"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
About 2500 years ago, Greek historian Herodotus said this during the war between the Greeks and Persians when observing the Persian postal couriers. He was impressed. Many think that an adapted turn of the phrase is the official motto of the United States Postal Service. It isn't. Yes, it remains a badge of honor that is worn by postal workers around the world, but our world has changed. Dramatically. Digital delivery of everything from our utility bills to the music we listen to and the movies that we watch has impacted the postal service and forced it to regroup, adjust and shrink in a world where our dependence on getting something through the traditional mail channel is evolving.
The end of mail. The end of packages?
Hardly. Beyond the challenge of reaching the more rural regions and having internet access shift from a luxury item into a utility and basic human right (countries like Finland and France have already done this, and in July of this year, the United Nations also ruled Internet access as a basic human right), people still need to get physical mail. While the USPS posted a net loss of $5.2 billion for its third fiscal quarter that ended in June 2012, and as Canada Post looks into new methods of delivery (something they're calling, "postal transformation"), both organizations are seeing more positive signs of revenue in the package shipping business. But with these changes towards efficiency comes consumer complaints that mail is now arriving later in the afternoon, that there are slowdowns in delivery and a general suffering of service.
Primed for disruption.
Looking to the United States and the UK, Amazon is making moves to not only disrupt this traditional business model but to disintermediate it. In the past few weeks, residents of San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Washington and London may have noticed these modern looking vending machines popping up in different locations. The Amazon Locker is a self-service pick-up station located in neighborhoods for people to be able to ship their purchases and pick them up at a more convenient time. As with everything, the Amazon Locker is backed up by over eighteen years of Amazon's developing technology and financial wherewithal to makes these kinds of investments. When your package has arrived, the customer is sent via email a unique pick-up code. Once you the code is entered at the Amazon Locker, the appropriate box door is opened. While this project is still in its nascent phase, imagine the ability for Amazon to sell access to these types of installations to other vendors and beyond.
When the new Amazon PO Box isn't enough.
The biggest challenge e-commerce continues to face is their ability to get the product to the customer as fast and efficiently as possible. Companies like Amazon and eBay are currently testing same-day delivery as a mechanism to compete with local retail. According to the Slate article, I Want It Today, "... Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon's new goal is to get stuff to you immediately--as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy... It's hard to overstate how thoroughly this move will shake up the retail industry."
It's happening now.
We live in the "now" economy. Consumers expectations are that everything will happen in the palm of their hands and at a click of their smartphone's buttons. As the lines continue to blur between buying digital goods and physical goods, brands - and the products that they ship to physical locations - will have to meet (or exceed) these demands for everything to happen now. We may love this fast-paced speed of business or lament it, but it's real, it's happening and it is now. Now, we just need to update the old adage to, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night, nor credit card hackers, nor in-store pickups stays these courageous digital bits and bytes from the immediate completion of their appointed rounds."
The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure.