Robots, drones or delivery to the car trunk: they are all great innovations, but – for now – far too expensive to be profitable. At least, that is the opinion of the top executive of Deutsche Post DHL, who also believes the innovations are "rarely relevant to the consumer".
A long road ahead
The visible results of automation in e-commerce orders will only arrive in five to ten years, says CEO Frank Appel in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel: "The complexity of the last mile is quite high, so& automation will first occur where we have the entire system under control: within our own warehouses. Delivery still has a long road ahead. It is not enough to take a parcel somewhere by robot: the robot has to be able to identify the doorbell, check the name on it and decide what to do if the recipient is not at home."
DHL has been testing robots: they work well, but they are still too expensive. The same is true for smart door locks that enable delivery at home or delivery to a car trunk. "We have been testing that too and technically it works, but it will only become relevant once all new cars on the market can do it as well. We are willing to work with any manufacturer with such plans." Delivery boxes for particular homes are no longer available: "The demand for them was much lower than we had anticipated. Now we will have to come up with something new. But trying things out is the beauty of entrepreneurship. People vote with their wallets and sometimes they tell innovations which are technically feasible that they do not actually need this at all."
On the other hand, the number of pickup locations is increasing - but still they only represent a limited portion of the total volume. It shows that customers are not all dissatisfied with the current service: "You can plan delivery periods or let the neighbours accept parcels. If the front-door service were unsatisfactory, far more people would be using lockers." The CEO believes that deliveries will still be made by human beings in 20 to 30 years, even if it will be done with new technological tools such as exoskeletons to help carry heavy loads. Small and valuable items such as smartphones may also be delivered by drones.