Mike Isaac

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Up Against Retail Giant Amazon, BufferBox Aims to Jump-Start Parcel Delivery

Ontario, Canada-based start-up BufferBox was probably not happy when Amazon, the mammoth online retailer responsible for sending scores of packages out every day, announced it was soft-launching Amazon Locker.

Both the small start-up and Amazon are working on what amounts to the same thing. The companies install lockers in a number of places across the country — for Amazon, that’s a few key places in the U.S., like Seattle, New York and San Francisco, while BufferBox is only in Canada at the moment — and users have parcels delivered to a locker instead of their house. It’s more convenient than a P.O. box, since you pay per use without a recurring fee. And you don’t have to worry about being at home to receive the delivery.

The problem for BufferBox is, the space is crowded. There’s ShopRunner, which combines two-day shipping with its own locker service. Europe had Kiala, a similar service that recently got snapped up by UPS.

And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Amazon. Because of its massive scale as an online retail portal, Amazon can offer its Locker service for free. BufferBox only offers its service for free if you order a parcel from one of its partner retailers.

But BufferBox’s opportunity could be in chasing the partners like Walmart and Google, two major companies that aren’t stoked on Amazon’s current position as the dominant player in the online retail space. Walmart obviously doesn’t have much incentive to aid Amazon in installing lockers in their stores.

So while Amazon is stuck with the 7-Elevens of the world, BufferBox can scale by shacking up with the other guys — especially Walmart, a chain that competes with Amazon in virtually every category. Walmart is currently pushing its online retail site hard alongside its brick-and-mortar locations. As Walmart is currently one of BufferBox’s partners, could the company use its stores as a pick-up location? Or will the BufferBoxes use it to have their stuff shipped elsewhere?

There’s also Google, which has made a poor showing in online commerce. As another major partner of BufferBox, the search giant could use the service to make a better go of its shopping solutions.

Ultimately, BufferBox co-founder Mike McCauley believes the space is ripe for someone to take. “Businesses don’t ship documents anymore,” he said on stage at start-up incubator Y Combinator’s Demo Day. “They email PDFs. Consumers buy online, with a higher percent of retail deliveries going directly to homes.”

This is fast becoming true. Now it’s a matter of whether BufferBox can edge itself in among the competition.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus