Monday, October 24, 2011

E-commerce Changing the Design of Cities

Australia Post is reported to be investigating new services for the delivery of parcels. As the volume of paper letters diminishes, due to the Internet, the number of parcels is increasing, because of e-commerce. Australia Post is looking to keep its post offices open longer hours and provide an after hours collections service. The customer would be sent a code to open a locker to collect their parcel. This could change the look of cities.

Current PO Box System for Packages

A 24 hour parcel collection service already operates at some Australia Post outlets, such the Belconnen Mall post boxes in Canberra. Some years ago the Post Office was moved from the outside of the building to inside the shopping centre, to provide easier access for retail customers. But, after consultation with the customers, the post boxes were retained outside, along with a parcel collection desk.

The parcel collection facility is only staffed for a few hours in the morning, on week days. But the facility is accessible 24 hours a day, by the post box key each customer is issued with. To collect a parcel, the customer first opens the street door with their key, then opens their own PO box with the same key. If a package is too large to fit in the rented box, it is placed in a bigger locked box (there is a back of boxes in two sizes at Belconnen). The key to that box is placed in the customer's PO box (they then place the key in a slot after retrieved their package). This system sounds complex, but works well and is very convenient.

New System Would Use Codes

With the new system, the PO box keys would be replaced with PIN codes. The customer would unlock the box with their package in it using the code.

Implications for Transport and Land Use Planning

While parcel delivery might seem unimportant, it could have major implications for transport and land use planning. If on-line ordering becomes the predominate form of retailing, then much less space will be needed for retail stores. However, much more space will be needed for storing items awaiting delivery.

Also there will be a need for changes to the current delivery system. There could be savings in customer trips to shops, but more small mixed loads to be transported between distribution centers and delivery points. An unplanned expansion in the new system could see trucks having to make deliveries to several different collection centres with parcels for the same customer. That customer would then have to make several trips to collect their parcels. As well as being inconvenient to the customer, there would be extra costs and pollution from the transport needed. A planned system would see collection points integrated with the distribution system and conveniently located for customers.

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