When you are the retailer and the delivery company, you can do some really interesting things, as an Amazon patent filing reveals. Its creative thinking about how it can use lockers shows it can leverage them to provide both faster fulfillment and cost savings - two of its favorite obsessions.
One of the basic methods described in the patent is to deliver items to lockers without the packaging necessary if it were shipping the items, thereby reducing packaging costs and saving time and money. (Why put a DVD in a package before placing it in a pickup locker, for example? The same holds true for many other types of items, and customers would probably grow to love the package-free experience.)
Amazon describes the "Pre-order delivery of items to a pickup location" patent in the following abstract:
"A pickup location that includes a control station and one or more storage compartment modules provides the ability for items to be ordered and delivered for pickup by a user without having to pack those items in a shipping package prior to shipping from a materials handling facility.
"Delivering items for pickup by a user without having to package the items prior to shipping, may provide a better experience for the customer, reduce waste in packaging material and a lower cost of delivering the ordered items to the customer."
That's interesting thinking, but it doesn't end there - the patent shows how Amazon can use pickup lockers in other interesting ways.
"Pickup locations may be used to store and deliver high-volume and/or release day items," Amazon explains. Remember when a new Harry Potter book would be released, and everyone wanted their copy immediately on "release day"? Or a favorite DVD or electronic gadget, like a new model iPhone?
Amazon envisions placing those items in lockers ahead of time so that when release day comes, it can email customers who pre-ordered the products with a location and code so they can pick up the item without experiencing a delay.
Not only is it a good experience for the customer who wants instant gratification, but logistically it's a huge win for Amazon, saving it time and money.
The same is true for what it calls "high-volume" items. "A high-volume item may be, for example, an item that is frequently ordered, such as a popular book, shoe, video game, etc. A release day item may be an item that will become available on the day it released to the general public (e.g., book, movie, game, toy)."
Amazon explains: "release day items may be transported to and placed in storage compartments of various pickup locations prior to release of the items. Orders, even before release, may be placed and associated with storage compartments containing the release day items and the customer may be messaged that the ordered item will be available for immediate pickup on the release day. When release day for an item arrives, the item becomes available for retrieval by the customer at the pickup location."
Ditto for products in high demand - it can place such "high-volume" items in lockers, before a customer has ordered the item. Then, "When a customer orders the item, a storage compartment containing one of those items may be associated with the customer's order and the item made immediately available for retrieval by the customer."
With Amazon's technology and trove of data, it can probably predict demand geographically with near-surgical precision. (Another advantage of also being the retailer.)
Amazon's creative thinking about pickup lockers doesn't end there.
"In yet another example, a pickup location may be used as temporary storage for items to be delivered directly to an individual. For example, if a carrier was unable to deliver an item requiring customer signature, the item may be stored in a nearby pickup location.
"In such an example, rather than leaving a message that a delivery was attempted and that it will be re-delivered the next day, the customer may receive a message that delivery was attempted, re-delivery will be attempted the next day, or the customer may retrieve the item from the pickup location before re-delivery.
"In this example, or in other instances where an order was originally scheduled for direct delivery to the customer (e.g., customer's home), the customer may modify the delivery destination to be the pickup location."
Amazon also envisions being proactive at the time of order, offering customers the option to have their item available for immediate pickup, if its system detects availability.
Unlocking the power of pickup lockers is pure genius, and Amazon doesn't even have to own all of the lockers - we imagine it could integrate with UPS Access Points, for example, or retail stores like Walgreens or Staples.
It's even possible shipping carriers could leverage the network Amazon builds out in order to give customers the choice of having their UPS package, for example, delivered to a nearby locker, no matter who owns or operates it.
The patent highlights how Amazon is thinking about reducing packaging, fulfillment and delivery costs while at the same time enhancing the customer experience. You can find the patent on the US PTO website
. Should shipping carriers be worried?