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4 innovative retail fulfilment methods to know

The on-demand economy has fueled consumer desire for instant gratification. Products and platforms ranging from Airbnb and Uber, to Seamless or Deliveroo, have resulted in growing appetite in the market for convenience and immediacy on virtually anything and everything we can dream of today.

Needless to say, that has therefore filtered over to retail, with mega corporations like Amazon only feeding the notion that we need access to products within the same or next day – leaving little option but for other businesses to follow suit.

By 2021, over 2.14 billion people worldwide are expected to buy products online, reports eMarketer. A core aspect of the purchasing decisions that come with this is speed of delivery. According to McKinsey & Co for instance, 25% of consumers would pay a premium to receive products same day.

This of course presents logistical challenges. The cost of global delivery amounts to €70billion a year, according to McKinsey, with the last mile portion of that being the biggest challenge to fulfill efficiently. As a result, numerous logistics businesses have been scrabbling to offer the right kind of solutions for their clients. Over the next five years, 78% of them are expected to provide same day delivery, and within 10 years, 39% anticipate two-hour delivery, reports Zebra Technologies.

In a bid to be competitive, luxury has picked up on it as well. Farfetch now offer 90-minute delivery in 10 cities globally for instance, while Net-a-Porter is also striving to improve the shopping experience by offering its top tier a ‘You Try, We Wait’ same day service.

There are many others experimenting with their own methods alongside. Here are four areas of innovation within the delivery space we’re currently tracking…

CROWDSOURCED DELIVERY

The last mile of fulfillment is the most expensive and time consuming part of the delivery process, but numerous startups are looking to disrupt this space by enabling anyone to have anything delivered on-demand by trialling such areas as crowdsourced delivery. 

Similar to the structure of Uber, this allows individual couriers to deliver parcels straight to your door, or facilitate them for pick-up or drop-off around individual homes and offices. Crowdsourced delivery is expected to be adopted by 90% of retailers by 2028, according to a report by delivery company Roadie.

One e-commerce company currently trialling such a scheme is Zalando. This allows people to volunteer their homes as pick-up and drop-off points in Scandinavia. Primarily intended to benefit the customer, it also enables self-employed, retired or stay-at-home parents to earn some extra income.

ROBOTIC POSTIES
Ford Delivery Robot

McKinsey & Co predicts that more than 80% of parcels will be delivered autonomously in the next decade. The thought of robots walking around town beside us may seem a little futuristic, but many companies have already successfully tested them.

Postmates is intending to roll out a new autonomous delivery robot in Los Angeles later this year, for instance. The self-driving rover, named Serve, uses a camera, light detector and sensor to safely navigate the sidewalk. This can create a virtual picture of the world in real time and communicate with customers via an interactive touch screen. Serve is part of Postmates’ vision of a world where goods move rapidly and efficiently throughout cities.

Ford meanwhile is experimenting with a package carrying robot that will be able to walk, climb stairs and deliver your parcel to your front door. In partnership with Agility Robotics, the robot – called Digit – can successfully carry a 40lb package.

DRONES
Amazon Prime Air Service

Next up is autonomous urban aircrafts, otherwise known as drones. This could become a $1.5 trillion industry by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley Research.

Amazon has been leading the way in the space for some time with its Prime Air service, which is under constant experimentation. Its latest announcement said consumers will be able to get parcels delivered within 30 minutes or less by drone, thanks to a sophisticated ‘sense and avoid’ technology allowing it to safely maneuver in the sky. Executive Jeff Wilke stated that between 75%-90% of deliveries could technically be handled by drones in the future.

Strictly speaking, however, when that will be is still unclear. While the technology is improving constantly – using a combination of thermal cameras, depth cameras and sophisticated machine learning – there remains the small issue of authorization. Regulation is continuing to evolve, with a recent test moving things forward in the US market, and further developments happening in Europe, but Amazon’s view of commercial drone deliveries ready within just a few months, seems unlikely.

It’s not alone in trying however. Wing, a drone service from Alphabet – Google’s parent company – has completed a successful trial in Australia and is now doing so in Finland. Similarly, UPS is currently testing drones for the use of medical supplies and samples in North Carolina. Its long term plan is to eventually roll out the drones for the industrial, manufacturing and retail markets. UPS is another that has applied for a Federal Aviation Administration certificate that it hopes will allow it to operate the drones on mass.

