The Future of Parcel Delivery

Anybody who truly, truly knows me knows I really dislike the United States Postal Service. Mostly because I wrote the Postmaster General a long letter in high school on steps he could take to make the aging service more meaningful in our lives and potentially profitable. Someday I’ll get over being ignored but I’m not quite ready.

What gives me hope is talks of Amazon debuting a locker delivery service and BufferBox getting Y Combinator support to do similar things. Their basic pitch surrounds the security of packages post delivery. Instead of leaving packages on a stoop in the city or having to track down a package after work hours both these companies see a centralized area of lockers which you can use as a shipping address and go pick up your package on your convenience.

In high school I thought the Post Office should offer mail delivery to seniors or disabled citizens for free and then offer an on demand fee for the rest of people. Otherwise your mail would be scanned and sent as an email so if something important was there you could pick it up. The other component was that everyone got a PO Box, except that you only received mail in your local PO Box on one day a week. The other 4 days of the work week was some other set of family’s to use. That way you could cut down on necessary space for the PO Boxes.

Granted there were many shortcomings of this part of my USPS plan but it sets a framework for more convenient mail distribution. Given new technology a company like BufferBox has an opportunity to do some pretty awesome things in parcel delivery. I don’t know all their future plans but I’ll lay out one strategic plan they could adopt here.

The first bit of technology to embrace is NFC. It’s all but certain to be included in the new iPhone which will lead to rapid adoption. It’s the tap to pay/communicate technology you’ve probably seen in commercials but have yet to use. Users should be given the ability to unlock lockers with a simple tap of their phone.

Second, specific boxes shouldn’t be needed in shipping addresses. Simply specify the bank of lockers you would like to pick up your package from and phones NFC info and when it arrives you will get a message with your locker number. As long as the package is retrieved in a reasonable amount of time just tap the locker with your phone and walk away with the package.

BufferBox should aim to integrate deeply with FedEx, UPS, DHL and yes the USPS. More importantly though, especially in cities, BufferBox should aim to do what Square has done with mobile payments. By that I mean give independent couriers, bike messengers, etc. the ability to use BufferBox stations using NFC technology. Get a package and a locker bank, tap the phone at the locker bank to find an open locker and continue on their way.

Furthermore, if independent couriers sign on, BufferBox could create a dashboard to coordinate pickups and deliveries to the same bank of boxes thereby increasing not only volume but efficiency. Want to consider something really interesting? If you have a package to pick up at a BufferBox and you become a certified independent courier, check to see if you can make deliveries and get paid just for going to get your stuff.

I’ve digressed significantly. Package deliveries are mostly OK for the suburbs and rural areas but cities clearly present more hazard. BufferBox presents a really great alternative and one fantastic, undiscussed benefit is that you don’t have to give out your home address. It’s safer and impossible to spam a BufferBox because you have to have the NFC tag info to open one. As locker banks become more popular why not have a subscription service. It would be far cheaper than UPS because you only get a box number when you have something delivered.

That’s a lot of thoughts rolled into one blog but I think a big takeaway is that BufferBox has the ability to become a protocol and/or platform for parcel delivery. They might be best suited to spin off their physical locker business, and possibly open source it, to increase the availability of shipping locations and focus intensely on the software side. Think about it and if you know anybody at BufferBox or Amazon that wants to hire me, let me know.