Close this search box.

GUEST COMMENT Taking to the air – the future of online shopping deliveries

This is an archived article - we have removed images and other assets but have left the text unchanged for your reference

The summer break is almost upon us, and with it will come the usual roadworks, traffic jams and repetitive calls of “are we there yet?” from the back seat as we take to the motorways for our annual summer getaway. As an alternative to ‘I Spy’, one game I highly recommend to lessen the boredom of long trips is Car Cricket. With not a hint of willow bat or hard ball in sight, this game relies on one person coming into bat, which means they have to earn runs by spotting different coloured cars – white cars are worth one run, and coloured cars are two runs. The first person to 100 sightings, or runs – a century – is the winner.

Throw in trucks and lorries to the game, and record-breaking centuries are scored. Why? Because there are so many on the motorways. Many of these are trucks, courier vehicles, and lorries delivering goods we’ve ordered online. Online shopping has had a huge impact on the physical world around us. We can choose same-day delivery, click-and-collect, or delivery within a one hour timeslot. We can even receive products before we order them, as companies use clever predictive models to forecast what they know we’ll want – the latest Game of Thrones DVD, for example.

Online shopping has revolutionised our lives. At the same time, it has changed the structure of the traffic on our urban roads, as we make fewer car journeys to the shops but need more delivery vehicles to ship our goods to our doorsteps.

Over the next few years, the way we receive our online shopping is likely to change. One of these changes is in the form of drones, as they look set to take off (literally) in ecommerce if airborne delivery plans announced by DHL, Google, Amazon and Walmart become a reality.

The use of drones will mean that we can receive products – if the package weighs less than 5lbs – just 30 minutes after we’ve ordered them. Drones are already used widely by all kinds of organisations, for all kinds of purposes: in the UK, for example, they’re used in farming; Royal Mail are thought to be considering them; they’re used to support police work; and Network Rail and the BBC are all using them, according to TechWorld.

But drones are not without their critics, some of whom have raised concerns about them flying into aircraft, and are calling no-fly zones. Critics also question the accuracy of drone deliveries – a parcel landing on a roof is of no use to anyone! And a Huffington Post/YouGov survey found that we’re just not ready for drone deliveries yet – nearly half the US adults surveyed felt unmanned delivery drones to be unsafe, and 20% found the thought of them plain scary.

There’s another way I think our online deliveries will change in the future. At the moment, when we order something online, we can choose a delivery option, but exactly how our products arrive at our doorstep is out of our hands. For example, there’s a certain website I avoid shopping with, because I know my goods will (or, more likely, will not) be delivered by a particular courier company that struggles to locate my address, or leaves boxes marked ‘Do not leave outside’ on my doorstep. Wouldn’t it be great if we could choose exactly how we receive our goods, and who we want to deliver those items – and the website fits in with us? We could select a partner to own our doorstep, and everyone else in the chain would deal with them.

But what effect will these changing delivery options really have on us, as online shoppers?

The biggest impact is most likely to be on costs. If we order an item and want to receive it in 30 minutes, chances are we’re going to pay a bit more – or the website will absorb the cost but might bump up prices to allow for this, so we need to be aware. We also need to be careful with the ‘auto delivery’ option on websites – so that just because we order one thing that we want to receive quickly, the website doesn’t automatically default to that method of delivery for future purposes.

We also need to make sure that if something is shipped to us from overseas we have a clear, accurate view of how much it’s going to cost us. We don’t want any expensive surprises when we receive our goods, however they reach us. 64% of online shoppers in a recent survey said they’re put off by high shipping costs and 48% by additional fees owed at the time of delivery. What if we don’t want a super-fast delivery? Many of us choose to shop at a website purely because it offers free delivery, if we don’t need an item immediately. Will this still be an option – and if so, will our customer service experience be affected as our order is deprioritised?

For me, the greatest thing about online shopping in our connected digital and physical world is that we get more choice – a broader choice of products and brands in a global online marketplace, a wider range of costs and a selection of delivery options to suit our requirements. As long this choice continues into the future, I’m happy. And if I win a game of car cricket, I’m even happier – who knows, maybe one day we’ll be looking to the skies and playing drone cricket during our long car journeys?

Tim Barber is VP of digital commerce, EMEA for Pitney Bowes

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on