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Delivery wars: Putting same-day delivery to the test

Same-day delivery is the latest battleground between retailers fighting to compete with Amazon's swelling influence.

The online behemoth has altered consumer behavior, with shoppers across the country increasingly expecting quick and cheap shipping for goods. So what's a competitor to do, but try to one-up the mega-online superstore.

Google Shopping Express launched in Los Angeles and Manhattan on Monday, allowing consumers to shop for a select number of items from eight retailers and have them delivered by Google the same day. The pilot program in Manhattan currently includes Target, Costco, Walgreens, Fairway, Staples, Toys R Us and Babies R Us, and L'Occitane en Provence.

But does same-day delivery live up to the hype? And, more importantly, is it useful for consumers?

Putting it to the test

First, the basics. If you want to use these services, plan ahead. For same-day delivery on eligible products from Amazon in New York City, the order has to be placed by 8 a.m. At Google, there are limited delivery slots that can run out early in the day. On the morning of CNBC's test, an alarm was set to make sure the orders were placed before the deadlines or cut-offs.

Then we needed to find out where to go. First up, Google Shopping Express. I began my search on Google's main search page. Once I got there, I set up a Google Wallet account to use the service, which I did quickly and easily.

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Then, I went back to the main Google Shopping Express page and searched for the products I needed under the appropriate category, in this case "Health and Beauty." I was looking for toothpaste, shampoo and sunscreen. When the items were added to my cart, they all ended up coming from Target, though I wasn't aiming for a specific retailer, but rather specific products.

During the checkout process, users can opt to allow substitutions or not. (We allowed them.) Next, it was time to pick a delivery window. I chose between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The order was placed at 7:06 a.m. It was quick, easy to navigate, and I got an early delivery slot.

Next, we tried to order the same three products at Amazon for same-day delivery. But we ran into a few snafus.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On Amazon.com, I wasn't able to easily locate the same-day shipping information page, or eligible products after various searches. Eventually, I went to Google's search page, and typed in "Amazon Same-Day Delivery" and various iterations of that phrase. I finally got to an information page back on Amazon. The information page said "Find Same-Day Delivery Items in Three Easy Steps." The first step is to simply search for items, the second is to filter your results by delivery day by choosing "Get it Today," and the third step is simply, get it today by 9 p.m.

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Even though my ZIP code, the default address in my Amazon account, is an eligible ZIP code for same-day delivery, the "Get it Today" search filter didn't exist for me. That made it very hard to find items that were eligible for same-day shipping.

Justin Solomon, the CNBC senior field producer working with me on the test, called Amazon's customer service line to make sure we were doing everything right. Unfortunately, we were, and time was ticking. I had less than 15 minutes until 8 a.m., which means anything I added to my cart after that time wouldn't be eligible for same-day shipping.

Eventually, I found two items in the health and beauty category—body wash and lotion—that were same-day shipping eligible. I only found them through trial and error. I added the body wash first, then went back and added the lotion. Then I went to check out. Strangely, at checkout, my cart only had the lotion in it, no body wash. But I only had about eight minutes left. I had to place the order for the lotion and checkout quickly. Once I was through that process, I was told my order would arrive by 9 p.m., so no delivery window option on Amazon.

So how did they do?

My three products from Target arrived less than four hours after I placed the order with Google Shopping Express.

Two individuals wearing apparel with Google Shopping Express logos walked up with my purchase, scanned it upon my acceptance, and got back into their Toyota Camry. The car didn't have any Google logos, and the workers said they were going back to Target to wait for more orders. Mine was the last one in that delivery window. Neither member of the delivery team knew what was in my package. They said someone else pulled it from the shelves and packed it.

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My Amazon order showed up at 7:21 p.m., according to the tracking information online. That's almost 12 hours after placing the order, but it was within the promised delivery window.

In the end, I got the products I ordered from each of the retailers, and yes, within the same day. Yet, Google Shopping Express was much easier to navigate, and the entire process was fast, from order to delivery.

Amazon's same-day shipping wasn't easy to navigate, nor was it really speedy.

I would declare the Google Shopping Express the winner of the two, based on this one, limited test. But I'm not sure same-day delivery is really all it's cracked up to be.

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If I really needed that toothpaste or shampoo, it's a lot faster to just run to a drugstore. Amazon has retrained my shipping expectations, and as an Amazon Prime customer, in a city that gets deliveries quickly, I'm not sure I would pay the extra $5.99 to get it same day, when my prime membership usually gets me orders in less than 48 hours.

Maybe it's not really about whether it's useful, but whether it's possible. And both proved, it is.

—By CNBC's Courtney Reagan

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