The pandemic has seen demand for courier services skyrocket across London and the UK, with parcel shipping nearly doubling between 2019 and 2021. With more and more people becoming reliant on zero-contact and same-day delivery, fine-tuning logistical solutions has become even more pressing.
Firms are continuing their search for new ways to cut shipping costs and boost efficiency for reaching customers. Innovations that once seemed far off like drone deliveries and driverless cars are a lot closer than you might expect. Jump on board as we guide you through the leading innovations that are transforming the courier industry right now.
1. Warehouse management software
Warehouse management software (WMS) refers to the use of automated systems targeted at managing the operations of a warehouse. They are used for processing inventory collection, storage, manual and automated picking, and item tracking for shipping. For courier services, this has great potential. Integrated systems like these give providers real-time stock information, boosting efficiency but also eliminating the costs of unnecessary restocking.
WMS also creates opportunities for scaling up of both delivery routes and employee engagement. This is because of the frequent updating of key features for continuous improvement. They also lead to increased transparency by giving precise order updates for both courier and client, through a serial number system that allows them to be easily monitored.
2. Location-based services
Besides tactical stock placement, technologies are also targeting real-time location tracking for specific goals. GPS has already become a key part of the food delivery industry, and this looks set to expand across the courier industry as a whole.
Not only will GPS provide greater transparency for package locations and delivery time, but tracking via satellite receivers enables couriers to see the locations of recipients in various places at one time. The result of this will naturally be a quicker and more refined, and therefore more reliable, delivery service.
The solution also allows for strategic stock placement. As UK-based courier CitySprint claims, by implementing Forward Stock Location (FSL) — a smaller warehouse that is closer to customers — “you can locally store parts or stock around the country so that your goods are closer to the end-user. Even better, those goods can be ordered, picked, packed and collected or delivered, all with the support of our local delivery experts”.
3. E-bikes and e-scooters
Many courier companies are turning to e-bikes and e-scooters in place of vans. As the Guardian recently reported, the demand for e-bikes has skyrocketed since the first lockdown. It’s not just an eco-solution, “saving 90% in carbon emissions”. They also provide deliveries that are “60% faster than van equivalents”, making less noise and eliminating congestion.
Naturally, they’re also better for the well-being of the driver. For the rider on the other side of the real-time locator, it’s comforting to know that they can navigate busy streets to make the delivery right on time, only with reduced stress, sweat, and fatigue from repeatedly pounding those pedals.
Another alternative, in the form of the e-scooter, offers similar benefits, requiring no exertion whatsoever, aside from the fact that these vehicles are not regulated. However, this could change very quickly. According to MyLondon, trials are currently underway in the capital to test out how electric scooters can be put on the streets, as Mayor Sadiq Khan is eager to “enable a new and greener form of transport”.
While these trials do not guarantee that electric vehicles will receive proper licensing for roads, they have plenty of potential to change the way couriers do business. For example, their ease of use could considerably broaden out the industry’s labour market, if riders no longer need a driving licence, or are less than keen to make long-distance deliveries via bicycle.
4. Drone deliveries
According to Wing, a delivery company owned by Google, the last-mile accounts for over 50% of the total shipping price of a good or product — and this operating expenditure is exactly the new focus for technological innovations. In an interview with Packaging Europe, the company stated that the reduced shipping cost is just the tip of the iceberg: “By leveraging the underutilised space above us, drone delivery can lessen our reliance on the ground beneath us, cutting costs and emissions, reducing congestion, and making our roads safer”.
While it may be early days for UK courier firms, the Transport Secretary has favoured these solutions, no doubt having seen the success of drone-drop medical deliveries during the early days of the pandemic. Elsewhere, even if Amazon’s Prime Air failed to launch, Irish firm Manna is conducting between 2,000-3,000 flights a day, with autonomous, suitcase-sized drones that fly nearly 50mph. Though most of these deliveries were for food or drink, such as hot cups of coffee, fruit, and ice cream, this experiment shows how drone-drop parcel solutions for larger-scale couriers are very much on the cards.
5. Self-driving vehicles
Driverless cars have been touted for a long time as the next revolutionary technology, but Wired Magazine has been less bullish about its prospects — that is, until now it seems. In their analysis, developments are happening quickly due to the influence of large tech firms. For the US alone, “in the trucking sector, companies such as San Diego-based TuSimple…will start to sell their ‘drivers’ to logistics operators. These will carry cargo, fully autonomously, from hub to hub over US highways, promising real savings in cost and time”.
Although the UK is not leading in driverless cars yet, there are a number of companies forging ahead in this sector. UK company Hermes, for one, has been trialling a self-driving Ford Transit for deliveries. While this vehicle is not technically fully-autonomous, this test demonstrates what the user interaction with driverless vehicles will look and feel like, and how this may impact the customer experience of courier services.
Ford echoed this emphasis on evaluating how these changes will affect people’s entire experience of courier delivery, maintaining that “understanding and designing how humans will interact with the vehicle will ensure that business processes are able to continue safely without a driver present”.
How long it is going to take until your next delivery shows up in an empty car, who can tell — but it looks like it will soon be more than just a mere fantasy belonging to the world of Herbie or Total Recall.