Title:
Method and apparatus for the home delivery of local retail e-commerce orders
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method and apparatus for empowering general population to deliver e-commerce orders from retail stores to buyers. The method and apparatus comprises a database of patrons who register with the system to do home delivery of e-commerce orders, a database of e-commerce orders from the store, a database of buyers who place the orders, a database of delivery transaction, a database of feedback for patrons, a software application that matches acceptable orders with a patron, a dynamic pricing model that sets the delivery fee, a plurality of kiosks deployed in the retail store for patrons to select orders to deliver, a method to manage delivery transactions and compensation, a feedback system, and a service guarantee on the delivery of an order within its scheduled delivery time. The method and apparatus is then extended to different retail stores of different retail chains to provide unified home delivery service with the same pool of registered patrons.



Inventors:
Weng, Weiwen (Sunnyvale, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/307379
Publication Date:
08/16/2007
Filing Date:
02/03/2006
Assignee:
Weng, Weiwen (1229 Pennyroyal Terrace, Sunnyvale, CA, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
705/26.81
International Classes:
G06Q30/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
POND, ROBERT M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
OConnor & Company (P.O. Box 580, Minnetrista, MN, 55364-0580, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of empowering the general population to deliver e-commerce orders from retail stores to buyers, the method comprising: registering of a patron; providing selection and scheduling of iDeliver service to buyer upon receiving of e-commerce order placed by buyer; matching pending orders with patron's acceptable delivery criteria; managing delivery transaction and compensation; providing means for buyer to leave feedback on patron and making use of said feedback; and providing means for service guarantee on delivery of order within scheduled delivery time.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein registering of patron comprises the steps of: providing user interface to allow patron to create account by choosing user name and password; providing user interface to patron to collect driver license number or social security number for labor legality in accordance with federal and local state law; providing user interface to allow patron to specify acceptable delivery criteria; presenting iDeliver service agreement which states “While using iDeliver service, you will not hold iDeliver system responsible for the action or inaction of the buyers.” to patron and collecting patron's acknowledgement; persisting the above input information entered by patron in database; and upon verification of patron's work status in accordance with federal and state law, creating patron's membership and mailing membership card to patron.

3. The method of claim 1 wherein the acceptable delivery criteria includes acceptable deviation criteria and acceptable order criteria.

4. The method of claim 3 wherein the acceptable deviation criteria further includes: the additional distance of travel required by the deviation is less than a preset limit; the additional time of travel required by the deviation is less than a preset limit.

5. The method of claim 3 wherein the acceptable order criteria further includes: the total weight of the goods in the order is less than a preset limit; and the total number of bags of the order is less than a preset limit.

6. The method of claim 1 wherein providing selection and scheduling of iDeliver service upon receiving of e-commerce order placed by buyer comprises the steps of: providing user interface to buyer the to show whether iDeliver service is available to buyer's address; if iDeliver service is not available said method ends here; If iDeliver service is available then presenting iDeliver service agreement which states “While using iDeliver service, you will not hold iDeliver system responsible for the action or inaction of buyers delivery service providers.” to buyer and collecting buyer's acknowledgement; providing user interface to buyer to show the availability of schedule delivery times of iDeliver service; providing user interface to allow buyer to select type of delivery (attended or unattended), schedule delivery time and acceptable patron criteria; calculating the delivery fee based on scheduled delivery time and buyer-specified patron criteria; if it is a attended delivery, generating a secret code and sending the code to buyer; sending a order confirmation to buyer; and persisting the above information entered by buyer in database.

7. The method of claim 1 wherein the acceptable patron criteria includes: the number of deliveries performed by the patron in the past year is more than a preset limit; and the number of positive feedback of the patron is more than a preset limit.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein matching pending orders with patrons' acceptable delivery criteria comprises the steps of: providing user interface to allow patron to login by using user name and password or by swiping of membership card; retrieving patron's acceptable delivery criteria; retrieving all pending orders that are scheduled for delivery by patrons from current time to a preset time limit; applying patron's delivery criteria to filter said orders in step c; providing user interface to present the orders that satisfy patron's delivery criteria to patron; providing user interface to allow patron to accept or decline the individual order from said orders in step e; if patron wish to modify acceptable delivery criteria then providing user interface to allow patron to do so and go to step c; providing user interface to collect the orders accepted by patron to deliver; and printing out the driving directions, map and estimated travel time.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein managing delivery transaction and compensation comprises the steps of: creating a record in transaction database with a “waiting for packaging” status upon receiving of e-commerce order; updating the order status to “packaged” upon completion of order packaging; updating the order status to “selected by patron to deliver” upon patron's confirmation; updating the order status to “store delivery” the order is carried out as store delivery; charging the amount of the order to patron's account upon patron's picking up of order to deliver; instructing patron to request the secret code from buyer if the delivery is attended upon patron's arrival at delivery address; receiving order identification from patron receiving said secret code if the delivery is attended; crediting the amount of the order to patron's account; crediting the delivery fee to patron's account; updating the order status to “delivered” and closing the transaction; and sending reminder to buyer to leave feedback for patron for this delivery.