ALL ACCESS
Waitrose While You’re Away Yale Technology

In a bid to combat the fact so many parcels see unsuccessful delivery attempts due to the absence of the recipient, there are also numerous experiments in the market to get around the need for humans to be present when the action takes place. This is especially being considered in the online grocery market, which is expected to grow 52% over the next give years to £17.3billion, meaning investments in home deliveries will need to be expanded.

One example we’ve seen comes again from Amazon, which has developed a system that allows couriers to deliver parcels to a customer’s car. The Key-In-Car service is available for all Prime members with a Volvo or General Motors vehicle dated after 2015. Through encryption, the courier can unlock the trunk without needing a key. This is available in 37 cities across the US. Similarly, Skoda is developing a technology that allows delivery firms one-time access to the trunk of the car. The biggest challenge to this opportunity is the threat of security. The risks can be mitigated however by couriers wearing body cameras and sending photographic evidence upon delivery, but retailers must gain consumer trust in the process first.

British supermarket Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, has gone even further by testing a ‘While you’re Away’ service in south London. This initiative gives delivery drivers a unique code that gives them temporary access to the customer’s property, allowing them to put away the shopping on their behalf. The lock technology has been developed by Yale and will be free to install for customers. To give them piece of mind, each driver will indeed wear a video camera to record their steps, which the customer can request access to.

How are you thinking about innovative delivery solutions? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business data e-commerce Editor's pick product Startups sustainability technology

The big innovation trends shaping 2018

Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads
Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads

Underpinning the fashion and luxury industries right now is both a tough retail environment and a landscape of intensifying competition – from Amazon to the bevy of new direct to consumer players. While sales are steadily on the rise, with The McKinsey Global Fashion Index projecting global industry growth from 3.5 to 4.5% in 2018, there are still big challenges ahead.

As we’ve seen time and again, survival is no longer a guarantee merely based on heritage; innovation in an age of rapidly evolving consumer expectations is what will drive staying power.

However, while that word – “innovation” – means newness in a literal sense, when it comes to looking at trends for the year ahead, we are very much talking about evolution not revolution in terms of what matters for retail and fashion brands.

For 2018, then, the big areas of focus will continue to be around augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the voice interface, blockchain, the circular economy, new materials, customisation and fulfillment.

Those tech terms tie into some big overarching trends shaping the future of the industry too; namely the sense of an increasingly frictionless shopping experience, more personalised and relevant consumer interactions and the drive of a serious sustainable agenda.

Here are the things you need to be thinking about…


Augmented reality

In 2017 we saw the launch of Apple’s ARkit and Google’s ARcore, making augmented reality development on the devices we all use everyday incredibly simple. This push into the mainstream has led to a forecast of 900 million AR-enabled smartphones by the end of 2018, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital. With that of course comes increased consumer expectation – research from Digital Bridge shows that 69% of shoppers now want retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months.

We’ve already seen the likes of Ikea, Anthropologie and Burberry doing so to both facilitate shopping and make for some fun experiential use cases. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vogue: “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website.” 2018 then is your year to tool up. What is your AR strategy going to be?


Artificial intelligence

Big data strategy is more of a reality for retailers and brands than ever thanks to the role of machine learning within artificial intelligence. Now, decisions can be made based on detailed and real-time consumer insights. The largest benefit for businesses at this point lies in providing greater relevancy or personalisation to the consumer – from tailored recommendations to highly individualised messaging.

We’ve seen this gaining velocity over the past 12 months from the likes of Sunglass Hut, Yoox Net-a-Porter, Shop Direct and Topman both vying to increase conversions, but 2018 will bring us all the more. Look out for the way in which the store of the future continues to evolve off the back of data-led insights also, and don’t forget to keep on top of the ever evolving chatbot space as a fundamental part of your customer service approach.


The voice interface

There will be an estimated 1.8 billion users of voice assistants – like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – by 2021, according to Tractia. That kind of progress is already well underway, hot on the heels of simple facts like Amazon’s Echo devices being the biggest sellers on its website this holiday season. Last year we saw retailers starting to figure out where their place was in this landscape – Walmart teamed up with Google Home; others like Perry Ellis launched a fun personal styling app through Alexa.

Based on the simple mantra of needing to be where your consumers are, it’s time for the rest of the industry to start exploring how they too can use voice. At some point we’re going to see such technology assistants as the gatekeepers to shoppers, turning traditionally targeting and messaging on its head.


