I’m a blockchain security specialist and writer living in NY.
If every cloud has a silver lining, eCommerce has found one in COVID-19. Due to the fear over risks of infection, consumers, in general, are avoiding in-person shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and choosing to shop online instead. In the first eight months of 2020, online sales generated $497 billion in revenue. Adobe estimates that COVID-19 has lifted eCommerce sales by $107 billion since March.
But eCommerce vendors still have a lot to worry about. Supply chains have improved a lot since the disruption in March-April, but China remains a major supplier of popular winter holiday gifts and their components.
Shipments travel through many other countries that were hard hit by the pandemic in the spring. If there’s a resurgence of the virus over the next couple of months, supply chains could fall apart all over again.
An increase in digital gift-buying means a rise in eCommerce gift delivery, and that could be a serious challenge for online stores, especially small businesses that rely on the US Postal Service.
In winter 2019, the USPS handled 34% of all deliveries, more than any other carrier, but vendors are concerned that the USPS isn’t up to the task. Whether or not you believe that the USPS’s current woes are political in nature, the service is definitely in trouble, and much of that trouble comes down to tech issues, with outdated sorting machines being decommissioned.
Merchants are already dealing with the fallout from delayed package deliveries because customers blame the retailer, not the shipper. In August, the USPS reported that on-time handling for first-class mail had declined since June. Another report found that delayed mail items in Michigan more than doubled.
“My biggest concern is customers will place orders at the beginning of December, and they will be told they won’t get it until after Christmas, and all those orders will get refunded,” Joseph Cobb, the owner of Cobb Co. Tech & Hobby, recently told USA Today.
Small online sellers gearing up for winter holiday shopping need to think carefully about ways to manage deliveries in order to avoid delays and ensure customer satisfaction. Fortunately, a newer tech from the innovative private sector is coming to their rescue.
Drones Rise Above the Traffic
Who doesn’t love the idea of a drone swooping above gridlocked traffic to deliver their package? It sounds like sci-fi, but it’s becoming a reality.
Walmart launched a pilot program in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to deliver certain items by drone, together with Israeli drone startup Flytrex. At the moment, the drones can only carry up to 6.6 lbs, but Walmart has high hopes for scaling up.
It’s not just Walmart, either. In August, Amazon received permission from the FAA to operate as a drone airline in the US, which means Prime Drones could be on their way soon.
Autonomous Trucks Beat the Driver Shortage
The US has been experiencing a shortage of truck drivers for several years already, and package volume has only increased while customer patience has dropped. Without enough drivers, eCommerce goods pile up, and retailers face a backlash for taking too long to deliver.
At the same time, TuSimple is running autonomous trucks on seven routes in Texas and Arizona and is about to expand to 20 trips per week delivering UPS packages.
QR Code Logging Tracks Every Step of the Last Mile
For retailers, sending products out for delivery can be fraught with freight-induced anxiety, especially when so many packages go missing or get delayed along the way.
QR logging through startups like Logmore provides the reassurance they need, especially for anyone selling fragile or perishable items.
Every time a logger device’s updated QR code display is scanned, stakeholders can track the exact location, transportation method, temperature, shocks, and more for any item. No expensive IoT syncing with the cloud or dedicated signal routers required. QR logging holds logistics companies and couriers accountable and gives retailers and customers transparency.
Supply Chain Mapping Reduces Risk
Ensuring that packages get delivered on time begins with a reliable supply chain, which requires smart supply chain management.
Retailers need to be able to map their entire supply chain from end to end for full visibility. There’s still a risk that any given country could suddenly shut down ports or airports if coronavirus infection rates rise, trapping your goods for an unknown period of time.
Supply chain mapping means that you know where, when, and why a component is held up. Advanced tools like Resilinc help manufacturers to identify vulnerabilities so that they can mitigate risk and predict holdups before they happen.
Peer-to-Peer Delivery Systems Get It There Faster
Logistics startups are taking an Uber approach to package delivery, setting up peer-to-peer delivery systems. Apps like VOLT connect businesses that need to send parcels with gig couriers who are looking for work, using blockchain-based smart contracts.
Small retailers and eCommerce sellers that don’t have enough package volume to make special arrangements with courier services will particularly appreciate the concept.
Parcels can go out sooner because you don’t have to wait for a delivery guy to become available. Journeys are also fully tracked, so there’s more reassurance than if you make your own arrangements with a freelance courier.
Schedule Optimization Makes Deliveries More Efficient
It’s not just about making deliveries faster, it’s also about making them more efficient. That’s the beauty of schedule and route optimization. In this sense, vendors like OptimoRoute and Locus are changing the game.
The more advanced automated route and scheduling platforms use AI algorithms to plan the optimal delivery route for each and every package. By applying AI and business intelligence tools, platforms can club together orders based on factors like delivery slots, priority level, and order specifications, so that couriers can make more deliveries in the same time frame.
AI-powered platforms also help retailers choose the right vehicles and routes for a series of deliveries.
Tech Can Save Christmas for Online Retailers
Between the rise in online shopping thanks to COVID-19 and consumers’ increasing assumption that two-day shipping is a human right, the pressure for eCommerce retailers to deliver packages fast, and ideally free, has never been greater. Hopefully, tech will step into the breach with drones and autonomous trucks, QR code logging, supply chain mapping, P2P gig courier services, and automated schedule optimization to enable online sellers to fulfil their promises.
Disclosure statement: I have no business relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this article.