10. The method of claim 1 wherein providing means for buyer to leave feedback on patron and making use of said feedback includes: sending reminder to buyer to leave feedback for patron upon completion of delivery; providing buyer a option to use patron feedback information as acceptable patron criteria when scheduling iDeliver service; and updating patron feedback information in database.

11. The method of claim 1 wherein providing means for service guarantee on delivery of order within scheduled delivery includes: limiting iDeliver service to buyer whose address is within a list of areas where the density of population is higher than a preset limit; limiting iDeliver service scheduled delivery times to a list of time periods when number of customers visiting a store is greater than a preset limit; increasing the delivery compensation to patron once an order reaches urgent hours; and Employing a in-store delivery team to deliver orders that reach critical hours.

12. An e-commerce system for empowering general population to deliver e-commerce orders from retail stores to buyers, the system comprising: a client computer to present user to perform the steps of registering of a patron; a client computer to present user interface to perform the steps of providing selection and scheduling of iDeliver service to buyer upon receiving of e-commerce order placed by buyer; a plurality of in-store kiosks to present user interface to perform the steps of matching pending orders with patron's acceptable delivery criteria; a data storage medium to store order information; a data storage medium to store buyer information; a data storage medium to store patron information; a data storage medium to store transaction information; a data storage medium to store feedback information; and a plurality of server computers, coupled to said client computers, in-store kiosks and data storage mediums via a communications network, to implement the method of claim 1.

13. A computer readable medium comprising instructions, which when executed on a processor, cause the processor to execute the steps of the method of claim 1.

14. A method for providing the method in claim 1 to different retail chains with the same pool of patrons, the method comprising; sharing the pool of patron information among different retail chains; and allowing a patron to participate in different stores different retail chains where iDeliver service is available.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a method and apparatus that enables efficient home delivery of local retail e-commerce orders. More particularly, the invention relates to a method and apparatus that empowers the general population to deliver orders from a retail store to buyers in a more cost effective way than conventional home delivery services.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Although the purpose of the present invention is to provide efficient home delivery for general local retail e-commerce orders, reviewing the current state of online grocery commerce and the various home delivery service offerings will serve the same illustration purpose.

Online grocery services meet a number of consumer needs including providing products for niche markets or helping the time-starved consumer shop for the mundane weekly groceries. The homebound aged and handicapped can participate in the shopping experience with the products delivered directly to their home. Even though there has been a great decline in the number of pure-play online stores, there appears to be a solid market for online shopping. The major business model that is working today requires the support of the established brick-and-mortar supermarkets. This model is effective as it creates distribution efficiencies and leverages reputation, which is an important consideration for consumers in light of the perishable nature of many grocery products.

Today, online grocery services are legitimate businesses fulfilling about 1 percent of the nation's $570 billion grocery bill. Business is expected to triple by 2008, according to Jupiter Research.

However the vast majority of grocery sales are made via in-person shopping at the local stores. Some of the limiting factors that prevent customers from doing online grocery shopping with their local store include:

    • 1. Lack of home delivery service
    • 2. High cost of handling and delivery fee

Currently there are no nationwide online grocery services with home delivery. A few brick-and-mortar supermarkets, such as Safeway and Albertsons, are providing services in certain metropolitan areas. A number of pure-play online groceries serve their demographic areas.

To evaluate the high cost of grocery home delivery service, let's take a look at the offering by grocery chain Safeway as of November 2005. Safeway (www.safeway.com) provides a delivery service with a cost of $7.95 for a four-hour delivery window and $9.95 for a two-hour window. The delivery fee is relatively high compare to the typical dollar amount of the order. The invention presented here will substantially lower the cost of the delivery service and makes it more appealing for the mass population to do online grocery shopping and general local retail online shopping.

SUMMERY OF THE INVENTION

It is noted that, a retail store typically serves the surrounding neighborhood. Therefore the likelihood of multiple customers taking similar routes to the store is high. It is conceivable that for the shopper that does in-person shopping in the retail store, it is likely that there exist other orders placed via internet or telephone whose delivery route would come very close to the shopper's route from the retail store to his/her home. Therefore it is a cost effective way for the shopper that does in-person shopping in the store to deliver those orders that would take similar route to delivery. Hence the definitions:

Definition List 1

Term: Buyer

Definition: A customer who orders goods from a retail store via internet or telephone. A Buyer does not travel to the retail store.

Term: Patron

Definition: A person who delivers acceptable orders from the retail store to buyers residing within an acceptable deviation from the patron's original route and receives compensation accordingly. A patron travels to the retail store.

Term: Route

Definition: The path a person takes from one location to another by some means of transportation.

Term: Patron's Original Route

Definition: The route a patron would have taken if the patron did not perform the delivery. By default it starts from the retail store and ends with patron's home address.

Term: Acceptable Delivery

Definition: A delivery of an order that a patron deems “acceptable”. A delivery is considered acceptable if the order to be delivered is acceptable, and the deviation from the original route required to make the delivery is also acceptable.

Term: Acceptable Delivery Criteria

Definition: A set of criteria that must be met for a delivery to be considered acceptable. Acceptable delivery criteria delivery includes acceptable deviation criteria and acceptable order criteria.

Term: Deviation from Patron's Original Route

Definition: A route whereby the patron leaves the path defined by the patron's original route to reach an alternate destination or set of destinations, arrives at that destination or set of destinations in sequence, and then rejoins the path defined by patron's original route.

