Shipping & Fulfillment

Ecommerce Shipping Innovations Just Over Horizon?

How orders are delivered to ecommerce shoppers might change dramatically in just the next few years as retailers and carriers come up with ways to reduce shipping costs and speed up delivery.

Ecommerce, perhaps the embodiment of retail innovation, is driving new and interesting technologies, methods, and business models in the package delivery industry. While some — if not most — of these new shipping and package delivery endeavors will likely fail, a few could represent the next big thing in ecommerce delivery. They could even supplant UPS or FedEx.

Ecommerce shipping innovation may come from any sector and in just about any form, which makes it hard to predict in great detail. But it’s probably safe to say that ecommerce shipping innovation will come with new technologies, from new shipping business models, or a through combination of these.

Technology Could Change Ecommerce Shipping

Since at least 2013, Amazon has been seriously working on using unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — to rapidly deliver ecommerce packages. The company has said that it thinks Prime Air drones might one day be as common as delivery trucks. What’s more, Amazon Prime Air drones could be significantly faster than a FedEx or UPS delivery truck, getting an order to a customer in 30 minutes or less.

If flying delivery drones don’t pan out, autonomous — self-driving — vehicles might also change ecommerce shipping.

Although some believe that it could be five years or more before individuals have their own personal vehicular robots to chauffeur them about, large companies could have fleets of autonomous cars or trucks much sooner. Google already has such a fleet. These self-guided vehicles could be used to deliver boxes the same day they were ordered.

If you’re willing to really push the limits of package delivery fantasy, self-driving vehicles and aerial delivery drones could even be used together. The autonomous delivery truck could be equipped with a swarm of flying drones, making short flights of a few blocks to drop packages on shoppers’ front porches before returning to the self-driving truck to pick up another box.

New Business Models Could Change Ecommerce Shipping

The print newspaper industry, in general, is looking for new ways to generate revenue. A new package delivery business model might make newspaper publishers an interesting competitor to traditional package carriers.

Think about it this way. Local, daily newspaper publishers have an army of delivery folks who effectively drive past almost every residential address in the area every day, including Sundays. The paper carriers do this to drop off a newspaper stuffed with circulars and such, but why couldn’t they drop off the razors you ordered from or the new shoes you bought from

In this model, ecommerce sites could ship or otherwise transport packages to the newspaper’s facility — which might be significantly less expensive than sending boxes to a residential address — and allow the newspaper’s delivery folks to do the more intensive task of residential delivery.

While the idea may seem crazy, it is an example of how a business model or a new business idea could change the methods online sellers use to ship packages. And there are lots of businesses with new ideas for getting packages to shoppers.

Another possible innovation would have small retailers working together to compete with ecommerce giants.

Both Amazon and Walmart, as examples, have multiple fulfillment centers located around the country. The idea is to be closer to customers and thereby reduce shipping costs and times.

While relatively small online sellers don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to own and manage geographically distributed shipping centers, they can work together fulfilling for one another.

This might work particularly well for retail buying groups of independent brick-and-click sellers. Typically, small stores or small retail chains in different geographic regions will form these buying groups so that they can collectively buy products to get volume pricing. This collective buying also means that each store (member) of the buying groups probably carries many of the same exact products as every other store in the association. It would not be a huge leap for these independent stores to also start fulfilling ecommerce orders for each other.

Less far fetched ecommerce package delivery business innovations might come in the form of courier services like Uber Rush, specialty delivery services like Google Shopping Express, or companies like Roadie, the neighbor-to-neighbor service that puts almost anyone with a car in the package delivery business. The latter, by the way, recently signed a partnership agreement with the Waffle House restaurant chain to use the company’s facilities as package exchange locations.

Ecommerce Package Delivery for Small Businesses

Selling online is somewhat egalitarian; almost anyone can open an ecommerce store. But large companies competing in mass markets do have significant advantages, not the least of which is in the cost of shipping, since these companies often get favorable rates and are able to ship from multiple locations.

Ecommerce package delivery innovation, depending on what form it takes, may open or close the gap between small retail sellers and massive retail enterprises.

If drones become the norm, small retailers might have trouble competing with 30-minute delivery times, but if local newspapers started to deliver, next-day delivery might be less expensive.

Although we can only speculate what might change in the near future, ecommerce package delivery innovation is certainly worth following.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
Bio   •   RSS Feed