Blockchain

Blockchain is another tech word that’s been bandied about nonstop of late, but the chips are starting to fall as to what this can really mean for the industry. While cryptocurrencies are having a real do or die moment, the more relevant applications of blockchain for fashion brands lie in authenticity and transparency. Authenticity is about anticounterfeiting above all else, while transparency sits alongside sustainability. Both are about validating supply chain data, with blockchain by its immutable nature supporting that very fact.

London designer Martine Jarlgaard recently led the charge in terms of transparency, turning to storytelling to showcase each step of her supply chain through blockchain company Provenance. Expect 2018 to see more of these types of initiatives on a marketing level, as well as a broader movement to start thinking from the ground up in terms of integrating such technology into the foundations of the organisation.


The circular economy

On the subject of sustainability, the drive for less waste, and the move towards a true circular economy is also gaining headway. In 2017 we saw H&M announce its goal to be fully circular by 2030 and to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. No small task, but a bold statement highlighting the work that’s got to go in between now and then.

The key, according to Nielsen, is that 72% of millennials and 73% of Generation Z say they would pay more for brands with sustainable offerings, meaning doing good is also key to strong business today. It’s not possible to be in this industry without thinking about this side of things in some way or another as a result, making this year a critical time for all involved. Strategy around the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle, will be a big focus for 2018, from new innovations shaping the possibilities around recycling techniques themselves, to a continued focus on areas like the sharing economy and resale sites.


New materials

One key area of innovation central to the sustainability or circular economy movement lies in the actual materials used. Bioengineering is particularly picking up pace. Biofabricated leather from Modern Meadow just got its first outing with the launch of Zoa, while lab-grown spider silk from Bolt Threads saw its first luxury partnership with designer Stella McCartney in 2017.

Other names like VitroLabs are also worth keeping an eye on, as well as those experimenting with different fibres produced from the byproduct of harvests including pineapples, mushrooms, oranges and grapes. If last year was about experimentation, 2018 gives us the opportunity to move towards application and real commercial viability.


Customisation

If you pull together some of the above trends – personalisaton and sustainability fundamentally – there’s little escape from the idea of customisation as a penultimate thought for 2018. If you can make something tailored to the individual, waste is lower, usage lasts longer, conversions are higher… the list goes on.

This is not new – we’ve been monogramming for decades – but the continued roll out of flexible manufacturing options from start-ups like Unmade, or with Shima Seiki printers as the likes of Ministry of Supply have used, as well as large scale automated systems like the Speedfactory from Adidas, are making this both quicker and more possible at scale. If that wasn’t enough, beware the A word once more: Amazon recently won a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system for apparel. That could be a game changer.


Fulfillment

In case Amazon hasn’t yet been mentioned enough above, one final point to note continues around just how to make your time from order to delivery faster than ever. With the e-commerce juggernaut setting the precedent amid a consumer landscape of instant gratification in the on-demand economy world, it’s become somewhat of a race to the bottom for fulfillment.

The fact is, if we’re offered 30-minute drone delivery down the line, or even more realistically the 90-minute arrivals of our Gucci wares from Farfetch, as we saw launch in 2017, we’re more than likely going to take it. The question of need no longer comes into it. This space is ripe with start-ups offering all manner of assistance – from types of delivery options to opportunities for simplified returns. So what are you doing to pick up the pace? Time is quite literally of the essence.

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digital snippets e-commerce product social media technology

What you missed: See-now-buy-now, Nicopanda x Amazon, Kering tops sustainability index

Nicopanda spring 2018 will see one-hour delivery from Amazon
Nicopanda spring 2018 will see one-hour delivery from Amazon

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past week.


TOP STORIES
  • Three seasons in, see-now-buy-now is going nowhere [Glossy]
  • Amazon tests one-hour catwalk-to-doorstep deliveries at Nicopanda show [Reuters]
  • Kering tops the Dow Jones Sustainability Index once more [FashionUnited]
  • British Fashion Council launches climate change initiative with Vivienne Westwood [BoF]

BUSINESS
  • The trouble with Topshop [BoF]
  • Hermès hits record first-half profit [FT]
  • BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund announces JD.com partnership [The Industry]
  • Giorgio Armani on London fashion week: ‘It’s the only true city where you see the creative turmoil’ [The Guardian]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Victoria Beckham takes top spot in digital engagement during NYFW [WWD]
  • How Mario Testino found a new lens through Instagram [Campaign]