Term: Acceptable Deviation from Patron's Original Route

Definition: A deviation from patron's original route that a patron deems “acceptable”. Acceptability of a deviation from an original route is determined by a set of acceptable deviation criteria imposed by the patron.

Term: Acceptable Deviation Criteria

Definition: A set of criteria that must be met for a deviation from patron's original route to be considered acceptable. Example criteria could be that the additional distance of travel required by the deviation be less than 1 mile, or the additional time of travel required by the deviation be less than 5 minutes.

Term: Acceptable Order

Definition: An order that a patron deems “acceptable” to deliver, not taking into account the deviation from the patron's original route that will be needed to deliver the order. Acceptability of an order is determined by a set of acceptable order criteria imposed by the patron.

Term: Acceptable Order Criteria

Definition: A set of criteria that must be met for an order to be acceptable. Example criteria could be that the total weight of the goods in the order be less than 20 pounds, or the total number of bags in the order be less than 3.

Term: Acceptable Patron

Definition: A patron that a buyer deems an “acceptable” choice to deliver the buyer's pending order to the buyer's home or other specified destination. Acceptability of a patron is determined by a set of acceptable patron criteria imposed by the buyer.

Term: Acceptable Patron Criteria

Definition: A set of criteria that must be met for a patron to be acceptable. Example criteria could be that the number of deliveries performed by the patron in the past year be more than 10 or the number of positive feedbacks of the patron be more than 5.

Term: Attended Delivery

Definition: A delivery in which the buyer will be personally at home to accept the order.

Term: Unattended Delivery

Definition: A delivery in which the buyer is not at home to accept the delivery and thus the delivered goods must be left at the buyer's home unattended.

Term: Scheduled Delivery Time

Definition: The period of time a buyer specifies to have the order delivered. Scheduled delivery times are composed of three discrete time periods: the “initial hours”, the “urgent” hours and the “critical hours”. The exact duration or percentage of the periods may vary in real application.

Term: Initial Hours

Definition: The first period of the scheduled delivery time.

Term: Urgent Hours

Definition: The second period of the scheduled delivery time.

Term: Critical Hours

Definition: The third period of the scheduled delivery time.

Term: Cost of Travel

Definition: The cost incurred by driving a vehicle, including the cost of fuel and oil, vehicle deprecation, vehicle insurance and registration, and travel time

Term: Total Travel Cost of a Delivery

Definition: The cost of total travel for a patron to make in order to deliver orders to buyers.

Term: True Travel Cost of a Delivery

Definition: The cost of travel for a patron to deliver orders to buyers, excluding the cost of travel of the patron's original route. The true travel cost is the cost of travel of the deviations from patron's original route. It is the difference of total travel cost and the cost of travel of the patron's original route.

Term: iDeliver

Definition: A term that describes the activities performed by a patron who deliver acceptable orders from the retail store to buyers residing within an acceptable deviation from the patron's original route.

Term: iDeliver Service

Definition: A service that empowers a patron to deliver orders to buyers. It includes but is not limited to registering of a patron; providing selection and scheduling of iDeliver service to buyer upon receiving of e-commerce order placed by buyer; matching pending orders with patron's acceptable delivery criteria; managing delivery transaction and compensation; providing means for buyer to leave feedback on patron and making use of said feedback and providing means for service guarantee on delivery of order within scheduled delivery time.

Term: Store Delivery

Definition: A delivery performed by in-store delivery team instead of a patron.

Term: iDeliver System

Definition: The method and apparatus for iDeliver service

It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide the iDeliver system, a home delivery collaboration system which empowers a patron to deliver acceptable orders from the retail store to destinations that are within an acceptable deviation from patron's original route.

A prerequisite of the iDeliver system is the existence of an e-commerce ordering system from the retail store. Buyers do not need to travel to the store to purchase the goods. Instead buyers can place order via the Internet or telephone and have the order delivered to the home.

Below is a brief description of the iDeliver system and its usefulness. A detailed description of the iDeliver system is presented together with a description of the drawing afterward.

A buyer first places an online order with the retail store's ordering system. The retail store packages the order. In parallel the order information is sent to the iDeliver system. As soon as the order has been packaged, the iDeliver system makes the order available for delivery from the in-store iDeliver kiosks. A patron then arrives at the retail stores, fulfills his/her own shopping needs, and then through interaction with an in-store iDeliver kiosk selects the orders to deliver. The patron then delivers the order, thus closing the transaction.

One of key function of the iDeliver system is to match pending orders from buyers to a patron who will deliver those orders. The system will first find all of the acceptable orders for which an acceptable deviation from the patron's original route exists to get to the delivery location of that individual order. The patron will then choose which of these matching orders to deliver, after which the iDeliver system will calculate the “best” deviation from the original route the patron could take to reach all of the destinations. Here “best” refers to a deviation that best fits the acceptable deviation criteria established by the patron. For example if the patron has set one criterion to be that any destination must be within a three-mile radius of some point on his/her original route, the iDeliver system will construct deviations that never go beyond three miles of the patron's original route and come as close to the original route as possible.

