What are your thoughts regarding Black Friday and what measures can be taken to neutralize its impact in the future?
There needs to be more open dialog between retailers and carriers – open and honest conversations about expected volumes. It’s very clear that Black Friday is here to stay and people have to work around it. Does everything need to be delivered next day or can it be spread out over a period of time? The sharing of information is key and if a consumer knows that an item ordered on the Friday is not necessarily going to be delivered on the Monday but would be delivered shortly after, then there would be more surety and less concern. It’s very easy with social media nowadays to whip things into a frenzy.
There is a lot of work to be done between the two parties and now is the right time to do it because it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. In another month’s time it will all be forgotten and everything will go back to normal. You have to invest in infrastructure and you have to invest in your business, because if Black Friday happens every year, like Christmas, then you’ve got to be able to handle it. Our systems performed incredibly well at that time. We were able to handle the volume and peaked at over a million labels in one day. As far is I’m aware we didn’t cause the carriers or the retailers any issues in terms of not being able to get the parcels out.
What do you see as the most important technological advance for posts and carriers at present?
Track-and-trace technology is critical. We take in track and event feeds from all the carriers and present that data back to retailers in a uniform view. So if a retailer is using five carriers, rather than getting five feeds of information all saying something different, we normalize it and feed it back to the retailer’s customer service team, who see one view regardless of which carrier was taking part. Of course, one of the key requirements that goes in tandem with track and trace technology is the capture of cell phone numbers and email addresses. This is because one track event will trigger another action, such as an SMS message to your consumer to say that the order has been dispatched. This is particularly important now because of the range of in-flight options. It’s all about the data and the management of that data.
How do you view the future of automated parcel lockers?
Our remit is to offer the consumer as many delivery options as possible and in that sense, parcel shops and parcel lockers will be very important. Seventy percent of people took a day off last year to receive a parcel. Five years ago that might have been acceptable but not today. Some of these would have been large parcels or two-man deliveries, but once people get switched on to parcel lockers then it will stick. I think people will begin to find what works for them. The issue could be that if a retailer doesn’t offer a particular delivery option that a consumer is used, then they might not shop with that store. That’s why our relationship with the carriers makes sure that they have these new delivery services, because sooner or later consumers are going to want them and retailers are going to have to provide them. If we’ve already got them bedded down into our system then it’s easier for a retailer to switch it on, and that’s part of what it’s about – convenience for the consumer in terms of the delivery and trying to make it easy for the retailer. This time next year there will be seven or eight network providers and something like 26,000 locations that people will be able to tap in to. That should make it pretty convenient for most people.
In what locations do parcel lockers have the most impact?
The biggest uptake is the convenience store because they’ve been in operation there for five or six years and have approximately 6,000 locations, but consumers will find their own needs. If you look at Doddle, its plan is to have 300 strategically placed lockers at train stations. That’s very convenient for an awful lot of people but not for others, so people will find what works best for them. Essentially commuter routes or places of business are ideal. If we can home in on these areas then that’s how we’ll really crack the market.
What does the future hold for MetaPack?
We are currently looking at what information we can provide to carriers that can be used as an early warning system. This could be the number of labels being printed for a particular retailer, which can then be fed back to the carrier. We can let them know if a particular retailer has earmarked 3,000 parcels for collection later that day. Even if it’s just a few hours notice, it at least gives the carriers a chance to prepare rather than just opening the back of a trailer and collapsing from shock!
In terms of growth, our key areas are going to be in Europe, although we’re also looking at cross-border trade from the USA into Europe and from Asia into Europe. Cross-border trade is big for MetaPack at the moment. We will also continue to grow in the UK.
What are the biggest challenges facing the market?
The biggest challenges are how we handle increasing parcel volumes. The closure of City Link could cause a potential capacity issue come the peak season, but it’s about staying on top of parcel volumes and as a provider we need to keep ahead of the curve.
As a multicarrier platform, MetaPack allows retailers to use the carriers best suited to a particular job, be that two-man or next-day deliveries. The benefit is that the retailer spreads its business across multiple carriers. It’s not totally dependent on one carrier, so if something happens to that carrier then the impact is mitigated. That’s why a lot of carriers and retailers use us. Having said that, we need to make sure we have the right number of carriers on board to deal with the retailer’s demands.
Interview by Daniel Symonds
February 5, 2015