The smart locker industry is about to undergo a growth surge due to changes in work and buying patterns from extended pandemic lockdowns, but also because of large investments in intelligent logistics technology for the smart locker industry by companies like Ricoh.
Online retailers as well as courier companies, the Post Office and banks are facing increasingly complex logistical challenges when it comes to containing the costs, improving efficiencies and reducing the carbon footprint of first- and last-mile deliveries.
According to FNB Merchant Services statistics published earlier this year, South Africa’s e-commerce market is projected to hit R400-billion by 2025, a significantly higher number than pre-pandemic projections. The current size of the market is just under R200-billion, up from only R14-billion in 2018, according to World Wide Worx.
The idea behind traditional location-based smart lockers is a simple one: a delivery company collects a parcel and delivers it to a locker location close to the recipient. The recipient receives a notification on a smart device, along with a unique authentication code. They can then collect their parcel from the pre-designated locker in their own time.
Smart lockers were already becoming popular pre-pandemic, with large logistics companies like DSV deploying locker arrays – complete with Ricoh’s Microsoft Azure cloud-based software and logistics technology – in various locations around the world, including South Africa. More than 50% of courier delivery costs come from last-mile driver delivery to individual premises, so courier companies use smart lockers to mitigate these costs and help them achieve carbon emission compliance targets.
Likewise, financial institutions are using smart lockers to offer their customers a more convenient and secure way of collecting bank cards and other sensitive documents. Nedbank, for example, first introduced smart lockers in some of its branches in 2019, delivering more than 92 000 card parcels via its locker service between January and May this year alone.
Smart lockers evolved
While the idea behind smart lockers is a simple one, it’s the complex technology behind them that’s broadening their use case beyond now-established applications.
A locker solution doesn’t work in isolation; it requires a sophisticated backend software infrastructure that can easily tie into logistics, transport management, time management, authentication and other e-business systems seamlessly in order for the companies using it to have full control of their locker deployment.
This is where a solution partner such as Ricoh comes in, providing all the necessary APIs, implementation skills and a global network of service engineers to “blueprint”, manufacture, deploy and manage a sustainable and profitable smart locker solution across a growing number of different verticals. In the coming months, we’re going to see smart locker technology expanding into warehouses, retail outlets, private institutions, residential complexes and recreational facilities like gyms, cinemas and sports grounds.
Day lockers and smart premises
Day lockers are one example of an evolving smart locker solution that will allow companies to offer their hybrid working from home and office-based workforce a convenient way of storing their valuables at the office whenever they need to use it. Ricoh’s workspace solution, Ricoh Spaces, automates locker spaces for visiting executives and other temporary workplace visitors, for securely storing luggage and other personal items while travelling between different locations. Likewise, staff on a hybrid working from home schedule can automatically be assigned a secure locker space just for those times they’re in the workplace.
Warehousing and asset management
In warehouses, companies will use smart lockers to assign handheld scanners and other valuable assets to shift workers, equipping lockers with chargers that ensure scanners and other electronic devices can be charged for the next user, while maintaining a secure register of who used which device when. The roll-out of personal protective equipment and other on-premises assets can also be better managed with a secure and auditable smart locker system, allowing only those personnel that need the equipment to access and use it, and return it when their shift is done.
Retail and other advanced locker solutions
Soon, grocery retailers will use refrigerated lockers to offer their customers a convenient pickup location for perishable goods. Likewise, e-retailers will be able to use smart lockers for reverse logistics, greatly simplifying the process of returning goods under warranty, for repair or for exchange, and offering their customers a more convenient way to return their goods without having to rely on driver pickup schedules and the like.
More to come
Ricoh’s cloud-based technology is the smarts behind smart lockers. It integrates with transportation management, reporting, warehousing, asset management, authentication and other business-critical systems. That’s how it makes the concept so adaptable and practical to many different use cases. Ricoh uses its own locker technology to send and receive maintenance parts for its copier and printer divisions around the world, shrinking delivery times from weeks to days and sometimes even hours.
MarkWide Research expects the smart locker market to grow by 11.42% (compounded annually) between 2022 and 2030. My own view is that these numbers are conservative, based on what I’m seeing locally and abroad today, and the clearly conservative estimates of the accelerating e-commerce boom.
Now is the time to start laying the foundations for deploying the technology that drives smart locker solutions before they become ubiquitous and the window for competitive advantage is shut.
- The author, Herman Meyer, is technical director at Ricoh South Africa
- This promoted content was paid for by the party concerned