Five reasons why unattended delivery is not just an e-commerce unicorn

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Even before the Covid pandemic took hold, about 57% of all purchases were made online and about 52% of those to customers who prefer unattended delivery – a delivery not made to someone’s doorstep but rather to a parcel locker or a conveniently located shop.

Although it is not a new concept, unattended delivery really took off during the pandemic, largely due to the need for social distancing. And, alongside the staggering growth of e-commerce, it’s clear that the trend is here to stay. So, with this delivery option now becoming one of the most popular, it’s worth having a look at five reasons why it’s become more than a buzzword in e-commerce, and how logistics experts like DHL are supporting customer convenience through unattended delivery.

Location and accessibility are key

When they’re buying online, customers expect high standards when it comes to the delivery experience: they want their goods delivered on time, and often with a bit of speed. They also expect reliability, the most obvious benefit of unattended delivery being that they can choose a pick-up location nearby that suits them and ensure that their parcel isn’t delayed if they aren’t at home.

When it comes to pick-up options, customers can choose a parcel locker or a service point (also known as a parcel shop). Most parcel lockers are found in public transport hubs, city centers or popular places like grocery store parking lots. In comparison, service points are located at retail locations such as gas stations or newsstands.

The main advantage that these locations offer is that they’re usually on the way to a supermarket, the recipient’s office or work, or the gym, making collection an easy errand to run. These locations are also not just pick-up but also drop-off points for parcels, making it considerably simpler for customers to make any returns, saving them time and a detour to a more traditional post office.

Creating a more sustainable, greener last mile

Unattended delivery has several sustainability benefits. First, by delivering parcels in bulk, you minimize door-to-door deliveries, reducing the distance driven by couriers. Logistics companies are multiplying these benefits by using greener transportation – electric and biofuel vehicles for example – making last-mile delivery very close to carbon neutral.

When you switch to the recipient view, by placing lockers and service points along everyday touchpoints like grocery stores and workplaces, you minimize extra trips by customers to collect their parcels. It’s estimated that unattended delivery can reduce CO2 emissions by 30%, with some providers calculating this at up to 90%, depending on the vehicles and modes used.

Customers can also play their part by pre-selecting a locker or service point during the virtual check-out process. Many are not only doing so but are also willing to pay for it – a recent internal DHL survey showed that almost half of recipients are willing to pay more for a ‘green’ delivery.

More than this, properly located parcel lockers and service points can reduce traffic and congestion, with fewer vehicles needed to make door-to-door stops, particularly in urban areas. That’s why location planning for lockers and pick-up points is so important, making sure providers find the most efficient, well-positioned locations.

Convenience, competition and the race for space

In most cases, logistics companies have their own parcel lockers – an example being DHL, where we have over 10, 000 of them (called Packstations) in Germany alone. Other online players, like Amazon and Alibaba, have also established their own locker networks to provide more convenient and sustainable options for their customers.

But lockers are not just important for logistics operators; in many European countries we’ve seen several startups enter the market, usually with an agnostic approach allowing multiple retailers and delivery companies to use them for that all-important last mile. The next few months and years will be very interesting, as most players in the market will need to consider their go-to-market strategy and securing the right locker locations will become even more competitive.

Service points and parcel shops are also changing, as they offer many more services than they did before. Gas stations and grocery stores have increasingly taken on the role of not just parcel pick-up points but also hubs for consumer returns for DHL and other market players. Convenience is crucial, and this portfolio diversification for traditional stores means consumers use them as they would use traditional post offices in days gone by.

Digital and connected

Digitalization affects all areas of life today, and logistics is no different. With the boom in online trading has come the expectation for a seamless, digital delivery experience, and unattended delivery is a key part of that.

From choosing an unattended delivery point at the checkout, to the mobile, email or app notifications when the parcel has been delivered to their locker of choice, consumers can now manage the entire delivery process through digital channels. Expectations are sky high and remain so all the way to the locker itself. There, armed with their QR or pick-up code, recipients expect a perfect user experience; even more so if using a locker or parcel shop to return their goods.

In a digitally connected, always-on world, consumers and recipients also expect a 24/7 service and that’s where parcel lockers are the perfect fit. These are accessible day and night, so customers are not dependent on regular opening hours – ideal for working people who can’t access a parcel shop or pick-up point that closes at 5 or 6pm.

Diverse preferences – but a clear opportunity for new business

In general, unattended delivery creates new business opportunities and markets for all areas of e-commerce, including a convenient, reliable and seamless experience for consumers.

But key to success is understanding the differences in the consumption and delivery behavior of these consumers, particularly in Europe. While some countries’ shoppers still prefer doorstep delivery, others – like the ‘locker land’ of Poland – are clearly becoming dependent on alternative last-mile solutions such as unattended delivery.

For example, about 54% of Polish consumers prefer to use a parcel locker, with 40% preferring delivery to the home and only 6% interested in visiting a service point to collect their parcels. Considering that the Polish market already has around 28 million online shoppers2  who order their clothing, home electronics and cosmetics over the internet, it’s clear that parcel lockers are big business in Poland. And, since Poland is also an important hub for cross-border e-commerce, which extends to neighboring countries, it’s clear that any providers and e-tailers wanting to make inroads in that market need to seriously consider their unattended delivery strategy and offering.

Regardless of the country in question, there’s no doubt that unattended delivery is not just a pandemic-related trend but part of the new normal when it comes to a smooth, reliable and convenient delivery experience for consumers. With online shopping continuing to grow, there are undoubtedly many opportunities in the area but also many factors to consider when trying to get it right.

The crux is that unattended delivery is not a trend but a delivery mode that’s here to stay. Those who get it right and understand the nuances and needs of consumers are the ones who will continue to build lasting bonds with their customers, even if they might not hand over that parcel in person.

  1. E-commerce in the European Union – statistics & facts | Statista
  2. W ciągu 5 lat rynek e-commerce w Polsce osiągnie wartość 162 mld zł (
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About Author

Henning has been vice president of customer experience since 2018. He is responsible for optimizing the customer experience at DHL eCommerce Solutions worldwide, with a wide range of activities ranging from customer service touchpoints (digital and physical as well as customer service) to measuring and tracking customer feedback (NPS). Henning started his career at Deutsche Post DHL Group 19 years ago, initially working for Post + Parcel Germany. He was responsible for the German Packstation network, focusing on solution development (hardware and software), network planning, expansion and strategic partnership management. He is a highly experienced manager with almost 20 years in the CEP industry, with a strong focus on digitalization and customer experience.

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