MARKETING
  • Mick Rock shoots Rome residents for Gucci campaign [Dazed]
  • Inside Dior’s first micro-influencer campaign [Glossy]
  • Puma signs long-term partnership with Selena Gomez [FashionUnited]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Liu Qiangdong, the ‘Jeff Bezos of China’, on making billions with JD.com [FT]
  • eBay moves into luxury with fashion start-up Spring [Racked]

TECHNOLOGY
  • All the tech plans for Tommy Hilfiger’s LFW show [Forbes]

PRODUCT
  • Stone Island’s thermo-sensitive ice knitwear collection changes colour in cold weather [Design Boom]
  • Nike introduces Flyleather, its latest ‘super material’ [BoF]
  • Nike unveils ‘connected’ jersey for NBA partnership [BoF]

START-UPS
  • Fashion start-up wants customers to be able to customise every item they buy [PSFK]
  • Natalie Massenet joins seed funding for hosiery start-up Heist [BoF]
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business data digital snippets e-commerce Editor's pick mobile social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Zara’s data recipe, a chatbot deep-dive

Black Friday
Black Friday

This week’s news is of course dominated by the Black Friday weekend results. Online sales reached new highs in the US on Black Friday itself, up 21.6% year-on-year to $3.34bn. Unsurprisingly, mobile was a significant part of that growth, generating 36% of total digital sales, in a 33% rise from 2015, and 55% of all mobile shopping visits, according to Adobe. It was a similar story for Cyber Monday, with mobile generating 53% of online visits and 35% of sales.

In the UK, meanwhile, over 57% of traffic came from mobile devices on Black Friday rising to 75% at certain times of day. Overall online sales were only up 6.7% year-on-year however, yet footfall in stores was also up 2.8%, despite an expected 5% drop. “This demonstrates the fact that customers want a balance. Between online and physical shopping experiences, the high street isn’t as obsolete as some might think,” said Rupal Karia, managing director for retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland, at Fujitsu.

We’ve otherwise rounded up some of the best stories to read summarising everything that happened below. Also worth checking out from this week past is a deep-dive on Zara’s recipe for success, further updates on everything Instagram versus Snapchat, and an ultimate guide to chatbots.


BLACK FRIDAY / CYBER MONDAY UPDATE
  • Cyber Monday sales surge to record $3.45bn in the US [Retail Dive]
  • The US winners and losers of Black Friday 2016 [Retail Dive]
  • Black Friday online sales growth falls short in the UK but shop visits rise [Sky]
  • About 10 million more Americans shopped online than in stores over Black Friday weekend [Fortune]
  • How did Manhattan’s luxury stores fare on Black Friday? [Bloomberg]
  • Patagonia donated 100% of Black Friday sales to eco-causes [Ecouterre]
  • We might look back on 2016 as the year Black Friday hit an inflection point [LeanLuxe]

OTHER TOP STORIES
  • Zara’s recipe for success: more data, fewer bosses [Yahoo!]
  • Gap’s CEO missed the brand’s biggest problem when he called creative directors “false messiahs” [Quartz]
  • Email outpacing social media in e-commerce, stoking innovation [WWD]

BUSINESS
  • Yoox Net-A-Porter Group to launch in the Middle East [Fashionista]
  • Matchesfashion.com launches 90-minute delivery service in London [WWD]
  • Is e-commerce really better for the environment than traditional retail? [BoF]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Is Snapchat the next Facebook, or the next Twitter? [WWD]
  • Instagram is now letting users stream Live videos that disappear as soon as they end [Wired]
  • How this quirky clothing brand uses Snapchat to sell more shorts [Venture Beat]
  • Spyder using NFC to connect with customers through social media [WWD]

RETAIL
  • Missguided unveils first standalone store in Westfield Stratford [The Industry]

TECHNOLOGY
  • The ultimate guide to Chatbots: Why they’re disrupting UX and best practices for building [Medium]
  • Uniqlo is experimenting with MindMeld’s ‘smarter bots’ on Facebook [Engadget]
  • These new adidas shoes are made from lab-grown spider silk [Motherboard]
  • Scientists have created a solar-powered fabric that would let you charge your phone with your jacket [Quartz]
  • Soon you can scan a garment’s label to find out how sustainable it is [NY Observer]

START-UPS
  • How Stitch Fix blends AI and human expertise [HBR]