Express package delivery and logistics services provider DHL is trying out a number of innovative approaches to support the growing demand for electronic retail transactions.
The idea that commerce can be conducted everywhere, at any time, is becoming ingrained in the global middle class, which is growing by leaps and bounds in the developing world. Retailers are motivated to connect with customers at the time and place of their choosing, and fulfill their purchases at the store or by fast, reliable home delivery. The trend is reshaping how many brick-and-mortar stores are configured, what kind of inventory is stocked in stores and warehouses, the location of warehouses within easy reach of consumers, and delivery practices.
In April, DHL Parcel began installing parcel delivery boxes at locations in Berlin and Dortmund owned by Germany’s largest apartment-rental company. The parcel box, which Deutsche Post DHL began testing in 2013, is like a private mailbox, only bigger. It allows the mail carrier to deposit packages or for customers to leave return shipments or other stamped parcels in the box to be collected, saving them a trip to the post office or the package carrier from repeated redeliveries. The locked boxes also provide security against theft and can be accessed with a radio-frequency-identification chip or hand scanner.
Deutsche Post is the largest postal operator in Europe, delivering 64 million pieces.
Initial versions of the parcel box were for single-family homes or small housing units.
Parcel boxes are similar to DHL’s Packstation. The company has about 3,000 automated kiosks with almost 300,000 compartments for sending and picking up DHL parcels in more than 1,600 cities and towns throughout Germany. Many come with a variety of compartment sizes.
Companies such as Amazon also use lockers in convenience stores and other locations to facilitate parcel deliveries.
DHL’s strategy is to replicate many e-commerce delivery methods in countries outside Germany, with Packstations already planned for the Netherlands and Italy.
In May, DHL teamed with Amazon and German automaker Audi to launch a pilot project in Munich that will allow automobile owners to use their trunks as mobile delivery addresses.
Using a specially developed smart phone app, a DHL driver receives the exact location of the car, as well as access to the vehicle’s trunk. The car is automatically locked after the deliveryman places the items in the trunk and closes it. DHL receives confirmation via the app and the automobile owner is informed of the successful delivery via e-mail. The concept is designed to provide convenience for commuters, who can get their orders filled while their cars sit in parking lots rather than having to go to post offices or wait at their homes for the parcel carrier to arrive.
Meanwhile, DHL Express has begun using a quadracycle in the Dutch town Almere to make emission-free deliveries in urban areas. The Cubicycle has a removable container with cargo volume of one-cubic meter.
DHL said key advantages over other bikes used by DHL are its greater volume and better integration into the company’s shipment-handling process because of its standard size.
The Cubicycle is built by Flevobike, a manufacturer of recumbent bicycles. The vehicle has an electric-power assist for faster acceleration from a starting position.
The Cubicycle’s container is preloaded at a DHL Express package facility and delivered to a location near the city center, where it is picked up by the bike.
To further maximize delivery efficiency and minimize fuel-burning vehicles on the road, DHL in 2013 began a “last-mile” pilot program in Stockholm that allows individuals to deliver packages on behalf of retailers. The private deliverer and the recipient connect on the MyWays online platform. After an online order has been placed the recipient can specify the time and place of delivery and also the delivery fee. The package is kept at a DHL parcel center and is visible to users on the MyWays app. Users can then decide which package they wish to deliver to a particular address at the time specified. The service enables someone to earn some extra money while making a trip across town.
Walmart and other companies are known to be testing the concept of using shoppers, identified and contacted using localization technology on their smart phone, to pick up items and deliver them to people in their neighborhoods
DHL is also testing robotic helicopters that can deliver packages by air.
Consumers are more discerning and expect convenience and personalized service, Todd Starbuck, DHL Supply Chain’s executive vice president of business development in Europe, said in DHL’s recent forecast of e-commerce trends.
“These expectations are extremely challenging for retailers. They need to expand their infrastructures by offering a broader set of services—but without losing sight of the costs involved,” he said.
This article was published in the June 2015 issue of American Shipper.