ShippingRace-1-2

SAN FRANCISCO — At a time when it’s easier than ever to get what you want, when you want it, Amazon and Google are competing against each other and an array of startups to be the go-to service for people who want products delivered on the same day they’re ordered.

Victory-2
GeekWire’s Blair Hanley Frank with the winner of of our Amazing Book Race.

Amazon has begun offering same-day delivery of products from its fulfillment centers to certain locales across the country, and Google is building out Google Shopping Express, a service that uses couriers to deliver products from local stores, including books under a new partnership that Google is piloting with Barnes & Noble.

But which one is better, and faster? GeekWire decided to find out by conducting a race — the Amazing Book Race, Same-Day Delivery Showdown — ordering the same book from Google and Amazon at the same time, opting for same-day delivery and seeing who would deliver first to our location.

Each company has its own delivery areas of choice (for example, Amazon covers Seattle while Google does not), but the two overlap in San Francisco, which made the City by the Bay a perfect test bed to see which one is faster.

Since my home in the East Bay is out of Amazon’s delivery range, the folks at O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures graciously let me borrow a desk in their office on Friday to conduct the test. Follow along with my notes below to see how it all went down.

11:00 a.m. I’m online at O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, getting ready for our Same-Day Delivery Showdown. The rules are simple: I’ll order one copy of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami from both Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery and Google Shopping Express’s Barnes & Noble delivery service.

GSXOrderPlaced
Google Shopping Express’s order status screen (Click to enlarge)

11:05 p.m. Google tells me that my earliest delivery window is 6–9 p.m. tonight. This doesn’t bode well, but I think there’s a chance the search giant will come through for me. Getting the book delivered costs $22.74 in total, though that doesn’t include a $4.99 delivery fee that Google waives for the first six months someone uses GSX.

11:17 a.m. I didn’t get a confirmation email from Amazon, so I checked to make sure that my order had shipped. It had not. I click the “Place your order” button, and receive a confirmation email nearly immediately. The total cost of the delivery comes out to $22.51, ever so slightly cheaper than Google.

Placing the same-day delivery order on Amazon (click to enlarge)
Placing the same-day delivery order on Amazon (click to enlarge)

12:30 p.m. I return from picking up lunch to find that Google has marked my book as “in transit,” as of 12:09 p.m. I check Amazon to see if my shipment’s status has changed, and it has not.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 12.25.05 PM

12:45 p.m. I have finished my lunch of a Curry Chicken Salad from a deli down the road. There is still no sign of either book copy.

1:30 p.m. A USPS carrier comes in with a trio of envelopes. None of them are large enough to be one of my packages. This disappoints me.

2:45 p.m. I receive an email from Amazon letting me know that my package has shipped. I hop over to my order details to find that the book has a tracking number with Ontrac, a courier service that Amazon regularly uses in the Bay Area, and that it has “left seller facility and is in transit to carrier.” According to Google, my delivery window is 6–9 p.m., and that’s final.

2:50 p.m. A pair of FedEx carriers (one of whom is a trainee) come in with another envelope that is too small to be a hardcover book. I am, once again, disappointed in this development. I do not tell them so, however.

2014-08-15 15.02.563:00 p.m. Almost 4 hours after placing my orders with Google and Amazon, I figure I ought to make this race a little more interesting. Now that Amazon has confirmed it has shipped my book, I decide to ask delivery service Postmates to pick up a copy of Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” from Alexander Book Company, one of my favorite local bookstores in San Francisco, and one that’s relatively close to the office.

Because Postmates doesn’t partner with Alexander, I can’t see the price of the book in the app. But whatever it is, I’ll have to pay a 9 percent service fee on top of whatever its price is. I managed to use a Postmates promo code (since this is my first time using the service) to get the $8 delivery fee waived. Still, this looks like a damn fast way to get the book delivered. Postmates tells me that it will be here within the hour. Game on, Amazon.

3:02 p.m. Brian, who has made 180 deliveries and carries a five-star rating, has accepted my delivery. Looking at the Postmates app, I can actually track his position on the way to the bookstore.

