As online and offline commerce are getting closer to each other and customers schedules are getting more and more crowded, pick up lockers seem to become more useful and popular.
They are versatile, easy to use and something customers need from omnichannel retailers. So let’s dig in and see how they work and who should use them.
What is a Pick Up Locker?
First off – what is a pick up locker? Simply put it is an area of lockers where retailers can drop off merchandise and customers can pick it up. Amazon has been a pioneer in this field, with Amazon Lockers opening up the gates to a new type of fulfillment.
The pick up lockers work by assigning a specific location to packages and sending pick up codes to customers. The customers can than go to their designated pick up location, enter the security code and grab their packages.
After Amazon has built their first experimental pick up lockers, others soon followed.
Some of those that developed their own systems of pick up (and ship) lockers are 3PL companies. For example FedEx and UPS have developed quite advanced pick up and drop off locations. UPS has named theirs “Access Points” and they’re building a network able to sustain growing demand.
Both are growing really fast and soon others will follow suit. Even startups have ventured in this area with some highlights being Swapbox, an Y Combinator startup and Bufferbox, a company that was recently acquired by Google.
So yes, they are popular but how do they work, especially from a retailer point of view?
How could large retailers implement pick up locker systems?
Apart from the internal fulfillment challenges, retailers need to focus on some key aspects regarding the development and implementation of such pick up locker systems:
For obvious reasons there needs to be a secure access to shipped goods. To do so each drop off will have to issue a security code that can be decrypted and accessed with the private code the customer will receive.
The systems will also have to have fall-back security systems such as video surveillance and locking systems in case of hacking attempts (there will be some).
Security code should work online but also have a fall-back local solution that can work in case internet connection is off.
The pick-up locker system works with other fulfillment operations and will have to input status data directly into TMS (transport management systems) so shipping personnel could be directed to the correct pick up locker area and the specific pick up locker.
As packages differ in size, specific information regarding the type of lockers that are available should be available in real time so packages are stored correctly.
So far most pick up lockers use alphanumeric codes to help users get accustomed to picking up their packages without any hassle. But these codes pose threats in terms of security. While these codes can always be an option and can be easily sent to any device, with smartphones and smartphone apps on the rise, some other solutions may work even better.
One such option would be QR codes embedded in the retailer’s mobile application. The codes can be generated on the fly based on a secured algorithm that neither exposes the code and can also work within the application the customer already uses, thus improving loyalty.
With so many developing their own pick-up locker systems, a connectivity protocol should become the norm. With such a protocol FedEx could ship to either Amazon, Walmart or even UPS lockers for example, improving cross-retailer experience and creating economies of scale.
That being said, the development of pick-up locker systems is obviously a bit more complex than these few paragraphs but I wanted to give you a starting point and explore some of the challenges.
We are at the peak of our civilization in terms of economic development, social cooperation and global communication. Though conflicts still arise and will probably exist for the foreseeable future, we are witnessing a historic moment: for good and for bad we are on top of our game.
This change has been made possible by a lot of factors including recent destructive conflicts and potential conflicts (nuclear destruction), improvements in communication technology, improvements in transportation and more.
But if we were to point out a specific factor in the emergence of this globalized society, that must be the fast evolution of organizational management tools and techniques.
Whether we are talking about multinational corporations, governmental or military organizations, they have all evolved due to technological and know-how management advancements.
Companies can now grow bigger than ever and governments extend their influence farther. Military organizations are now stronger and can perform better than ever in terms of logistics and operational management. According to prof. J. Bradford DeLong from UC Berkley, the estimated GWP (Gross World Product) is at its highest and growing the fastest:
So basically we are working better, faster, more productive and yet it seems the world stumbles from one financial crisis to another. Many theories have been put forward regarding as why this happens. These theories range from pure economic theory to sociology, psychology, geopolitics and more. Don’t be fooled – we don’t for sure know why this happens. It’s a paradox that we are more productive, fare better in terms of conflicts and have a more connected world and still we deal with inequity and financial strains in the form of huge debt.
But there is hope. Whenever humankind dealt with seemingly insurmountably issues, we appealed to metaphors to change our perspective. The metaphor I’m proposing today is the computer hardware – software ensemble as a way of thinking of human organizations.
How do organizations work now?
In this metaphor we have the human nature and human nature as the hardware and management acting as the software. With a combination of these two we were able to reach our present position.
Most of management theory and lingo are adapted from military procedures. As the military has been the single most enduring form of human organization throughout history (seconded only by religious organizations), it seemed logical to approach civil management in a similar way. The largest companies known are organized and behave just like armies. Top down command with intel going upstream and orders going downstream. The multinational companies “conquer” markets, “target” customers and “secure” market share.
As companies need effectiveness to stay profitable, strategy is designed by a small group of people (the board of directors) and implemented top-down by an executive staff. To do so – the executive staff uses company process design and procedures that are followed by those lower on the hierarchy.
This same principle was also used in the beginnings of computer programming. Programs were fed into computers to compute differential equations for things such as the trajectory of a shell, a blast radius or weather predictions. These programs were fed into a general purpose machinery (the computer) and based on these instructions computations would be made.
