Opinion

E-commerce logistics: a fruitful vein of innovation

3 min read

06 December 2013

Amazon drones may be little more than a deft marketing move to generate publicity around “cyber Monday”, but they signify an important trend: e-commerce logistics have become a fruitful vein of innovation. It’s taken a while for the penny to drop, but online merchants are finally realising that most people are at work during the week and aren’t at home to accept deliveries.

Forward-thinking retailers have sought to narrow the gap between online and offline experiences by introducing a variety of mechanisms to allow customers to pick-up and return items in the way that suits them.

We don’t need drones, we need service

Looking back, it is clear that returns have come on in leaps and bounds. From being able only to return items to a store (excluding concessions of course, as that would be far too convenient), to being able to drop items off at a post office at great expense (but, being the time poor consumers that we are, footing the bill anyway), to being offered free returns, customers can now benefit from ‘collect+’, whereby parcels can be sent and received via a local shop. A large number of retailers have already signed up to this initiative along with over 5,000 participating shops around the country.

Hooking into commuting routes will be the next big development. Amazon and ASDA are already setting up pick-up points at Tube stations where customers can collect deliveries en route to work or home, and it surely won’t be long until mainline train and bus stations follow suit. Such systems are already common in Germany and other parts of Europe so why not here in the UK?

Retailers are also adapting to the differences in how customers shop online. They recognise the fact that returning goods is now a core part of the purchasing experience and one that has changed the way customers shop. We now order anything and everything that we vaguely like the look of, with the security of knowing that we can return unwanted items. Merchants that offer the smoothest returns experience will prosper, with others simply being left behind.

One such merchant fully embracing advances in e-commerce is Stitchfix. Stickfix builds its business model around customers selecting a range of items and choosing the right one in the comfort of their own home, recreating an in-store experience but without the hassle of changing room queues.

2014: another year of innovation in returns

It’s exciting to speculate what 2014 could hold. No doubt, e-commerce retailers will continue to improve the online purchasing experience, making it easier for customers to order, collect and return goods. New mechanisms and business models will emerge, but we’re unlikely to see any drones soon though.

David Winterbottom is Technical Director at Tangent Labs, the team of technical brains behind digital agency Tangent Snowball.