3:21 p.m. I take a quick glance at Postmates, and notice that Brian has started to pick up my order. Amazon has not updated my order status. Which package will come first? Is it the one I ordered 4 hours ago, or the one I ordered 20 minutes ago?

A smiling Brian Byrnes, who beat Amazon and Google to be the first book delivery of the day
A smiling Brian Byrnes, the Postmates courier who beat Amazon and Google to be the first book delivery of the day

3:26 p.m. Postmates has notified me that Brian has started the delivery, and that he’ll be here in about 7 minutes. Somewhat surprisingly, the app doesn’t have an updated price for my purchase, even though Brian had to pay for my book already.

3:42 p.m. And the winner is…Brian! My Postmates courier showed up at the office with my book in hand, while Amazon is still in the process of getting its copy to Ontrac. Total cost of the delivery to me was $24.00 ($22.02 for the book, and $1.98 for the Postmates service fee.) If I hadn’t had a discount code, the whole delivery would have cost $8 more. Now I just have to convince myself to focus on work and not crack open the book I just received.

4:04 p.m. Amazon’s site is still telling me that my package is in transit to the Ontrac courier. Google still lists my package as “in transit” as well. I have given up the last vestiges of hope that I would be able to make it back home in time for my local game store’s weekly Friday Night Magic tournament.

Anthony Doerr's latest novel, the first book to arrive in our race.
Anthony Doerr’s latest novel, the first book to arrive in our race.

4:28 p.m. On a whim, I checked my order on Amazon, which now says it has arrived at the carrier facility in South San Francisco. It’s still expected to arrive by 8 p.m., though.

5:20 p.m. I checked my order on Amazon once again, and as it turns out, my package has been out for delivery as of 4:29 p.m. There has been no change in the status of my Google Shopping Express package for the past 5 hours.

6:02 p.m. I have officially entered Google’s delivery window. Amazon has said that my package has been out for delivery for the past hour and a half. The office is empty.

6:22 p.m. It has been 7 hours since I placed my orders. I recently chatted with a member of the Google Shopping Express support staff, who told me that because demand for the service has grown significantly in recent months, the company recommends that people place orders early, or even a day in advance if they want a delivery window that’s before, well, 6–9 p.m.

The GSX courier who brought my package
The Google Shopping Express courier who brought my package

6:54 p.m. I have decided that it’s dinner time. I grabbed Murakami’s “1Q84” and my jacket and walked out the door. I sincerely hope that I don’t miss both of my package deliveries.

8:02 p.m. With my hunger sated, I returned to the office to find that neither of my packages has arrived. Amazon was supposed to deliver by 8 p.m., but the online portal is still showing “Out for delivery.”

8:10 p.m. Google comes through! Even though Amazon said that my package would be here 10 minutes ago, a courier from Google Shopping Express just showed up with a package.

8:20 p.m. Roger Chen, my host at O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, has left for the night, but has graciously allowed me to stay in the office while I wait for Amazon to deliver my last package of the day. (Any minute now …)

The GSX package, containing one of the copies of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki"
The GSX package, containing one of the copies of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki”

8:25 p.m. It’s clear that I am the only person displaying true Same-Day Delivery Showdown spirit. (In this case, a desperate need to get packages as quickly as possible.) I wish I had a big mat with a map of San Francisco on it so I could welcome each delivery Amazing Race style. My Phil Keoghan impression is rusty, though.

8:30 p.m. In a moment of desperation, I called up Amazon to see if they could find out when my package would arrive. The support rep very kindly called up Ontrac, but they didn’t pick up. I’m not surprised. They’re probably having a very nice Friday and wouldn’t want that to be interrupted by a man desperately waiting for a package so he can go home.

8:40 p.m. I have checked the delivery status of my package probably 5 times in the last 5 minutes to no avail. But lo and behold, Ontrac has reported that they have delivered my package.

The Ontrac carrier's super-sneaky hiding spot for my package
The Ontrac carrier’s super-sneaky hiding spot for my package

8:43 p.m. Success! Of a sort. The Ontrac courier left the package behind a planter by the front door, and disappeared. Still, I finally have my package, and I can go home.

