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The Real Lesson Behind Amazon's Sunday Delivery

Asking the U.S. Postal Service to deliver on Sundays was a smart business move. But it's also a good reminder that you don't get what you don't ask for.
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Amazon just announced a first--again. This time it's offering Sunday deliveries through the U.S. Postal Service in some major markets. You know, the same USPS that wouldn't even deliver on Saturdays if it wasn't for Congress, in a rare example of action, twisting its organizational arm behind its back in rain, sleet, snow, and dark of night, no matter what the financial loss.

Clearly this will not be a loss-making activity, even factoring in overtime and additional overhead and facilities costs. The USPS needs to make money beyond cost and Amazon, in its notoriously west-coast-but-still-Yankee-frugal way, is willing to spend for what it wants. You can also bet that there is exclusivity in the deal. Really, Jeff Bezos effectively subsidize competitors? Not a chance.

The result will be an amazing competitive advantage. Late in getting that present? Not to worry, Amazon will drop it by on a Sunday--one more delivery day than Walmart, Target, Barnes & Noble, or pretty much anyone else--to keep you covered. No need to step into the maelstrom of a shopping mall.

It's a clever move with a focus on high population-density locations that makes it feasible. The strategy is also one that provides a lesson to entrepreneurs. There's a powerful saying about life: If you don't ask, you don't get. Why does Amazon have Sunday delivery from the USPS when its competitors don't? Because it asked and they didn't.

The Power of Asking

Forget about the Postal Service for a moment. Amazon is a giant with resources that allow it to get what it wants. More importantly, though, is that Bezos is someone who thinks big and is willing to try things that others won't. He is not trapped by an enclosure that surrounds too many executives: the assumption of what you're not allowed to do. And that's a principle that extends to all scales of life and business.

No matter how large, there is always something you could be doing or something you could get but never do because you assume someone will say no. Maybe it's getting deliveries on Sunday. Maybe, as happened with a small company I once spoke with, it's convincing a large supplier to make custom materials that will cut your labor costs in half. Why would the supplier help out the small company? Because the small company had expertise the large one wanted--and because the CEO asked.

The hellish aspect of the answer-is-probably-no problem is that you're likely making a subconscious assumption. It's not that you wouldn't push to get what your business needs. It's more that you don't ask because everyone knows that you can't get the USPS to deliver on Sundays.

Only, a lot of people know wrong. The few people who ask will get, and secure a nice advantage over their competitors.

IMAGE: AP
Last updated: Nov 11, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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