Should Santa Crowdsource His Deliveries?

December 24, 2015, 2:59 PM UTC
Annual SantaCon Pub Crawl Held In New York City
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Men dressed as a Santa drink at a bar called The Hall during the annual SantaCon pub crawl December 12, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Hundreds of revelers take part in the holiday pub crawl, though some local bars and businesses have banned participants in an effort to avoid the typically rowdy SantaCon crowds. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Stephanie Keith Getty Images

Last week, we discovered that Santa’s annual round-the-world trip would burn about $54 million worth of jet fuel (or the equivalent in reindeer feed). Not bad for covering the world with cheer, but still pricey.

Maybe a 21st century Santa could do better with a little outside-the-box thinking. What if, for example, Santa took a cue from Uber and Airbnb and recruited the rest of us to help out? Crowdsourced delivery is already gaining real-world traction in various forms. Uber has UberRUSH for courier packages and UberEATS for local food delivery. Amazon has floated the idea, and startups like Postmates and Roadie specialize in it.

If it’s good enough for Amazon(AMZN), then why not Santa?

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Before we proceed into operations fantasyland, let’s make some basic assumptions:

  • Santa lives in the same globalized world as the rest of us. I don’t care how industrious his elves are, some of those toys — to say nothing of the tablets and phones — are coming from China.
  • Santa and his reindeer may be magical, but his crowdsourced contractors have to do the same work with no nose-twinkling.
  • While Santa is normally remunerated in the currency of children’s joy, that enjoys a healthy enough exchange rate that he can pay competitive wages in a variety of local currencies.

So, to the question: Could you crowdsource a global fulfillment network at massive scale?

Let’s start with the theory behind crowdsourced shipping. It boils down to two words — excess capacity.

“There’s somebody leaving everywhere going everywhere all the time,” Roadie CEO Marc Gorlin told TechCrunch earlier this year. That’s especially true during the holidays — this holiday season 100 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more.

Compare that with the piddly extra 95,000 workers UPS hired to handle the expected holiday surge of 630 million packages, and you’ll see that Santa has, in theory, a heck of a shipping network just waiting to be tapped.

Taking advantage of it would mean building a two-sided mobile app integrating payments, ordering, location data, and notifications for delivery carriers (let’s assume Santa’s brand power would attract plenty of carriers). That’s not a huge pull — the relatively small Roadie has already done it, on a national scale, specifically targeting delivery drivers who are “on their way” to a package’s destination.

But Santa knows as well as anyone, not everyone out there is nice. So, just like Uber and Airbnb, his crowdsourced delivery app would need a reputation system to identify and filter out unreliable carriers. There’s no one more qualified to run a naughty list — though the seasonal nature of the gig could make it harder to hold contract workers to high standards.

WATCH: Learn more about Santa’s business savvy in this Fortune video:

So far, so good. But you run into a big problem with crowdsourcing Christmas delivery once you start crossing borders and oceans. Operations like UberRUSH and Roadie are focused on “last mile” delivery, more or less, but Santa has to move toys and gadgets directly from their sources. And for that, barring reindeer and magic sacks, there’s no beating the real-life magic of the container ship. The alternative, crowdsourcing international gift delivery to airline passengers, could never even come close on price — not even with airlines artificially subsidizing baggage fees (yes, you read that right). That’s especially true right now, with ocean shipping rates at historical (and sometimes genuinely ludicrous) lows.

Let’s be frank — Santa is probably as eager for a break from the grind as the rest of us. And, thanks to mobile gadgets, he might be able to get some help within national borders. But sometimes, the old ways are hard to beat.