Why One Chain Is Insisting That Same-Day Delivery Orders Can Be Placed Only On The Phone

When 53-store regional chain Sports Chalet decided to join many of its big-chain counterparts (including Walmart and Macy's and Amazon and Google and Ebay) in offering same-day delivery, it decided to base both its pricing and its promised delivery time on location and, logically enough, on the availability of the product being sought. The chain also considers same-day orders to be very personal, which is one reason same-day isn't available online. A customer must talk with someone on the phone to receive the service.

Sports Chalet CEO Craig Levra said that he sees same-day-shipping as the next logical step in leveraging the chain's online warehouse distribution center and the stock in the chain's dozens of stores. In a typical online transaction, Levra said, the system first checks the online DC's inventory and then starts checking to find the nearest store that has one. The same-day process starts the same way, but it will get much more complex.

First off, the rules. To be eligible for the service, a shopper must be within a 30-mile radius of a store and place an order by 1 p.m. local time. The cost ranges from $25 to $35, depending on the distribution company that will be handling the delivery. Levra said the chain has contracted with a different delivery service in just about every region, and the price is dependent on the deal the chain had to cut with that service.

The time of the delivery is one of the most complex—and thereby phone-insistent—parts of the deal for the chain, which operates in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Where the product is found (DC or at some store) and where the shopper wants the delivery will dictate the targeted time of delivery, as well as whether the chain is willing to same-day deliver the product at all.

Levra expects the chain to "eventually morph to online" for same-day delivery, but he said that, for now, "we want to personalize the experience." Beyond personalization, there is a very practical reason to insist that companies get on the phone for these deliveries: to force shoppers to listen. On the Web, it's very easy to post all kinds of restrictions ("Must call by 1 p.m." or "We're not responsible for traffic jams or road closures") that shoppers won't read and they certainly won't internalize.

That leads to unhappy shoppers saying that they were never told something that was definitely on the screen. On the phone, it's much harder to ignore a voice. If a call center rep says, "Sorry, we can't deliver this to you by 4 p.m.," it's hard to miss that.

The Web is easier to regulate because call service reps are human and they may say something wrong or forget to say something. If you put into the Web page, it will generally stay put. But it can be naïve—or conveniently self-delusional—to trust that that resolves the issue. It's sort of like an associate who sends the department head a very lengthy memo knowing that the boss will never read it fully. And then repeatedly tells the boss, "Yes, I did tell you that this would cost twice the budgeted amount. It was in that lengthy memo, the one where I said, 'If you have any objections to this, please shout by 5 p.m. If not, I'll proceed.'"

Levra is smart enough to know that his chain will be get blamed if a customer's expectations are not realized, so he's going to do what it takes to try to set them properly. And, for now, that means not delegating this particular chore to a webite.