Grunt work at the Net's ground zero

Allow "six to eight weeks" for delivery? "Seven to 10 days"? Consumers - and particularly the rising number of those who buy while hunched over their computer keyboards - will have none of that.

Not in this "age of access."

Riding high on digital wireless, we can be forgiven for expecting high-tech to start offering the problem-solving alacrity of that fantastic Star Trek "replicator," which made items materialize in response to spoken commands.

For now, Internet-based firms are looking at ways to compress shipping time.

A handful already offer same-day delivery. A logistical challenge to say the least, that approach can mean pulling delivery in-house for tighter control.

That's not a challenge all that many e-tailers can rise to meet - maintaining inventory is tough enough. So most outsource. (It's why many investors see shippers as back-door Internet buys.)

Today's lead story explores an emerging arrangement that's likely to pick up proponents: shippers playing a bigger role in fulfillment and other aspects of selling. (Also, see our chat with UPS executive Mike Eskew on page 20.)

James Turner, who regularly untangles the Web for us, pulled an all-nighter out in Ohio for this "the way things work" assignment.

James made the pitch for his story after ordering a computer soundcard from at 11:30 one night - then waking at 9:30 to find he'd slept right through the door-knock of a first delivery attempt. That's service.

If you, like James, have ever wondered what happens after you click "buy" - or if you never gave it a passing thought, but sure are curious now - ride along as we follow the parcel.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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