Are couriers passé? Drones, automatic mechanisms and apps will change eCommerce
Magdalena Parys

Delivery companies have made the most of eCommerce development. However, tech geeks believe that there are now faster, cheaper and more efficient delivery methods than couriers. Are couriers a thing of the past for eCommerce?

On the Free Delivery Day, let’s think what e-commerce would look like without couriers. Surprisingly, it may turn out that this vision of future is not pure science-fiction – at least for a part of orders.

It hasn’t been long since stories about drones flying with parcels, taxis ordered from apps or refrigerators used as collecting points seemed unreal. However, these are the reasons why the courier job is less and less secure. According to the CareerCast, delivery companies will reduce the employment by 28% until 2022. Of course online consumers, whose number is growing, will still need parcel delivery. The difference is that this service won’t always be provided by humans.

Drones from Amazon

There is no e-commerce company whose actions would be more popular than Amazon’s. The company established by Jeff Bezos is one of the largest and state-of-the-art online stores in the world. More than 150,000 people work for the total revenue of $100 billion. But soon the number of employees may sharply decrease. More frequently, Amazon replaces people with robots in its immense logistics centers (three of them are located in Poland). The company may give up their own couriers even sooner, because they are to be replaced by drones.

Drony od Amazona

photo: Funny graphics project - I guess this is express delivery ;-)

The Amazon Prime Air program is working on the use of unmanned planes in logistics. At the end of 2013, Jeff Bezos declared that his company would be delivering parcels with drones; therefore, most orders would be completed in less than 30 minutes. Amazon unmanned planes would be delivering packages weighing less than 2.26 kg. It is a good solution for the company because nearly 90 per cent of its products is within this weight.

The idea, not accidentally announced by Bezos during the Christmas shopping spree, was covered in all the media around the world. All in all, what we saw two years ago was mostly a marketing campaign. However, flying couriers were not the end of experiments. Recently, CNBC showed the latest project and its first tests.

Drones in online shops vs. law

At the beginning, Amazon was unable to run this program due to American law forbidding the commercial use of unmanned flying technology. But in the end, the company got the approval of the US Federal Aviation Administration for testing the drones system.

The FAA agreed that Amazon could conduct trials of drones flying at an altitude no higher than 122 meters and with a speed below 160 km/h under the supervision of a professional pilot. Additionally, they had to stay within eyesight. If trials are successful, it can lead to a more liberal law in the American market.

Alibaba and drones

Amazon’s message about using drones is loud and clear. The company sees them as a logistic revolution that would strengthen its position in e-commerce. It needs to be fast, because there are other companies with a strong position in the international trade that are testing deliveries by unmanned planes.

In early 2015, the trials of such deliveries were carried out by an international rival of Amazon – China’s Alibaba. Unlike Amazon, the e-commerce giant, selling goods worth even $14.3 billion daily, doesn’t own warehouses and doesn’t distribute its own goods. While testing drones, it was distributing light packages of ginger tea for three days. The company cooperated on this project with 450 sellers – customers of the Alibaba e-commerce platform.

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Google drones

Google also wants to take part in the drone revolution so it has set up the Wing project. The company from Mountain View announced recently that it would use drones for goods delivery in 2017. Nowadays, Google tests the equipment in Australia, where law on the use of airspace is more liberal than in the USA (probably due to large space that needs to be covered).

But that is not the end of the drone revolution by Google. Last year, Google bought a small American company called Titan Aerospace which aims to build drones that run on solar power and can flight without a break even for a few years.

Moreover, DHL and UPS, well-established logistic companies, work on the use of drones in transportation. And in November, Wal-Mart, the world biggest grocery store, filed a request for a permission to test unmanned planes for delivery. Even Sony, electronics producer, found a place for drones in its supply chain. Taken this pace, it can turn out that unmanned flying vehicles will be an innovation in logistics just in a few years.

 

UberCourier

Uber has surprised the world with its transformation from a brilliant app into a global giant of taxi services (and a no. 1 enemy of the entire taxi industry) in just six years. It operates in as many as 60 countries and has the value of more than $50 billion. However, the taxi world is too small for Travis Kalanick, company’s founder. He wants Uber to become an important player also in the courier services market.

Uber has already run first tests of its logistic solutions last year by starting UberRush (delivery by bike) and UberEats (food delivery). But the real revolution is still to come with the Merchant Delivery program. The company plans to deliver goods that Uber users bought online a moment ago – much faster than other couriers because just in a few dozen minutes (only drones could be faster). According to the US media, several fashion brands have already expressed their interest in new Uber services.

Parcel machines, food lockers - innovation made in Poland

Although a parcel machine was not developed by Poles (it was invented by Deutsche Post), they are the ones who have contributed to its popularization by using InPost, part of the Integer.pl Group. Unique yellow parcel machines, an effective support for thousands of e-shops and their customers, can be found in more than 20 countries. In Poland, there are more than 1000 parcel machines in almost 300 towns and cities.

Self-service parcel machines replace a face-to-face meeting of a courier and a customer in one place at the exact time. Allegro and Integer.pl have come up with an even more interesting idea – food lockers (first machines will be available in Poland this year). Merlin and grocery chain Alma joined forces to develop their own machine for storing and cooling delivered food – coolomat.

BlaBlaCar for couriers

It’s not true that the logistic revolution can be achieved only by well-established companies. Also young companies can take part in it if they understand market trends. This is exactly what JadeZabiore.pl, a start-up founded by Łukasz Starowicz and Wojciech Szulc, did. They took advantage of a growing popularity of the sharing economy and established BlaBlaCar for couriers (BlaBlaCar is a French ridesharing platform worth more than a billion dollars).

JadeZabiore.pl does not partner up drivers with travelers but with parcel senders. The former lowers the cost of journey and the latter has fast and cheap delivery. It is rather improbable that a platform of this type could totally replace couriers. But there are cases, like busy Christmas time for couriers and online stores, when this option would be cheaper and more comfortable.

Polish courier is (still) fine

Cutting-edge technologies and a perspective of many job cuts may be pessimistic for couriers. However, it seems that they have a strong position in Poland – at least for now. According to the “E-commerce in Poland 2015” report by Gemius, online consumers mostly choose a direct delivery to home or work by courier (61%) or by post (11%). Only 11% of respondents use publicized parcel machines. As many as 87% of Internet users said that the option to use courier services encourages them to shop online. It looks like a drone will not replace a traditional face-to-face meeting with a courier soon, especially in Poland.

 

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Photo: (c) Fotolia / mix3r, (c) Fotolia / destina