If no such deviation exists, the patron will be notified as such and will be given the opportunity to override his/her acceptable deviation criteria and accept the “best” deviation found (which may not entirely satisfy one or all of the criteria), or refine his/her selections and allow the iDeliver system to calculate a new deviation. Every time the system makes a calculation, the patron will be able to browse through the five best deviations found and choose which deviation to use. Once a deviation has been chosen, the patron will be provided written instructions and a map to guide them through the delivery. Once the delivery is completed, patron receives compensation accordingly.

The advantage of the iDeliver service over conventional home delivery services is that the iDeliver service provides a true travel cost that is lower than the travel cost in conventional delivery services. The total travel cost for the patron to perform the delivery is the sum of the following:

    • 1. the cost of travel of patron's original route
    • 2. true travel cost, which is the cost of travel of the deviations from the patron's original route

The iDeliver service is more efficient because item one above is a sunk cost that has been incurred and will not be recovered due to the planned original route. So for the patron to delivery the order, item two above is his/her true travel cost, which is less than the total travel cost required by the conventional delivery service.

A lower true travel cost per delivery allows the delivery fee to be reduced. This presents an advantage for buyers. Customers who are pressed for time or who tend to avoid in-person shopping will enjoy the convenience of online shopping and a low delivery fee.

A lower delivery fee is also an advantage for the retail store. It can increase online sales and make a retail store more efficient by letting it serve a larger neighborhood, as some of the customers do not need to travel to the store. Also, the availability of a low-cost delivery service is a tremendous competitive advantage in the retail industry.

For the patrons, there is relatively small effort to make the delivery and receive compensation if his/her acceptable deviation criteria are sufficiently restrictive. Therefore this delivery method is attractive for the general population to participate as patrons.

One aspect of the present invention is to provide a service guarantee on delivering the order within the scheduled delivery time. The scheduled delivery time are composed of three discrete time periods: the “initial hours”, the “urgent” hours and the “critical hours”. The iDeliver system includes several approaches to optimize the probability of an order being delivered by a patron during the initial hours and urgent hours. The iDeliver system also includes an in-store delivery team to deliver orders that reach the critical hours without having been delivered.

The first approach is to limit iDeliver service to the time when the store has the most number of customers. Usually this would be on a weekend or some particular hours during the weekdays. Since the number of customers is high at these times, the availability of patrons is high and so most of the orders can be delivered by patrons. The second approach is to limit iDeliver service to an area that has a high population density. Having a densely populated neighborhood increase the likelihood of matching the orders to be delivered to this area with the patrons who have restrictive delivery criteria.

If for whatever reason a certain order reaches the urgent hours without delivery, the third approach is to dynamically offer an increased delivery compensation for the delivery of this order. An increase of compensation may be sufficient to convince patrons to relax their acceptable delivery criteria and accept a wider range of orders to deliver.

If for whatever reason a certain order reaches the critical hours without delivery, the iDeliver system will employ the in-store delivery team for delivery. Thus an order is guaranteed to be delivered within the scheduled delivery time.

It must be noted that the exact duration or percentage of initial hours, urgent hours and critical hours may vary in real applications.

Another aspect of the present invention is that the iDeliver service can be shared amongst different retail chains at the same time. The iDeliver system can share the same pool of patrons among different retail chains. Once a patron registers with the iDeliver system, he/she can perform deliveries for different retail stores of different retail chains where the iDeliver service is available.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The foregoing features and other aspects of the present application are explained in the following description taken in connection with the accompanying drawings wherein:

1. FIG. 1 is an exemplary component diagram of the iDeliver system;

2. FIG. 2 illustrates an embodiment showing the high-level view of the complete iDeliver service process;

3. FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary procedure of a buyer's interaction with the iDeliver system while making an online order;

4. FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary procedure a prospective patron must take in order to obtain an iDeliver account;

5. FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary procedure taken by the iDeliver Server during the three different stages of the scheduled delivery time frame;

6. FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary procedure of a patron's interaction with the iDeliver system;

7. FIG. 7 illustrates an example of a patron's original route between the retail store and the patron's final destination;

8. FIG. 8 illustrates the efficiency of iDeliver by showing which portions of a route calculated by the iDeliver Server would contribute to the true cost of the route; and

9. FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary procedure taken by the patron and iDeliver system during a delivery.

The figures are understood to provide representative illustration of the invention and are not limiting in their content. The leading reference numeral(s) indicates the first figure in which that reference number is introduced.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 is an exemplary component diagram of the iDeliver system 100. The iDeliver system 100 connects to the order system 115 of the retail store, and to a buyer or patron's home computer 120 through a wide area network (WAN) 105, such as the Internet. An iDeliver user interface is integrated into the existing ordering interface (website) provided by the ordering system 115, thereby giving a buyer or patron access to the iDeliver service.

The iDeliver system 100 is composed of the iDeliver Server 125, an order database 130, a buyer database 135, transaction database 140, a feedback database 145, a patron database 150, a set of in-store iDeliver kiosks 155, employee iDeliver client computer 160, the patrons 170, and the in-store delivery team 165. The iDeliver server 125, order database 130, buyer database 135, patron database 150, transaction database 140, feedback database 145, in-store iDeliver kiosks 155, and employee iDeliver client 160 are connected through a local area network (LAN) 110.

