop Ace whose vehicle isn’t large enough to accommodate a desired order.  It well could open Ace dealers to better serve job sites, whose members may not have the time to visit a store during parts of a project, or to replace suddenly out-of-service tools.

The initial charge for the Express Delivery service is five dollars.  Most Ace customers are homeowners, managers of apartment complexes and do it yourselfers.  A solid delivery service could gain Ace additional clientele from the realm of professional builders.  Builders and apartment managers would likely willingly pay this small fee to enjoy the convenience of Express Delivery.

Currently Ace is offering this service in a test mode, through select locations in six states.  If the trial stage succeeds, Ace then plans to roll the service out nationwide.  Attracting professionals to the Ace camp would drive up Ace financials significantly.  Allowing shoppers to receive shipments they normally could not accommodate for transport could be a game changer.  After the harsh weather conditions many of our countrymen have recently experienced, the five dollar fee seems like a blessing.