Wednesday April 08, 2020 |Notes

Delivery & logistics are incredible - and getting better

Delivery and logistics have risen dramatically in importance over the last ~6 weeks as consumers have moved more shopping to digital commerce. Existing systems have held up well and most people have been able to obtain vital items like groceries and medications within a reasonable timeframe.

The recent surge has also exposed problems of relying too heavily on single sources, strains to meet consumer demand, and how much humans are needed to make it all run.

In the original sourcing stage of supply chains, with the coronavirus first hitting China, many of the world's largest manufacturing plants shut down. That's had ripple effects throughout the world. This isn't solely an issue of relying on China; the problem is putting far too many eggs in one basket. The basket fell and many were caught without any other eggs. This could be addressed with companies holding more inventory and finding additional manufactures in other countries, perhaps closer to the point of distribution.

Closer to delivery, it's difficult to schedule delivery via services like Instacart and Whole Foods (via Amazon). Generally, all timeslots are filled and it takes multiple attempts to find a time that works. These services rely on people to go to the store and do the shopping like all consumers, which makes the process time consuming and cumbersome. Often, there's a mismatch of availability status between the ordering system and the physical store, resulting in a few missing items.

This appears to be a problem of relying on humans too heavily in the entire process. Humans pick the groceries, drive to our homes, and generally put themselves and others at risk. They are incredibly important right now - and it's clear that more delivery workers are needed. Given the risks and demand, the time is right for better options, e.g. robots picking grocery orders in a warehouse and delivery by robots.

Amazon has a clear incentive and already has all the pieces required to make it possible for groceries to be picked more efficiently. Companies like Instacart should work with major grocers to implement solutions as well, in order to pick before putting products into costly retail space.

Last mile delivery is handled by a growing number of logistics providers and now includes UPS, USPS, Fedex, Amazon, Amazon partners, private companies, individuals, etc. The one thing they all have in common is they require a human to drive a vehicle, park, get the package out, walk to the door, mark it as delivered, and then move to the next address to do it again. This same process is done hundreds of times in every neighborhood right now and it's highly inefficient. Robots will help us here. Imagine if all the packages for a neighborhood were delivered to a single location, which then deployed a small robot that can navigate safely and deliver without human touch.

Delivery and logistics companies don't get headlines and workers are often overlooked. When everything runs right, consumers hardly notice they are there. That doesn't diminish the importance. Take time to recognize the make everyday deliveries work - and let's work to make it better.