The iDeliver server 125 stores data in and retrieves data from the five databases, and is responsible for all manipulation of this data. Orders placed through the ordering system 115 of the retail store are received by the iDeliver server 125 and are then stored in the order database 130. Patron information is stored in the patron database 150 when a patron creates a new iDeliver account. Buyer information is stored in the buyer database 135 when a buyer chooses to have an order delivered through the iDeliver service. Transactions are entered into the transaction database 140 for each order delivered by the patron. The iDeliver Server 125 and the kiosks 155 conform to a client-server model. All data retrieval, data input and calculations are performed by the iDeliver Server 125, while the kiosks 155 are only responsible for displaying the data and receiving user input from the patrons. A description of a patron's interaction with a kiosk is described below.

The in-store delivery team 165 interacts with the iDeliver Server through an employee iDeliver client computer 160. The iDeliver Server 125 sends notifications to this client computer 160 whenever it is necessary for the in-store delivery team 165 to deliver an order.

FIG. 2 illustrates an embodiment showing the high-level view of the complete iDeliver service process. The steps are as follows: first a buyer places an online order 200 with the retail store's ordering system 115 and selects to have the order delivered by the iDeliver service. The details of the buyer's ordering process are discussed below. If the order is placed successfully, the order information is sent to the iDeliver Server 125 for processing. A transaction record is then created in transaction database to track the status of order. The iDeliver Server 125 enters the order information into the order database, and updates the buyer database with the buyer information. In the transaction database, the order is marked as “waiting for packaging” to indicate that it requires packaging before being ready for delivery. The iDeliver Server 125 then notifies the in-store iDeliver client that a new order is required to be packaged. The retail store's packaging employees package the order 220, and then notify the iDeliver Server 125 that the packaging step is done and thus the order is ready to be delivered. With this information, the iDeliver Server 125 updates the transaction database and marks the order as “packaged”. At this point, no action is taken by the iDeliver Server 125 with respect to this order until the order information is needed at one of the iDeliver kiosks, or the scheduled delivery time has nearly elapsed.

In the latter case, the iDeliver Server 125, in order to guarantee the delivery service, will notify the in-store delivery team that it will need to deliver the order. Accordingly the iDeliver Server 125 marks the order as “store delivery”. The heuristic used to determine when such a course of action would be necessary is described below.

In the former case, a patron arrives at the retail store 210, fulfills his/her own shopping needs 230, and approaches an iDeliver kiosk with the intention of participating in the iDeliver program 240. If the patron does not yet have an iDeliver account, he/she can create a new one through the user interface provided by the iDeliver kiosk. The details of creating a new iDeliver account are discussed below. Otherwise if the patron already has an account he/she proceeds to log in with his/her existing credentials. The kiosk sends the iDeliver Server 125 the patron's log-in information and the iDeliver Server 125 uses this information look up the patron's information from the patron database. With the patron's acceptable delivery criteria, the iDeliver Server 125 determines if the order is a match. If it is not a match then no information about the order is sent to the kiosk and the order remains with the “packaged” status. Otherwise the iDeliver Server 125 sends the order information to the iDeliver kiosk for the patron to view. The patron now makes a decision whether or not to deliver said order. If not, then the order is handled as it was in case it did not match the patron's criteria. Otherwise the kiosk notifies the iDeliver Server 125 that the patron would like to deliver the order. The iDeliver Server 125 marks the order as “selected by patron to deliver” to prevent any other patrons from choosing to deliver this same order. A synchronization method will be used to ensure that two different patrons do not attempt to choose the same order at the same time from two different kiosks.

Once the patron has finished choosing which orders to deliver, he/she proceeds to the retail store's loading area with the order details. The retail store's employees load the patron's vehicle with the packaged orders, and the patron is then ready to begin the delivery process 250, described in detail below. The iDeliver process comes to a completion once the buyer receives the order 260. Accordingly the order will be marked as “delivered” upon completion of delivery.

FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary procedure of a buyer's interaction with the iDeliver system while making an online order. The buyer browses the retail store's online shopping site 300 and places an order for goods 305 as defined by the retail store's existing online ordering method. The information captured for the order 310 includes the buyer's name and address, as well as a listing of the items the buyer wishes to purchase. The buyer's delivery address is sent to the iDeliver Server so that the iDeliver Server can determine if the iDeliver service can be provided for this buyer 315. One possible reason that the service may not be available to the buyer would be if the buyer lived too far away from the retail store. In this case the buyer would only have the choice of using the retail store's prevailing delivery service, and no more interaction with the iDeliver Server would take place. Otherwise the buyer will be given the choice between using the iDeliver service or the prevailing service. If the buyer chooses to use the iDeliver service 320, he/she will be asked to accept the iDeliver service agreement 330, stating that the buyer will not hold the retail store or the iDeliver system responsible for any action or inaction, either intentional or unintentional, on the part of the buyer or patron. If the buyer chooses not to accept the service agreement, he/she will be notified that the iDeliver service is not available and no more interaction with the iDeliver server will take place. Otherwise the buyer will be shown details of the iDeliver service's availability in his/her area, including which delivery time frames are available. With this information the buyer specifies his/her delivery preferences 340: a time frame in which he/she would like to have the order delivered, if the delivery will be attended or unattended, and a set of acceptable patron criteria that a patron must meet in order to be able to deliver the order. A typical time frame might be the four hours between one and five PM. An attended delivery is a delivery in which the buyer will be personally at home to accept the order. And unattended delivery is a delivery in which the buyer is not at home to accept the delivery, and thus the delivered goods must be left at the buyer's home unattended. If the delivery is to be an unattended delivery, then the buyer must also provide written instructions for where the patron should leave the order.