10:15 p.m. Finally. Home. The difference between the two packages’ contents is striking. Amazon’s copy is shrink-wrapped, while Google’s copy is unwrapped and bears a B&N sticker advertising discounts for members. (Upon closer inspection, the sticker conceals an anti-theft tag.) It’s clear that Amazon’s copy came from a shipping facility, while the copy Google delivered looks like the first copy Barnes & Noble had on the shelf.

Overall, I came away from the experience with two clear messages: first, I shouldn’t rely on either Google or Amazon to get me a package if I need it sooner than 9 p.m. on a given day. Google offers earlier delivery windows, but as the support representative told me, they usually fill up quickly, and I would do well to order something the day before in order to ensure I got an early delivery time.

ShippingRace-2-2

If I lived in San Francisco proper, my first inclination after this test would be to reach for Google if they could ensure an early delivery window for me, and otherwise use Amazon’s service. While Amazon’s delivery was later than expected, the book’s condition (including its lack of an anti-theft tag) is a definite plus. The company’s slightly cheaper price doesn’t hurt, either.

For stuff that I want delivered right away, I’m not even going to bother with either service. Amazon and Google’s same-day delivery services are great for people who don’t care what time during a day something shows up, but if I needed a last-minute gift by 5 p.m., I would have been sunk. The time I spent tracking packages and waiting around in the office could have easily been replaced by a quick walk to a nearby bookstore to get what I wanted, or asking Postmates to bring it to me posthaste.

Overall, I’m not so sure I’d use these same-day delivery services all that much, even if they were conveniently located to me. Each comes with added fees in place of longer shipping times, and if I can wait until 9 p.m. to get something delivered, I can probably wait a couple days for it, too. Still, these are nice options for people who want something soon.

Comments

  • D

    You should have also tried eBay Now!

  • Joshua Willis

    The last two times I got “Same Day Delivery” from Amazon in SF the items didn’t show up until the next day. If speed is important you really can’t beat Postmates. Shameless plug: Promo code “joshuaw” will give you (and me) $10 Postmates credit on your first order.

  • http://timandjeni.com/ Timothy Ellis

    You told us how much the book+delivery cost via Postmates, but not via Amazon or Google…

    • Blair Hanley Frank

      Thanks for pointing that out, Tim. I’ve added that info to the article, but the two were very close. Amazon cost $22.51, all told, while Google cost $22.74.

      • Goodtest

        Well technically if you weren’t using the Google free trial (which waived your shipping fee), you would have paid $27.74

  • Entertaining read

    Next time, get an ebook.

  • wrpickard

    OK, how about another option for your contest. On your lunch or dinner hour, walk to a bookstore and buy the books and walk home. It will cost you less, you will get your books faster, and you will get out in the fresh air. The time cost to you is zero.

    So much of what passes as leading edge tech, or e-commerce advances, or wired or mobile or whatever buzzword is popular today is just a degradation of performance in the name of mindlessly using technology where other means would work better.

    IF SOMETHING IS THAT IMPORTANT THAT YOU MUST RECEIVE IT TODAY – THEN GO GET IT. If an employee of mine failed to deliver on a deadline, would I put up with the excuse that Amazon or Google’s delivery service failed to deliver on their same day promise? Not likely.

    • http://StartedinSeattle.com/ Stephen Medawar

      “I just bought a book from the bookstore on my lunch break” isn’t as interesting of an article. :)

    • Guest

      That’s ridiculous. Why do you pay your employees to dick around at Barnes & Noble’s? For only like $8 you can get a poor to do your small tasks so that your employees are more prod.

      Get a poor, pickard. My time is worth a lot.

  • Odwalla

    How long would it have taken you to just go to a bookstore and buy it?

  • Mark MacKay

    How do we factor in the “need for speed” with worker welfare? Do these services provide a fair wage and reasonable working conditions? How do we calculate the value of people doing the carrying—at least until the drones take over everything?

  • Postmates courier

    So you didn’t tip your Postmate? Lame.

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