Could Amazon’s Flex Drivers be the saviors of the mall?

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Shopping centers. So 1980s.

Shopping centers, therefore 2022 – and at the forefront of omnichannel commerce.

To that end, it may be Amazon, that bastion of e-commerce, giving the bridge to malls, that bastion of brick-and-mortar retail, to make the leap to cross-channel sales.

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

Per company comment: Kate Kudrna, an Amazon spokeswoman, said a few “existing Amazon sellers” are participating in the program. In terms of mechanics, the Flex driver collects orders from points of sale located in shopping centers and delivers them to the consumer’s home.

“We have been shipping from third-party stores for years,” Kudrna said in a statement. “It’s another way for us to connect Amazon sellers with customers through convenient delivery options.

The program is in its early stages and it remains to be seen if it will expand to a larger stage.

Also read: Amazon is testing same-day deliveries to malls

Launch an omnichannel network

But should there be a wider network with this model, for shopping malls, the brand name connection in e-commerce tethers is closer to the digital era. Beyond the limitations of online ordering, in-store pick-up, models would now allow consumers to have their home delivered, which could entice them to hit the buy button. It’s a way to maintain dynamic income and move inventory.

For Amazon, of course, the move is there too to push more fully into brick-and-mortar channels. With wheels on the ground, so to speak, transporting goods to customers on demand without, say, a one- or two-day delivery window is a way to cope with companies like Uber, who have, in their own initiatives, go beyond grocery delivery.

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

And, this omnichannel effort – here with shopping malls at the center – is also proof positive that the great digital shift may not be the total tidal wave we saw in the darkest days of the pandemic, but the desire for a quick and transparent experience is paramount.

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

Read also: RIP digital transformation, we hardly knew it

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