With these pieces of information the iDeliver system then calculates a cost for the delivery. The factors used to determine this cost include how restrictive the buyer's patron criteria are, as well as how restrictive the delivery time frame is. The buyer will then be given the chance to accept or reject 350 the calculated delivery price. If rejected, the buyer is notified that the iDeliver service is not available and no more interaction with the iDeliver server will take place. If the price is accepted, both the buyer's information and the order information are sent to the iDeliver Server 355. The iDeliver Server enters these two pieces of information into the buyer database and order database, respectively, and charges the buyer the amount of the order and the delivery. Once this is completed the iDeliver Server sends a confirmation email 360 to the buyer with the details of the order. If the type of delivery chosen is an attended delivery 365, the buyer is also given a secret confirmation code 370 that will later be used to complete the transaction with the patron upon delivery.

FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary procedure a prospective patron must take in order to obtain an iDeliver account. The first step 400 involves providing personally identifying information that the iDeliver Server will store in the patron database. This includes a social security number, which is a legal necessity to compensate the patron, in addition to name, address, and credit information 405. During the second step 410 the patron establishes his/her set of acceptable order criteria and acceptable deviation criteria 415 that will help the iDeliver system match the patron with orders. In the third step 420, the patron is asked to accept the iDeliver service agreement 425, stating that the buyer will not hold the retail store or the iDeliver system responsible for any action or inaction, either intentional or unintentional, on the part of the buyer or patron. If the patron accepts the agreement, then the iDeliver system performs some background checks 430 on the prospective patron to ensure that he/she is legally able to work 433 and can thus participate in the iDeliver program and receive compensation. This may include but is not limited to checking the patron's age and citizenship status to make sure both meet the federal and state requirements to participate in the iDeliver program. If the iDeliver system determines that the prospective patron cannot legally participate, then it will notify the patron as such and the patron application will be rejected 435. Otherwise the patron's application is accepted 440. The patron can then choose a username and password that can be used to log into the iDeliver kiosks during subsequent visits to the retail store, or from the retail store's online ordering system. The kiosk will then produce a membership card for the new patron. This card can be used in the kiosk's card swiper to expedite the logon process.

FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary procedure taken by the iDeliver Server during the three different stages of the scheduled delivery time frame 500. The iDeliver Server behaves differently depending on the stage that the order is in. These differences in behavior are meant to ensure that the order will be delivered by the end of the scheduled delivery time frame so as to uphold iDeliver system's guarantee of service. Moreover the different behaviors are established in such a way as to maximize the probability that it will be a patron who performs the delivery of the order instead of the in-store delivery team. The reason for this is a direct result of one of iDeliver system's primary objectives—to reduce the total cost of delivery. As explained below, the cost of delivery is reduced significantly if performed by the patron, whereas a delivery performed by the in-store delivery team incurs just as much of a cost as the prevailing delivery service. The heuristics used to achieve this are thus described.

First, as described above, the buyer places an order 505 and chooses the iDeliver service for delivery. The iDeliver system processes the order 510, the order is packaged 515, and then the order is marked as ready to deliver. At this time the order enters the first of three stages—the the initial hours 520—comprising the scheduled delivery time frame. During this first stage, the iDeliver Server will offer the patron a base delivery compensation 525 for delivering the order. If this base price is not enough incentive for the patron to choose the order and the patron rejects the order, then the order returns to the pool of undelivered orders where it can be viewed and perhaps selected by another patron who will accept the base price as compensation. Otherwise if the patron chooses to accept this compensation 530, then the patron is notified of the time he/she has remaining to deliver the order and can begin the delivery process 535. Upon delivery, the transaction is completed 540.

If the order has not been delivered by a patron by the time the initial hours have elapsed, then the order enters the second stage 545 of the scheduled time frame—the urgent hours. During this stage, the iDeliver Server will increase the compensation 550 a patron would receive to deliver the order, thereby increasing the likelihood that a patron will be willing to deliver the order. At this point the method from the first stage applies: if the increased price is still not enough incentive for the patron to choose the order and the patron rejects the order, then the order returns to the pool of undelivered orders where it can be viewed and perhaps selected by another patron who will accept the increased price as compensation. Otherwise if the patron chooses to accept this compensation 555, then the patron is notified of the time he/she has remaining to deliver the order and can begin the delivery process 560. Upon delivery, the transaction is completed 565.

If the order still has not been delivered by the time the urgent hours have elapsed, then it enters the third and final stage 570 in the scheduled time frame—the critical hours. Since upholding the guarantee of service is paramount, the iDeliver Server cannot risk waiting anymore for a patron to accept the order, because there is so little time left in the scheduled delivery time frame. Thus once the order reaches this stage the iDeliver Server will instruct the retail store's delivery team to deliver the order 575, and the order will no longer be made available for patrons to deliver. Upon delivery, the transaction is completed 580.

