I can’t wait to see what emerges. Competition and innovation are vital in driving this industry forwards – and forcing us all to ‘be more Uber’.
In the past year or so, to ‘Uber it’ joined ‘googling’ as a verb among trendy modern-day shoppers. However it’s not just taxis that are making use of the peer to peer model. From car shares to dog walking, storage sharing to Airbnb, one thing all 'sharing economy' businesses have in common is making use of existing space, services or labour.
In the delivery sector, it’s clear to see the potential for change. From carriers to individuals, millions of people travel every day with unused space in the back of their vehicles. With an average of just 1.6 passengers per car journey, 923 trips a year per person and 311 billion miles travelled last year, there’s a lot of opportunity for wasted space to be put to use – and that’s just in the UK.
Using empty space to increase efficiency
Using empty back seats and car boots not only helps to deal with the delivery industry’s 50,000 driver staffing deficit, but it also has the potential to speed up everything that happens in between pick-up and drop-off.
And we've already started to see it happen. Seattle-based Convoy, a company branding itself as the ‘Uber for trucking’ is pairing shippers with available local carriers that have capacity and availability to deliver – tapping into a £400bn+ industry.
By matching up the two parties based on factors like equipment, payload, capacity and distance, Convoy gives carriers the ability to accept or decline a job based on the price; removing the need for the trademark haggling of the brokerage industry – something that’s largely still done over the phone, even in 2015.
It’s essentially doing for large-scale couriering what Uber’s delivery outfit, UberRUSH, is doing for small-scale parcel delivery. Now in three US cities, it operates a taxi-based pricing structure, charging £3-£4 per mile, with pickup from dedicated drivers booked through Uber’s intuitive, customer-facing application.
Yet both of these initiatives operate solely with professional drivers – eliminating in the process the vast majority of drivers who make up the rest of the vehicles on the road.
Enter the sharing economy start-ups
Realising that there’s a market in the millions of individuals who’ll make their journey to the shops regardless of whether someone needs a parcel transported, sharing economy start-ups Postio and Nimber allow users to send items with people already walking, driving or cycling that way.
Slashing traditional delivery costs by up to 80%, these technologies are designed with customer convenience and cost cutting in mind.
Again, it’s the perfect way to make use of existing drivers already on the road. And for retailers, the exciting possibility of having a parcel collected and delivered in the space of 30 minutes opens up plenty of chances to impress new customers and drive loyalty.
But in order for retailers to get a product from A to B within the hour, it requires one of two options – each with a different take on the idea of literal omnichannel delivery:
- ‘Taxi’ services like UberRUSH, Postio or Nimber, organised by the retailer to take a product from their bricks-and-mortar store direct to the customer;
- Or city centre warehouses – think Amazon Prime Now – where the traditional ecommerce model of warehouse-to-customer delivery is expedited by bringing the product closer to the customer before they’ve even ordered
For businesses, these services might be the answer – but they don’t provide the solution for customers looking to order across a range of different retailers.
True, Amazon might be able to supply everything from phone chargers to pillows on-demand, but in its current form, it’ll never be able to deliver both of those and that handmade coffee from your local independent to your front door.
The way of the future
And that’s how the world of online valeting came to be. With tech heavyweights eBay and Google each giving the idea a go – as well as a range of new entrants – they’ve emerged to solve a problem that can now be answered with technology.
But with an endless number of companies fighting to become the next ‘Uber’ in their sector, it’s important we get back to basics. We need to remember that sharing economy startups need to be founded on demand for a service and supply that already exists, and crucially – underpinned by great technology.
In 2016, the momentum will build as more companies than ever try to share a stake in Uber’s success by launching their own delivery start-ups.
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Photo credit: Highways Agency via Flickr