As they move into same-day delivery of consumer goods, retailers are trying creative approaches to delivering small orders swiftly but without blowing the budget. One of the more unusual tactics is the use of "lifestyle couriers"—prescreened individuals who transport packages in their own cars—to deliver same-day orders to customers' doorsteps.
In the United Kingdom, this model is becoming increasingly common. The Leeds-based delivery company Hermes, for instance, reportedly has some 7,500 lifestyle couriers on call. DHL recently launched a service called MyWays in Sweden that matches "citizen couriers" who want to make a little extra money with e-commerce deliveries. In the U.S., retailers might use a service like TaskRabbit, which lets pre-approved "runners" bid on deliveries. Some retailers use such citizen couriers regularly, while others use them to augment their usual providers during peak demand periods, such as around the holidays.
Using citizen couriers to make deliveries poses some challenges, says Mike Lee, CEO of Airclic, a provider of cloud-based software that helps companies automate their "last mile" operations and manage each step of the transaction with real-time data, dynamic updates, and alerts.
"Without the right technology, it would be very difficult to pull this off cost-effectively," Lee said in an interview. Without automation, for instance, it would be hard to match a time-sensitive shipment with a lifestyle courier—who typically is available just a few hours a week—at the right time and in the right geography. "There has to be a very strong link between your order management system, your inventory management systems, and the courier scheduling and delivery system," Lee said.
With a system like Airclic's, all that's required on the courier's part is a smartphone—there's no need for specialized hardware, according to Lee. When an order comes in, Airclic's software locates the closest available inventory to the consumer. The software pulls that order from inventory and alerts the closest available courier. The couriers use an application on their smartphones to receive alerts and pickup and delivery instructions, and accept the assignments. At pickup, they scan the product and obtain an electronic proof of receipt and time stamp. They then take the order to the specified location and get an electronic signature from the consumer. (There are also provisions for reporting rejected deliveries and other exceptions.)