It is not discussed here what percentages of the total scheduled delivery time frame each stage should use. The choice of percentages used that will yield the highest probability that a patron will deliver the order instead of the in-store delivery team depends on a variety of factors including, but no limited to, the time of day in which the delivery time frame takes place, the length of the delivery time frame, and the number of patrons that would find the order acceptable. Likewise the amount by which the base compensation should be raised during the urgent hours is not discussed here as the amount chosen would depend on equally as many factors.

FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary procedure of a patron's interaction with the iDeliver system, through either a home computer or an iDeliver kiosk at the retail store.

The steps taken during the interaction are as follows: In the first step 600, the patron logs into the system by either providing a username and password (from home computer or kiosk) or swiping his/her membership card through the card reader (kiosk only). Once the patron successfully logs in, he/she will be provided with a set of options including changing his/her iDeliver account settings and setting up a new delivery.

The account settings that a patron can alter during a session include his/her address, credit information, and set of acceptable order criteria and deviation criteria. The iDeliver Server applies any such changes immediately by updating the relevant data in the patron database.

Alternatively if the patron chooses to schedule a new delivery, the steps taken are as follows. First the patron enters the address 605 of his/her final destination to be reached after performing all of the deliveries. This destination could be the patron's home or any other destination of the patron's choice, as long as the destination is within a defined distance from the retail store. By default the iDeliver system will assume the patron's final destination is home and thus this destination will be the default destination displayed.

Once the patron has selected a destination, the iDeliver Server retrieves all of the patron's acceptable order criteria and deviation criteria 610, as well as all of the pending orders 615 that currently exist in their initial or urgent hours of their respective delivery time frames. At this time the iDeliver Server applies the filters against all pending orders, with the final destination as an input parameter, to find those orders which match the acceptable order criteria and acceptable deviation criteria imposed by the patron. If no such orders exist 625, then the patron can either exit his/her session 630 altogether, or optionally modify his/her delivery criteria 635 to make them less constrictive and then restart the process.

If matching orders are found, these orders are displayed to the patron 640 on a map, each order represented as a large dot positioned accurately at the location where the order should be delivered. Additionally the iDeliver system will place two more dots on the map, one representing the retail store and the other representing the patron's final destination as entered from the previous step, and the Server will plot the patron's original route between these two endpoints with a solid line easily distinguishable from the other map components. The map will contain streets and street names, and will be scaled to the largest scale possible that still allows for enough room to display all of the aforementioned dots comfortably on the screen.

Beside each dot representing an order will be three buttons that will allow the patron to perform operations on the order. The patron can select the order with a “select” button, deselect a previously selected order with a “deselect” button, and view the details of the order with a “details” button. Selecting an order will add the order to the list of orders that the patron wishes to deliver, while deselecting an order will remove the order from that list. The user interface can provide visual feedback to help the patron distinguish between selected and unselected orders by altering the color of the respective dots. For example selected orders could be displayed in green while unselected orders could be displayed in red. The details option will bring up a small text window containing order information such as the delivery address, the contents and total value of the order, and whether or not the delivery is to be attended or not. The details window will also show the compensation the patron would receive if he/she decided to deliver the order.

Once the patron is satisfied with his/her selection of orders, he/she will have the option of finalizing the selection by clicking a “done” button. This will remove all of the unselected orders from the map. At this point the iDeliver Server will calculate a route that visits each of the order locations and finishes at the patron's final destination. This route will be plotted on the map in a solid line of a color other than that used to plot the original route, so that the patron can easily distinguish between the two routes. The Server will print out information about the route including an estimate of the additional time and distance that will be required to take the route.

If for some reason the patron is unsatisfied with all or any part of the generated route, he/she will be able to specify additional criteria (or relax existing criteria) on-the-fly to alter the iDeliver Server's method of generating the route. The patron can then have the iDeliver Server calculate a new route with the new set of criteria.

Once the patron has chosen a route to take 645, the iDeliver system will print out the map 650 generated from the previous step, as well as a set of written directions to complement the map. At this time the patron has completed scheduling a delivery and can proceed to the retail store's loading area to pick up the orders. Once the patron confirm his/her selection of orders to deliver, the retail store's employees are notified by the iDeliver Server to collect the packaged orders in preparation to give them to the patron. Upon arriving at the loading area, the patron shows the employees some form of identification that can verify his/her identity and the employees then load the orders into the patron's vehicle 655. To make patron liable for completing the delivery, an exemplary embodiment is to charge patron's account with an amount equal to the total value of the orders and credit the same amount back to patron's account upon completion of delivery. Another exemplary embodiment is to assume delivery will be successfully completed and charge patron's account only when there is a problem reported from buyer about the delivery. A dispute process can be employed to resolve the issue properly

With the orders loaded for delivery, the patron is then ready to perform the delivery 660.

FIG. 7 illustrates an example of a patron's original route 700 between the retail store 710 and the patron's final destination 720. During the delivery scheduling process, the iDeliver system calculates patron's original route based on the location of the retail store and the location of the patron's final destination. This is the default original route that will initially be shown on the map of orders, unless the patron has explicitly specified the exact components of the original route in his/her account settings.

