If there was one word that stood out for me at the MetaPack Delivery Conference, which took place last week on 2 February in London, it would be convenience.
From the speakers on the podium, to the panel sessions, from the break-outs to the coffee breaks, if there was one dominant theme people wanted to talk to me about it was making things more convenient for the customer, the retailer, and the delivery industry itself too.
In the Transformation of Delivery session, a panel made up of Tim Robinson (Doddle), Mike Pitt (eBay), Andrew Starkey (IMRG), Jan Onnenberg (Liefery), and Ahti Heinla (Starship), looked specifically at the theme of how customer demands are driving change.
One of the questions addressed by the panel was whether it’s more fruitful to work with existing assets and services, tweaking and improving where possible, or if the best approach is to look for brand new ideas and alternatives. This was the ideal place for that to be considered, given that the panel had an example of one of each of these companies (Starship with its eye-catching robo-delivery drones) and Doddle (present at railway stations, which are part of an infrastructure stretching back to the first half of the 19th Century).
At the moment, the main cheerleader for convenience in the home delivery sector is having a parcel sent to a collection point – which to an extent is only convenient if you happened to be passing that way. Otherwise it’s a trip you only had to make to pick up a parcel. That’s not a conventional take on the word convenience.
Roger Morris, head of parcels at Royal Mail, pointed out in one of the earlier sessions at the conference, that “80% of people prefer home delivery to anything else.” A statistic that no doubt warms the hearts and eases the anxieties of an organisation such as Royal Mail. So, if that’s what people prefer, surely the development of new services needs to be dictated by giving customers what they want, not offering them a series of compromises.
Whether you’re looking at Doddle, predominantly allied to the railway station network, or the likes of Collect+ or CornerDrop, whose services are integrated into high streets and shopping precincts, a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done in terms of laying down the infrastructure that your business sits upon. You wouldn’t, for example, embark on setting up a network of collection points in high street shops if you first had to build all the high streets in the UK.
That’s an important difference between those looking to create new business opportunities out of existing assets, and those starting completely afresh.
Another challenge facing anyone presenting the market with something new can be likened to a quote usually attributed to the management consultant Peter Drucker – culture eats strategy for breakfast. What am I getting at? Well, you can send as many drones as you like down someone’s street, but you can’t make people accept them. Nor, for that matter, can you do a great deal about any given neighbourhood’s suitability as a safe or productive environment for drones; whether from deliberate acts of vandalism, the perils of traffic and potholes (where wheeled drones are concerned) or gaining access to homes, offices, driveways, you name it. You’re also unlikely to be in a position to build a network of drone lanes, so that your robot vehicles can go about their business safely and effectively; some of the barriers to the use of drones are actual barriers.
One interesting stat I picked up was from Morten Villberg, CEO of DHL Parcel UK & Nordics, who pointed out that to accommodate all its daily postal needs, DHL would have to have an airborne drone take to the air every six seconds … and that’s just to cope with one city, Berlin. Drones have their uses, but they are niche uses; abandon any thoughts of them being a mass market solution, he urged the audience, which is a viewpoint regular readers of eDelivery may be familiar with.
Although it is only my opinion, I’ve yet to see anything that makes me think drones of any kind (airborne or based on terra firma) are going to be anything other than a niche solution, although they are an interesting distraction and it’s possible these early attempts at drones and robots will spark future developments that will offer a broader appeal.
Whether it’s high streets or railways stations, people are already there en masse and popping into a shop while you’re there is less of a break with tradition for most people. Far from perfect may the collect-from-a-shop option be, it has the edge on revolutionary ideas simply because of its intrinsic familiarity and inherent scalability.
Don’t forget, the eDelivery Expo (EDX16) returns to the Birmingham NEC on 27/28 April. You can find an overview of last year’s EDX here. And by following this link, you can find out more about what to expect this coming April at EDX16. We hope to see you there.
Header image shows: Left to right… Tim Robinson (Doddle), Mike Pitt (eBay), Andrew Starkey (IMRG), Jan Onnenberg (Liefery), and Ahti Heinla (Starship). David Jack (MetaPack) is standing. MetaPack Delivery Conference 2 Feb 2016.