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Ecommerce Operations

6 Technologies About to Seriously Shake Up Ecommerce Delivery

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New technology is vigorously pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable with ecommerce deliveries.

The best retailers know how vital it is to get orders into customers’ hands as quickly as possible. And that even the smallest hiccup can be detrimental.

In fact:

PCA Predict’s Fixing Failed Deliveries report found that 49% of consumers would shop online more if they felt more confident about delivery. With 57% reluctant to use a retailer again if their delivery is late.

But the logistics industry is undergoing intense innovation to help combat this.

So in this post we take a look at some of the latest developments. And run through the six most-likely technologies set to revolutionise delivery speed and efficiency in the near future.

1) Drones

There have been murmurings for quite a while about how drones will change the landscape of courier companies forever. The only trouble is that a lot of countries are laying down strict rules about where and when drones are permitted – if at all.

But Amazon, Alphabet and a number of other ecommerce companies are determined to fulfil online orders as fast as possible by making flying parcels a thing in the near future.

In even better news:

Domino’s have already carried out the first-ever pizza delivery via drone. So it won’t be long until that agonising wait for the doorbell is eliminated:

Recent developments include software that allows drones to plan their own route to avoid problematic weather or restricted airspace.

2) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags electronically store information about the item they’re attached to. Meaning its location (among other things) can be tracked:

RFID Chip

It’s already used in various kinds of product tracking. But it looks like RFID technology might be used in the not-so-distant future to monitor additional data – such as the light levels, temperature or conditions of items in transit.

This makes it much easier to identify compromising conditions like fluctuating temperatures or moisture in the delivery process. And pinpoint where items are most frequently being delayed, lost or damaged as a result.

Data can be tracked with time-stamps or even monitored live – so that loss and spoilage can be accurately identified and prevented.

3) Autonomous warehouse vehicles

We all know self-driving cars are just around the corner. But most of us only consider the effect they’ll have on our road network.

In reality:

Their impact behind the scenes is going to be pretty important too.

Fleets of self-optimising forklifts and autonomous robots are slowly but surely taking over warehouse operations – making them faster, safer and more efficient.

Sorting, packing, palletising and transporting goods can all be done more quickly and accurately by machines. Check out these warehouse robots in China:

Plus, the technology can be put to use without needing a break and also in the dark – significantly reducing facility running costs.

In the next few years, expect smart robots to pick, pack and transport your parcels instead of humans.

4) Platooning

You’ve probably heard of platooning, even if you don’t know it by name.

It’s a pattern of driving where freight trucks follow each other very closely in order to take advantage of aerodynamics and reduce fuel consumption. Each truck still requires a human driver to steer, but the speed and distance between vehicles is automated.

Take a look at these Volvo trucks utilising platooning:

This may have been unfeasible and unsafe in the past. But technology is being developed to integrate vehicle-to-vehicle communications with state-of-the-art collision avoidance systems – meaning acceleration and braking are synchronised.

Tests so far have shown a 4.5% fuel saving for lead trucks and a 10% saving for follow-trucks.

5) Airborne fulfilment centres

Distribution centre locations are already meticulously planned to ensure the most cost-effective delivery fulfilment around the world.

But this could be taken to a whole new level (quite literally) by designs from Walmart and Amazon to launch giant, blimp-sized warehouses in the sky.

Check out this illustration in a patent filed by Amazon:

Amazon airborne fulfilment centre

The basic idea is that:

  • Inventory is stored in a large flying warehouse.
  • A drone is then loaded with relevant items when an order is made.
  • The drone then glides down using ‘little or no power’ to make the delivery.
  • Before ending up at a collection zone to be returned to the Airborne Fulfilment Centre via a flying replenishment shuttle.

The main outcome in all this, of course, is yet further advancements in delivery speed for consumers.

It might sound a little bit far out at the moment, but keep an eye on the horizon. It’s definitely being pushed hard by Amazon and other big retail players.

6) Last-mile deliveries

The expectation of super-fast delivery options is pushing the nature of last-mile delivery (the last stretch of transportation to your door) to its limits. Vendors are competing to offer the most reliable and appealing service for getting a parcel into your customers’ hands.

At the moment, this is being developed with a little help from the gig-economy – with services like UberRUSH acting like a personal courier.

Shoppers can simply choose this as a form of expedited delivery when purchasing from your online store:

UberRUSH Shopify screen

Bike messengers and conventional delivery drivers will still play a major part. But depending on regulations and public sentiment, it may be that these are replaced by droid couriers or drones (particularly in rural areas) in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, Amazon is looking at ways of bringing parcels literally into people’s homes – even when they’re not in.

Amazon Key is already operational in 37 cities across the US. It uses a combination of a keypad lock, camera and smartphone app to grant service-providers (couriers, pet-sitters, cleaners) access to a home.

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All totally eliminating:

  • The need for customers to pick up failed deliveries from a depot or collection centre.
  • Needing to leave items in unsafe places.
  • Drivers needing to make multiple re-delivery attempts.

In our digital age, it’s virtually impossible to guess what the future will hold – particularly as legislation shifts to accommodate (or prohibit) the use of new technologies.

But with all of these innovations already being trialled and implemented, it’s likely that the next big leap in delivery services is on this list. And it’s going to present a huge opportunity for retail businesses to get ahead.

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Written by Dakota Murphey

Independent Content Writer
Dakota Murphey is an independent writer from Brighton, with a passion for logistics and marketing. Dakota enjoys sharing her knowledge she gained over the years and incorporates her love of travel and business in her writing.

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