FIG. 8 illustrates the efficiency of iDeliver by showing which portions of a route calculated by the iDeliver Server would contribute to the true cost of the route. The calculated route 830 in this figure allows the patron to delivery three orders A, B and C. It is assumed that the cost of the original route 800 the patron would take from the retail store 810 and the final destination 820 is a sunk cost; because it is the route the patron would take regardless of his/her participation in the iDeliver system. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the true cost of delivering the three orders is only incurred by the small deviations the patron must take from the original route in order to reach the three intermediate destinations. These deviations are encapsulated by the three circles on the map 840. The cost incurred by these small deviations will be far less than the cost of the entire route, this showing how the iDeliver system greatly reduces the delivery cost.

Of course not all deviations generated by the iDeliver Server would be as simple as the deviations shown in the figure, where the route deviates from and returns to a route at just a single point. Instead, a deviation could leave the original route at some point, take the patron along a different route to deliver one or more orders, and then rejoin the original route at a different point than the departure. In this case, the true cost of the deviation becomes the cost incurred by the deviation minus the sunk cost of travel between the two endpoints of the deviation.

FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary procedure taken by the patron and iDeliver system during a delivery. Once the patron picks up the orders from the loading area 900 of the retail store, the iDeliver Server creates a new transaction 905 in the transaction database for each order and charges the total value of the orders to the patron's account. With the help of the map and written directions, the patron proceeds to the first destination to drop off the first order 910. Depending on whether the delivery is attended or unattended 915, different actions are taken by the patron and the iDeliver system.

If the delivery is an attended delivery, the patron confronts the buyer with the order. The buyer quickly inspects the order to verify that all of the expected contents are present and are undamaged. If some of the items are missing or are damaged, then a complaint can be filed with the iDeliver service and a dispute resolution process can be instituted. Otherwise, upon receipt of the order, the buyer gives the patron the secret confirmation code 920 that he/she received when originally placing the order. The patron uses this code as proof that the delivery was made successfully. Through an email, a mobile phone text message, or the retail store's online ordering system, the patron sends in the confirmation code to the iDeliver Server 925. With this confirmation the iDeliver Server credits the patron's account with the value of the order as well as the compensation for that order 930. This signifies the end of the transaction, and the order status in the transaction database is updated to “delivered”.

If the delivery is an unattended delivery, the patron leaves the order at the location specified by the buyer during the ordering process. The patron then submits the order ID to the iDeliver Server to indicate that the order has been successfully delivered 935. With this confirmation the iDeliver Server credits the patron's account with the value of the order as well as the compensation for that order 930. When the buyer returns home, he/she verifies the contents of the order and if anything is missing or damaged, files a complaint with the iDeliver Server, at which point a dispute resolution process can be instituted. This signifies the end of the transaction, and the order status in the transaction database is updated to “delivered”.

Once the transaction has come to a completion, the buyer can optionally log into the iDeliver system and leave feedback for the patron 940 to reflect the quality of the delivery. The iDeliver system takes this feedback and stores it in the feedback database 945. This feedback can later be used to determine if the patron meets the acceptable patron criteria of another buyer.

Although illustrative embodiments and various modifications thereof have been described in detail herein with reference to the accompanying drawings, one skilled in the art will appreciate that the present application need not be limited to these precise embodiments and the described modifications, and that various changes and further modifications may be effected therein without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention as defined in the appended claims. For instance, a patron may be compensated by receiving store credit or may choose to perform the service on behalf of his/her designated charity rather than receive direct monetary payment; a patron may select orders to deliver via a computer at home rather than doing so in-store via an iDeliver kiosk; a patron may be notified of available orders that match his/her delivery criteria when he/she is checking out; the user interface and program which enables a patron to select orders to deliver may be integrated into store's existing self-help check-out kiosks instead necessitating a separate terminal; a buyer may also register as a patron so as to perform deliveries on some days and receive deliveries on others; a buyer may be notified of available orders that match his/her delivery criteria when he/she places an order online if the buyer has registered as a patron. Furthermore, other strategies can be deployed to optimize the probability of an order being delivered by a patron within the first two stages of a scheduled delivery time, such as giving an incentive to the patrons who select orders to delivery via a computer at home ahead of a scheduled delivery time.

In addition, although the above-described system and method of the present application has been described in the exemplary context of grocery shopping, it can be appreciated that the system and method of the present invention can be applied to any type of retail store such as department store, warehouse, specialty store, etc. Furthermore, there exists multiple possible embodiments of a patron; a patron may choose to perform deliveries on the way from work to home without doing any shopping; a patron who has no pre-defined original route may deliver the orders because the compensation alone is sufficiently attractive; as an extreme, a patron may rely on participation in the iDeliver program as a significant source of income and deliver orders on a daily or even hourly basis.

REFERENCE

List of references:

1. Map from http://www.ee.qub.ac.uk/control/isac_hpage/map/2dmap.gif

2. Mike Kempiak & Mark A. Fox, 2002, “Online Grocery Shopping: Consumer Motives, Concerns, and Business Models” http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue79/kempiak/ Jean Chatzky, “Attention! Online grocery-shopping is back”, 2005, http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7714118/