Glynn Davis is one of the UK’s most knowledgeable and experienced retail journalists, founder of Retail Insider, and Ecommerce Age’s monthly columnist.
When your pipework packs up and you are left with no running water or no heating then a plumber immediately becomes the most important person in your world. But when your water and heating is all hunky dory then the plumbing fraternity are not exactly at the forefront of your mind.
The same could be said of the logistics industry for shoppers using Ecommerce services who largely don’t give the back-end infrastructure of online retailing a second thought 99.9% of the time. This is not the case for retailers though as they continue to expend great amounts of time, effort and money into improving efficiency within this crucial part of their operations.
This ongoing effort can be seen in the recently released 2022 edition of the Retail Insider ‘Digital Retail Innovations’ report that seeks to find the most interesting and potentially impactful digitally-driven innovations in the retail industry. Within the top 60 ranked list in the publication sits a variety of innovations within the logistics sphere. Both US-based Walmart and global giant Amazon sit high up in the rankings for the various innovations they have been working on during the past year.
This encompasses Walmart rolling out an AI-powered robotics and automation platform across its regional distribution centres as well as using autonomous trucks for deliveries. Meanwhile, Amazon has committed resources to releasing a raft of robotic solutions in its depots including AI and computer vision-powered gripper arms for handling parcels alongside the roll-out of electric vans and further trials of drone deliveries. Ireland-based Manna has also been innovating in this area and using its drones to deliver for the likes of Tesco and Just Eat.
Innovation around the delivery of Ecommerce orders has not only been focused on the air because the report also features Starship Technologies, which has extended its use of autonomous ground-based robots within the Co-op group for the delivery of groceries for shoppers who live within a short distance of the stores.
Such robots can only get you so far as Walmart found in the US where it has rolled out its InHome service to 30 million people. This involves delivering groceries right into customers’ actual fridges. Using smartlocks and one-time pass codes the fleet of delivery drivers, fitted with cameras, can access shoppers’ homes safely and securely to drop off Ecommerce orders. Not only does this innovative solution help solve the final mile problem but it can also positively impact the big issue of returns because the InHome solution also enables the delivery drivers to pick-up unwanted items that have been booked in for return collection.
The issue of returns is certainly an area of acute focus right now because not only does it lead to a negative environmental impact from the emissions related to the extra journeys undertaken by the delivery vehicles but an incredible percentage of returned goods end up in landfill as they are all too frequently deemed unsuitable for resale. It is this very issue that the top ranked entry in this year’s Digital Retail Innovations report seeks to solve within the food sector.
Food waste app TooGoodToGo received the highest scores from the report’s Advisory Panel for the work it does with many major retailers in diverting food from their bins. Working with Greggs alone it has sold over one million of its ‘magic bags’ that contain unsold food that would otherwise have been binned. Such a solution helps the retailer achieve some financial return from the unsold food at the end of the trading day and avoid the logistics costs of having the food handled as waste. The report also includes another food waste app OLIO that again works with myriad retailers by linking them to ‘food waste heroes’ who
collect the unwanted food and then redistribute it to consumers via the app.
These various solutions highlight how logistics is very much a buoyant area of innovation, especially within Ecommerce, despite it not being exactly front-of-mind for shoppers when perusing glossy websites and it is certainly way down in the popularity stakes alongside plumbers.