Transportation and logistics provider XPO Logistics Inc. said today it will launch a voice-operated application allowing consumers to track orders through XPO's last-mile delivery network by speaking to household electronics such as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
The service, to be launched next month, will enable consumers to use their intelligent personal assistant platforms—also known as "smart speakers"—to get updates on order status, location, and estimated delivery times, Mario Harik, Greenwich, Conn.-based XPO's chief information officer, told the Home Delivery World 2018 conference in Atlanta today. The offering is a form of "supply chain consumerization" that allows XPO to help its shipper customers build shoppers' loyalty to their e-commerce and retail brand names, Harik said in a separate statement.
The product is XPO's latest investment in building up its last-mile network following the company's 2017 announcement that it would expand to 85 U.S. last-mile hubs and expected to be positioned within approximately 90 percent of the population by the end of 2018.
The voice-operated service will provide visibility from point of sale through fulfillment and home delivery, and even allow consumers to choose their preferred delivery window by telling the speaker what time of day fits best with their schedule, according to XPO.
In an online demonstration video, a user tells his smart speaker to "launch XPO," and then to "track my order," and in response the speaker lists a specific vendor, order number, and planned delivery date, then offers a choice of delivery times. The user chooses a delivery window between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the speaker confirms that choice, and the user then uses a smartphone app to track the delivery truck as it approaches his house.
XPO's product is the latest example of the logistics industry adopting artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools to meet rising consumer demand for access to, and control over, their personal experience of the supply chain.
In 2017, supply chain technology vendor HighJump Software Inc. demonstrated an integration of its warehouse management system (WMS) software with an Alexa smart speaker, and logistics service provider Airspace Technologies said it had integrated its time-critical parcel delivery network with the same device. Also last year, UPS Inc. said it had integrated its "chatbot" tool with its "MyChoice" package-tracking service, allowing customers to converse with an AI-based platform either through typed messages—using Facebook Messenger—or through voice commands using the Alexa service.
The rise in popularity of voice-operated tools in the supply chain has been driven by the swift growth of big data and the expansion of computing power in modern chips, according to Brian Subirana, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) Auto-ID Laboratory.
Companies that add voice interfaces to their supply chain functions will enable a form of "conversational commerce" that can help them create short-term improvements in tasks ranging from route optimization to track and trace, language translation, accident reports, and emergency management, Subirana said Tuesday in remarks at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics' (CTL) Crossroads 2018 conference.
However, the long-term impact of adding voice controls to supply chain operations could be far greater, Subirana said. As consumers increasingly gain the ability to order items by calling out demands to smart speakers, they will accelerate the rise of the "streaming supply chain," where the traditional flow of pallets and boxes is replaced by a world where retail stores and warehouses are restocked by a constant flow of each-pick orders.
In a separate announcement, XPO said it added approximately 5,000 jobs in an expansion of its North American supply chain network. The growth is driven by XPO's gaining of 40 new logistics customers in the first quarter of 2018, and by the start of the peak food and beverage season, the firm said.
The new jobs include material handlers, outbound shipping clerks, and positions in sales, solutions, and operations. The company employs some 95,000 people globally.