The Physical Last Mile
I'd like to talk today about another last mile, the physical last mile. Getting stuff you order online into your hands. There are lots of options today, including express delivery (but you have to be home), trucks coming to your door with Webvan and other goodies (but you have to make an appointment, sometimes days in advance), delivery to your work place (not available to many), or staying home until the goods come.
Faith Popcorn, the inventor of the term cocooning, the trend she predicted in the late 80's of more people staying home (hanging out, being with family, etc.) had another concept that did not have the catch phrase to become as generally accepted. It is called life maintenance chores. Many who classify our time separate it into work and "leisure". Ms. Popcorn's premise was that, in this time of life gridlock, nobody gives us much credit for how a lot of our time is spent running errands and waiting in line. Stopping off at the myriad of places to run our errands including grocery stores, laundry and dry cleaning, picking up or dropping off videos, games and DVD rentals, getting to Radio Shack to find that strange battery or part that will fix that piece of electronics sitting on the shelf, etc.
We believe that there is pent up demand for online sales that has not been realized. This is especially true among families where both adults work, those who travel a lot, or those involved with jobs that have persistent after hours work. For these folks, running errands is an issue. But so is making an appointment for a delivery or waiting around for UPS. And by the time you get the UPS notice, they are closed. There is a solution but it would take a whole new kind of company. One that has aspects of UPS, Mailboxes, etc. (these two have already merged), Kinko's and a bunch of storage space.
The concept is really quite simple. Delivery or pick-up on demand. There would be storefronts all over the place to pick-up your stuff, 24 hours a day. This could include both catalogue and web orders. Everything from Amazon to Land's End. Stuff too big for your mailbox, but that you do not want someone to leave on your doorstep. Sure, not much demand in the middle of the night, but the stuff has to be filed and catalogued at some point. Where does UPS come in? Their trucks only do one shift a day. What if they recognized market demand and put a number of trucks on routes after 5PM, based on individual orders and schedules. In time, you might be able to call the day before and say, I'm going to be home between 8 and 10 PM on Tuesday, please deliver my goods. This could expand to include your laundry, videos (a video/DVD/game rental in the store makes a lot of sense), non-perishable groceries and more. In time, UPS might even find it justifiable to have smaller vans that scoot around in the night, ala the failed Kozmo, on a demand basis. But with a much more viable volume base.
When the physical last mile is transcended, and those with "life maintenance chores" gridlock get served, either through a neighborhood 24-hour pick-up or an evening delivery service on demand, the chances for e-commerce success is only going to increase.
- David L. Smith is President of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco and New York based Integrated Interactive Media Agency and Consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org