Features, Shoptalk

The Last Mile

By Robin Lewis

Bring it to me, just for me, new, now and more often. That just about says everything the consumer expects, indeed, demands today. Oh, yes, and it’s got to be wrapped in an experience.

But the most important command is spoken with the five words, “bring it to me now.” And it is this demand for NOW (and also delivered for free), that is perhaps the most complex and costly last function in the value chain. It all started with Amazon’s incredible logistics and distribution capability to execute such speed, which in turn forced all retailers into the race to perfect “the last mile.” As a reminder, Jeff Bezos was the first mover, and he can move faster than the competition to win the last mile race because he doesn’t have to show a profit.

Furthermore, to completely own the last mile, Amazon is preparing to launch a delivery service named SWA (Shipping with Amazon). It’s positioned to compete with United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. by picking up packages from businesses and shipping them to consumers.

This is mind-boggling. And I can muse all I want to about how infinite growth is impossible, but Amazon keeps proving me wrong. It’s like they are becoming a vertically owned and integrated value chain for anything and everything in the world. And they still don’t have to show a nickel on their bottom line.

Regardless of Amazon’s initiatives, all retailers are addressing the last mile challenge. And Shoptalk has thoroughly identified giants like Walmart, as well as a range of third-party solutions and examples of upstarts who are successfully satisfying the new consumers’ demands in many different ways.

Supply chain strategy is another, among the many other learning experiences you will benefit from at Shoptalk.

By Zia Daniell Wigder

Some of the most exciting innovations in retail and ecommerce today can be found in delivery and logistics. Below are three sessions at Shoptalk that will highlight just a few of the leaders in this space.

Innovations in Next- and Same-Day Delivery

As today’s consumers expect a greater degree of convenience and a range of delivery options, last-mile fulfillment continues to be one of the most rapidly evolving aspects of the retail supply chain. In this session, leading retailers and startups will discuss their ongoing investments in technology, people and partnerships to improve last-mile infrastructure:

  • Founded in 2012, Instacart has raised almost $675 million in funding and is one of the best-known startups in the grocery space. The company delivers groceries and everyday essentials to consumers from a variety of national and regional retailers including Albertsons, Kroger, Costco, Wegmans, Publix and CVS. In this session, the Chief Business Officer will share how the company’s technology and business model has evolved to expand beyond large metropolitan areas. He will also discuss how grocery retailers can leverage third-party solutions in addition to–or in place of–building out their own delivery operations.
  • Peapod launched its online grocery delivery service in 1989, putting it on the map as one of the first ecommerce companies. The company was acquired by Royal Ahold in 2000 and is now the largest online grocery delivery store in the U.S. Peapod has operations in 24 markets and delivers from its Chicago-area warehouse, as well as from Ahold Delhaize “warerooms” for such brands as Stop & Shop and Giant Foods. In this session, the Co-Founder and CTO will share how the company is investing in user experience, supply chain and infrastructure technologies in order to remain competitive as online grocery shopping becomes more widespread. He will also discuss some of the company’s latest initiatives such as the text-to-order tool.
  • Founded in 2015 in France, Stuart is an on-demand delivery service that raised over $26 million in funding before being sold to GeoPost, part of the French national postal service. Stuart provides solutions for both physical retail and ecommerce businesses through a network of urban hubs; it operates a diverse delivery fleet consisting of bikes, mopeds, cars and vans. Stuart is in five cities in Europe; its customers include Carrefour, Franprix and Zalando. In this session, the CEO will discuss the future of same-day delivery across different retail verticals and the potential to attract a larger customer base outside of the affluent demographic.

New Pickup Options

Pickup has rapidly become a popular delivery alternative for shoppers and retailers alike, providing customers with the option to order products online and collect them shortly thereafter. The most forward-thinking retailers continue to push ahead with innovation in this area, exploring options that range from curbside and drive-through collection to automated pickup towers. Join us to hear from an executive at the world’s largest retailer who is experimenting with and rolling out these services at scale:

  • Walmart is investing in planned pickup options in order to meet changing customer expectations. The company offers curbside grocery collection at more than 1,000 locations, and has plans to add 1,000 more this year. It also expects to have self-serve pickup towers for non-grocery items in 500 locations by the end of the year. In this session, the EVP of Central Operations at Walmart US will share his experience implementing these initiatives and highlight some of the operational and technology challenges he’s encountered–he will also discuss how the company leverages learnings from pilots as they scale different groundbreaking initiatives.

Innovations in the Warehouse: Robotics, AI and Beyond

The rapid growth of ecommerce is forcing retailers to secure more warehouse space and run their distribution centers more efficiently. As a result, a number of technology solutions have emerged to increase warehouse capacity and automation. Retailers are deploying robots guided by AI and computer vision in warehouses to increase the efficiency of the order fulfillment process; in addition, retailers and brands can now access spare warehouse capacity on-demand through new platforms. In this session, innovative warehouse technology providers will discuss how warehouse technology is evolving to boost efficiency and lower costs in the fulfillment process:

  • With $48 million in funding, Fetch Robotics develops and manufactures collaborative, autonomous mobile robots for warehouses. Collaborative robots are designed to operate alongside warehouse workers, helping guide workers toward items to be picked or to transport goods across a warehouse–the result is relatively inexpensive technology when compared with other warehouse automation systems. In this session, the CEO of Fetch Robotics will discuss how emerging robotics technologies are helping boost warehouse efficiency by combining automation with a human workforce. She will also share her vision of how robotics will shape the future of warehousing and logistics.
  • FLEXE is a network of over 800 warehouses connected by a common software platform. With FLEXE retailers can increase their eCommerce fulfillment capacity, on-demand, without having to invest in fixed warehouse infrastructure. In this session, the Co-Founder and CEO will discuss how new technology-based solutions are emerging to help retailers and brands test different markets and scale their operations more cost-effectively in response to demand fluctuations.
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