The DeliveryDemon has been thinking abut delivery and technology. One of the benefits of technology is its ability to dematerialise goods and deliver them electronically. For music and videos and software that’s great. Where it falls down is when there’s a need for physical delivery. Interestingly, that puts at risk the delivery of the bits and pieces of hardware we need to exploit all this technology. We can use technology to place our orders, then it all comes down to sending stuff through the physical supply chain.
Two things happen once our goods get into the supply chain – they become unimportant and they become attractive.
- The unimportance of our parcels
From the factory production line to the doorstep our parcel is just one of millions being thumped, bumped and dumped. No-one really cares about it. If it gets lost or damaged, it’s the sender’s problem, or the intended recipient’s problem, or an insurance company’s problem. Even at source, the supplier doesn’t care, it’s just another item off the production line. So goods get lost and damaged and no-one is answerable. There’s a cost to remedying the problem, of course, and inevitable the cost finds its way back to the end consumer.
- The attractiveness of our goods
Many electronic gadgets and components are small, so easily lost, and just as easily fitted into pockets. Packaging, even if it doesn’t show explicit sender details, is often easily identifiable as containing some sort of technology. The value of such items can be high.
The DeliveryDemon has been told of many examples recently of people buying technology, only to have it beaten to a pulp on its way to its destination.
- A card for a camera never arrived. The supplier came up with conflicting excuses, with one person claiming it was lost in the post while another claimed it should have been in the envelope with its companion which did arrive, but that it had not been packed.
- A laptop arrived in a seriously battered box.
- A mobile phone arrived in a sturdy plastic envelope which had been ripped open. An attempt had been made to slit the box inside, to remove items without breaking the seal on the box.
Of course, the costs of all this is being passed to the consumer in the form of higher prices, insurance premiums, and credit card charges.
Some suppliers are fighting back, attempting to make their packaging bash-proof. The DeliveryDemon knows a supplier of personalised beers who has taken it as a personal challenge to ensure that the full complement of bottles arrives undamaged – not a technology issue but the principles are the same. The packaging battle has its own cost, and not just the cost of producing and applying it. The more robust the packaging, the more likely it is to be persistent, and usually voluminous. Most often it will end up in landfill, perhaps via the complex recycling arrangements imposed by many local authorities.
Some companies offer tagging and tracking of goods in transit. For high volumes, manual checkin systems are likely to be error prone, even if with electronic detection of tags. For example, even if a box or jiffybag is tagged, that’s no guarantee that it still contains all its original contents. The cost of tagging individual components would be prohibitive, and would create electronic waste.
It’s often said that the main components of a solution are people, process and technology. From the DeliveryDemon’s observations, the money is going into technology (including packaging technology), the protagonists are hiding behind the theory of how the process should happen, but not nearly enough effort is going into delivering the people aspects of the supply chain. For many jobs in the supply chain, temptation can be high while rewards are low, and in a high transaction volume environment the effect of this is easily predictable. Yet it’s the aspect of e-commerce that no-one is getting to grips with.