But as the computer industry grew, so did the computers’ capacity to run programs. With the digital revolution computers became more than simplistic machinery built to output specific data. Programs could be now written to answer mathematical questions but also to output imagery, sounds, allow users to play games and more.
To make this possible, a new paradigm in computer programming changed the way programs were written. Instead of the previous functional (procedural) programming, the concept of building a program started working with the concept of “objects”.
Technically, objects are a collection of data and functions. Conceptually they are the bridge between machine processing and human conceptual thinking. We are able to tell a fork from a spoon and still see the resemblance between those because we think in terms of “objects”. Previously programs were working mostly on concepts of functions. Simply put: If this, than that.
That made writing complex programs extremely hard. It also made maintenance even harder. Without becoming too technical, OOP (object oriented programming) allowed for even more complex programs to appear and made it easier for software teams to build, update and maintain these programs.
The difference, if you will, for those programs is the difference between the old DOS versions and today’s Windows OS or Apple’s iOS. It’s worlds apart and today we are in a DOS world trying to build video games.
The need for Object Oriented Organizations
Though it may seem strange to use software development lingo when it comes to managing organizations – it makes sense in the metaphor proposed earlier. Human organizations (the hardware) may yield a lot more than they do today. As robotics may soon take over menial jobs, they have to.
The problem does not lie in the hardware (human intellect, creativity and production) but rather in software (the ability to manage this creativity and productivity).
We are not fit to deal with this level of complexity in the way we do today. Think about the basic organizational challenges. They are not production or infrastructure related, but rather human complexity related. Someone from the headquarters of Uber may devise an absolutely brilliant software and business model, but they still have to deal in terms of organizational management with the fact that Paris taxi drivers hate competition. And the fact that the french government will not allow the company to function without the right permits.
To make such a global organization work, there have to be some type of new management technique in place. One that can use the managerial basics but still be able to develop specific procedures to handle cultural differences.
That’s exactly what OOP (object oriented programming) works for. Handling complexity through object manipulation.
So how would such an organization look like?
How to build an Object Oriented Organization?
To help you glimpse into the structure of a potential OOO (Object Oriented Organization) I will use the basic characteristics of a software object and translate those into organizational concepts:
The term (data) encapsulation points to objects being self-contained in terms of both data and functions. The object keeps the data and functions protected from outside (potentially harmful) interventions.
If you’d like to think of objects in terms of organizational objects I’d advise you to look beyond the usual “department” paradigm and rather into specific teams. Think of the product design team at Apple. That is an organizational object, that stores both specific data (things such as product specifications and test results) and functions (builds product demos, designs usable products etc.).
The organizational object could, in theory be self sufficient and usable in any part of the organization or even within external organizations.
The idea of polymorphism may seem complicated but it actually solves a lot of complexity issues. Simply put, it allows for contextual responses.
Take the previous Apple design team for example. If the iPhone development team were to ask it for a design it would probably forward the team the specs they are working on and receive a few sets of product designs. If the iMac team would ask for a new design, they would also forward the iMac specs. They will however, receive another type of design, one fit for their product.
The idea of polymorphism, in the organizational sense is that decisions based on context would happen within the design team object. Both the iPhone and the iMac team, or any other product design team could ask for a product design and receive something that’s fit for that specific product.
But let’s take that a little further: what happens if the marketing team needs a specific page covering the new iPhone. Wouldn’t the product design team be the one best fit to output such a page? Probably so, but some upgrades may be needed and this is where the third object oriented organization principle comes in:
This term shows that one object can be the prototype for another object. In our example we need Apple’s product design team “upgraded”. So far they have been doing product design so they may not be able to output iPhone’s webpage so well.
By building on their expertise, we may assign a new member to the team, a member that is specialized in designing web pages. By working with his or her team peers we will have built a new organizational object on top of the previous one. The marketing team will request a specific design, by forwarding some specifications. At this point all three external teams (iPhone product development, iMac product development and marketing) have basically done the same thing: asked for design-related work, by forwarding specifications to the the design organizational object. The work was done within the object and results were output successfully.
Notice also that there is no absolute need for management. Objects interact with one another thus leaving management in charge of developing these organizational objects and the overall purpose of the company.
Why build object oriented organizations?
The one big reason is complexity management. We have not put a man on the moon using the abacus. We have upgraded our tools to reach further. Object oriented organizations can be a new breed of organizations in different sectors where effectiveness rather than hierarchy is important. These areas can range from business to NGO’s to governmental agencies to banking and more.
Basically each organization that deals in large numbers of either employees or “customers” can benefit from a networked object oriented organization approach.
Why do that? Think about how today’s concept of having a job feels. Most employees report their bosses are awful. But it’s not that simple – it’s not that the boss just wakes up one day and thinks … “hey, I’m going to act terrible to my fellow colleagues”. Today’s managerial concepts and techniques are outdated and provide managers with poor tools.
This results in “less than perfect” working conditions, poor performance, organizational ineffectiveness and overall social tensions. With our current management system the world has grown more productive yet more indebted. Productivity has risen yet poverty stayed the same or increased.
The fact is we need a new type of leadership and chances are this too is a human problem with a software solution.