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Government regulation is in the way. Again.

By Steve Geary | 11/24/2016 | 12:04 PM

When I was in college, the only home delivery was from the local pizza shops.  For anything else, you had do go to the store or use a quaint service called “mail order.”

Then things started to shift.  When the internet was young, sitting at your desk and getting things delivered within a few days seemed like magic.  Now, point and click on your phone, and if you do it before noon it will be delivered by 9 pm.  We don’t even need to go to a grocery store anymore.

It could be said that Amazon has spoiled us, but it isn’t just Amazon.  According to market research firm eMarketer, the second largest ecommerce company is now Wal-Mart, followed by Apple, Staples, Macy’s, The Home Depot, Best Buy, QVC, Costco Wholesale, and Nordstrom.  Other than Amazon, there isn’t a pure ecommerce place on the list.

A consumer can now buy just about anything over the net.  Cars.  Appliances.  Food.  Travel.  Mortgages.  Prescriptions.  Hand woven rugs from a village in Morocco – my wife has done it.  You can even arrange to order your prescriptions via the internet.

Retail has merged with what used to be called ecommerce, resulting in what supply chain folks call omni-channel.  The shopper has a seamless shopping experience, and the shopper gets to decide how they want to shopping experience to work.  Brink-and-mortar & ecommerce are just the poles on a single continuum.

Now try to do that with beer. 

A friend of mine came home from the hospital recently, and I’m Irish.  That means her homecoming calls for a pint and a toast.  Unfortunately, I live in Massachusetts, Glenda lives in rural Virginia, and our paths are not going to cross any time soon.

I hopped onto the internet, because the solution is obvious.  Order a couple of six packs of Geary’s Pale Ale – I’m not kidding, Geary’s Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine brews a nice pint  – and the internet delivers a physical beer and a virtual smile to my friend. 

Hopped on the phone, called the brewery, and they were apologetic, but it seems that it is against the law for them to accept orders over the phone, or over the internet.  I’d have to find the beer at a retail outlet near me, buy it, and ship it myself.  Except, it turns out that you can’t ship beer through the US Mail.  It too is illegal.

You can order prescription drugs over the internet and ship them in the US Mail, but you can’t legally do either with a six pack of ale.

I’m an old school logistician, so I sorted it out.  The two six packs were handed off to her son in Washington, DC on Tuesday, and when he picked her up at the hospital in Richmond on Wednesday the beer was sitting on the front seat.  We’re logisticians, and we learned a long time ago that often our job is to get things done despite the government's “help,” not because of it. 

Often, things really do work better when government and bureaucracy stay out of the way.

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About Steve Geary

Steve Geary

Steve Geary is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee's College of Business Administration, and is on the faculty at The Gordon Institute at Tufts University, where he teaches supply chain management. He is the President of the Supply Chain Visions family of companies, and Chief Operating Officer at ROSE Solutions, consultancies that work across the government sector. Steve is a contributing editor at DC Velocity, and editor-at-large for CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Science and Engineering, and Who's Who in Executives and Professionals. In November of 2007, Steve was recognized for "Selfless Service to Our Nation and the People of Iraq" by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.


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