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Shipping wars: How 5 online retailers are winning the package delivery game

Kudos to Amazon for thinking outside the box. While the company's recently announced plan to enlist drones for 30-minute package deliveries was met with heavy skepticism, it speaks to the lengths that online retailers are willing to go to address one of the few remaining drawbacks to online shopping: the instant gratification that shoppers get when they walk out of a brick-and-mortar store carrying a new pair of pants.

Amazon may be at the forefront of package delivery, but it's not alone. Here are some creative ways retailers are are getting products bought online into customers hands — if not instantly, then as close to it as they can get.

Amazon’s Sunday delivery

Before drones there was Sunday delivery. As of November, Amazon now guarantees subscribers to its $79-a-year Prime Service deliveries on Sundays in New York and Los Angeles, thanks to a new partnership with the U.S. Postal Service. The idea isn't just to provide stellar customer service, but also to draw more small businesses into selling their wares on the site by offering them a better way to compete with big-box retailers.

Kate Spade Saturday’s window shopping

The other big drawback to online shopping? Customers can't touch a product before purchasing. So Kate Spade, the high-end maker of fashion accessories, launched four pop-up storefronts in Manhattan earlier this year, according to Mashable. Customers walking by could peruse the products displayed in the window — and then place orders on the spot via a large touchscreen hanging in the window and accessible from the street. The items bought were delivered free anywhere in the New York City borough within an hour.

Stitch Fix’s easy returns

Deliveries of online purchases need to be easy and quick — and so do returns. Many retailers make the process cumbersome for customers by putting the burden on them to ship a product back, but others realize there's a longer term payoff in easing the return process for customers. Take Stitch Fix, a service that handpicks clothes for subscribers based on their aesthetics and includes in each delivery a return bag and prepaid shipping label. Seventy percent of Stitch Fix customers who returned an item the first time return for a second purchase, according to Fox Business.

Oasis’ delivery time slots

Customers dread having to trek to the local UPS or FedEx shop to pick up a package they weren't home to receive. Oasis Clothing, a U.K.-based fashion retailer, not only offers same-day delivery but also lets customers who spend a minimum amount to choose an hourly time slot when their purchase will be delivered (and, presumably, they'll be home to receive it). Granted, the delivery address has to be within 15 miles of an Oasis retail store to guarantee on-time arrival, reports Retail Week.

Walmart’s crowdsourcing in the future

Recruiting customers to deliver products to other customers? Walmart thinks it's onto something. The discount retailer has proposed using customers at its brick-and-mortar stores to deliver items bought online by other customers who live in their general neighborhood. In return, these customers-cum-delivery-personnel would receive a discount on their entire bill, large enough to compensate for gas money, according to BloombergBusinessweek. The idea is still in its early stages, however. Logistics aside, Walmart also has some legal hurdles to clear before the idea becomes reality.

What unique approaches to customer-centric delivery have you seen?

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