STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Amazon is quietly changing the way it ships products to its customers. Up till now, Amazon has been stocking up on a manufacturer's products so that when you bought it on the website, Amazon could send it directly to you. would obtain the product from a manufacturer, then send it on to you. Amazon has been acting like a traditional retailer. Now the company is trying to have a product directly from the manufacturer's warehouse to your front door.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on an effort to make deliveries faster and cheaper.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Amazon's business is built on three basic concepts: faster delivery, greater selection and cheaper prices. In service of that, it's built enormous warehouses staffed largely by robots that shuttle around pulling goods out of bins at remarkable speed. From order to shipment can take a matter of minutes. And lately, it's pursuing a program where Amazon goes directly into manufacturers, and manages their logistics and online retailing.
MARSHAL COHEN: It fits right into world domination for Amazon, because what this is doing is now allowing them to even broaden wider the scope of products that they're going to offer.
NOGUCHI: Marshal Cohen is chief retail analyst for NPD Group. He says Amazon's so-called Vendor Flex program benefits manufacturers, because they can sell more of their products directly to consumers. And it gives Amazon a bigger warehouse footprint, enabling it to ship more goods faster. So again: more goods, faster, cheaper.
COHEN: It's kind of like a win-win-win. There are three wins.
NOGUCHI: For the manufacturer, Amazon, and the consumer.
COHEN: The only ones that's not going to win are traditional brick and mortar retailers, which now have just gotten an additional competitor in categories that they've traditionally not had online competition in.
NOGUCHI: Amazon declined to discuss the program. But it shocked Vendor Flex to various manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble.
John Replogle is CEO of Seventh Generation, a cleaning products company that has worked with Amazon since the online retailer's early days. Although he declined comment about Vendor Flex, he says the company is thinking about new sales channels.
JOHN REPLOGLE: I think the notion of what it means to be a big box is being redefined.
NOGUCHI: Replogle says for his company, direct online sales make up a low, single-digit percentage of sales. But he expects it to double in the next few years, because fewer people want the traditional suburban experience of hauling bulky consumer products in their cars.
REPLOGLE: If you look at the consumer today, it tends to be young and well-educated. And increasingly, you know, what they're doing is living in urban centers. You know, their shopping behavior is shifting increasingly to online and in urban centers. So, as we think about strategically how we position ourselves, we've got to move with that consumer.
NOGUCHI: Walmart and others also realize that and are responding, by beefing up their online presence and delivery speeds. But retailers like Walmart also have a big advantage over purely online retailers. Namely, they have physical locations close to their consumers.
Tom Forte is an Internet analyst with the Telsey Advisory Group.
TOM FORTE: Walmart has a huge, much larger logistical footprint than Amazon.
NOGUCHI: And by partnering with manufacturers, Amazon is essentially trying to expand its geographic footprint quickly, to get closer to the customer. Forte calls faster delivery the new frontier of Internet competition. EBay's eBay Now service is experimenting with delivery of goods in an hour, and Google's Shopping Express promises same-day delivery.
FORTE: Amazon's adding fulfillment centers outside of major metropolitan areas. And eBay and Google are leveraging the retail stores within the major metros. So they should, at least in theory, be able to get the merchandise faster to the consumer than Amazon, which I think is a risk for Amazon.
NOGUCHI: But Amazon, too, is running its own same-day delivery experiments in Seattle and Los Angeles.
FORTE: The average consumer visits a grocery store 2.2 times a week, so one of the reasons that Amazon is rolling out grocery is they want that frequency of purchase.
NOGUCHI: And Forte says that's only skimming the surface of what's to come.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.