Driverless delivery vans delivering to empty homes, way better tracking technology and, of course, Amazon will do something big in the year ahead.

Andrew Atkinson, director of product marketing, GrandCanals

Andrew Atkinson, director of product marketing, GrandCanals

There’s something about the end of the year that brings out the crystal-ball-gazer in all of us, even though, as Nobel-prize winning physicist Niels Bohr once noted (seconded by Hall of Famer Yogi Berra), “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

Nevertheless, we will do our best to fill your virtual shopping cart today with our take on the top five fulfillment trends for the coming year:

I, For One, Welcome Our Robot (Delivery) Overlords

UPS has tested using its delivery trucks as platforms to launch delivery drones. DHL is planning to test autonomous delivery trucks in 2018. We predict the intersection of these stories: sometime in 2018, at least one company will use drones launched from an autonomous vehicle to deliver a package. Going forward, we will see increased use of autonomous delivery vehicles for last mile delivery, with drones or ambulatory robots taking deliveries from the autonomous “mothership” truck the last few feet to the customers’ door. Expect to also see robotic “horses” and other critter-analogues as part of the last-mile delivery mix. This may include robot “birds” —both incumbent aircraft manufacturers and new entrants such as Nautilus see an opportunity to dramatically cut airfreight costs through automated aviation. Expect significant progress and possibly even proof-of-concept tests by the end of 2018.

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Options, Options, Options

Amazon is experimenting with deliveries to customers’ homes and cars, even when they are not there. Expect to see a widespread rollout of multiple delivery options—to home, to car, to office, to store, to locker, to curbside, from all of the major e-commerce players. Combined with superior tracking technology, in 2018, customers in select markets will be given the opportunity to change delivery instructions and locations (home, office, store, car, locker) on the fly, almost up to the point of delivery itself. Offering a full range of date-certain delivery options at different price-points will become e-commerce table stakes in 2018, with those companies failing to offer them to their customers losing business to competitors that do.

Big Brother Is Watching (Your Shipping)

The Internet of Things, connected vehicles (delivery truck telemetry) – what this means is that, in certain selected markets in 2018, some leading e-commerce companies will offer the ability to track some high-value shipments from the warehouse to delivery—continually, not just at major handoff (scan) points. It’ll be like Apple’s “Find Your Friends” —but for your new stuff. Amazon will continue to refine its futuristic predictive shipping capabilities and will be joined in 2018 by at least two other companies. Who will they be? Massive retailers like Walmart or Target? Or highly focused specialty retailers with a deep knowledge of their customers, supported by advanced analytics?

The Voracious Amazon

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Amazon will continue to grow rapidly—that’s an easy prediction to make. However, Amazon will also add more ways of pleasing its customers and will expand into new kinds of markets. Expect a big, strategic acquisition along the lines of the Whole Foods deal earlier this year. Keep in mind that Amazon’s cash pile is as big, or bigger, than the annual GDP of every country from Togo on down. Heck, Amazon could buy a country. That would be a unique answer to the question of where to put their second headquarters.

Weekends DisappearAt Least for E-Commerce Delivery

Fulfillment and shipping becomes a 7 day/week operation. No more counting delivery in “business days” —every day is a business day for e-commerce.  Also, fulfillment centers will work extended hours, if not 24 hours a day, to keep the “click-to-ship” time consistent and as quick as possible.  Smaller players will seek to outsource more fulfillment rather than try to staff up themselves to meet this key objective.

How much of this will happen? Only time will tell – and there are sure to be all sorts of interesting developments none of us have foreseen. What do you think will happen in the year ahead?

GrandCanals uses data science to help companies balance the cost and performance of delivery.

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