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Amazon offers BOPIS at Whole Foods

By Ben Ames | November 29, 2017 | 12:59 PM

Log on to your favorite online retailer to do a little holiday shopping this week, and you will be wooed at every click with offers of free shipping for your purchase. However, nothing in life is truly free. One of my favorite high school teachers used to write “TANSTAAFL” on the blackboard each morning as an acronym for the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

So e-commerce companies are getting creative in finding ways to convince consumers to pay for “free” delivery. Now Amazon.com Inc., the 800-pound gorilla of online retailers, is trying a new version of the strategy known as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). The Seattle-based mega-store is offering free shipping to customers who are willing to pick up their packages at the nearest Whole Foods Market.

The approach is a twist on Amazon’s “Order online, pick up today” service, where the company delivers parcels to a centralized bank of lockers instead of covering last-mile routes all the way to consumers’ front doors. Here in Boston, for example, there’s an Amazon locker facility on busy Commonwealth Avenue, located a few doors down from a CVS drugstore and across the street from Boston University.

Both approaches cut the retailer’s cost of providing “free shipping” by turning the shopper into his own last-mile delivery driver. But installing those lockers in a grocery store might encourage some shoppers to pick up a bag of organic avocados and some cage-free eggs while they’re claiming their cardboard package of e-commerce books and electronics. After all, Amazon paid $13.7 billion to buy the upscale grocery chain in June, and its new strategy shows one way that the retailer is trying to the get full value of its purchase.

This reporter will give the new system a try this holiday season. On Cyber Monday, I joined millions of Americans in doing some online Christmas shopping, and opted for Amazon’s free locker delivery at my neighborhood Whole Foods. Time will tell if my parcel of books smells like manchego cheese and artisanal crackers.

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