E-commerce has changed the way we shop, and by extension, the way we live. So perhaps we're a little spoiled when we say that the delivery experience is a real pain point. Deliveries will come home when you're in the office, or show up at the office address over the weekend, or maybe the bell will ring at 10PM and you wonder who it is, only to find out that it's the package you were waiting for all day. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but it is definitely an inconvenience.
It's also not good for e-commerce companies, as pointed out earlier by Amit Sawhney of Delhi-based Smartbox, since failed deliveries mean extra spends to complete the order.
Smart lockers like Amazon Locker in the US, UK, and Europe offer a solution to this problem - the package arrives at a convenient location, and you go down and pick it up whenever it suits you within a few days. You type in an OTP to get access to the locker, which ensures that no one else is going to walk off with your stuff. If you're lucky enough to live in a building with a smart locker, you know just how useful these can be.
We spoke to a few customers who were aware of these services, and in every case, if people knew about the option, they were quite positive. Aman Gupta, who works with a tech company in Manyata Tech Park in Bengaluru told us: "I live alone here [in Bengaluru], and I'm usually not at home. In office, if you get too many parcels, it gets a bit weird, so I just order things to the box, and pick them up on my way to my car."
"I have a young baby and the ringing of the bell for deliveries is something I dread," says Parvathy Nair, who lives in HSR Layout in Bengaluru. "We have a QikPod in the building and I've told my husband that all things he orders must go there. He picks up the parcel on his way in, so it doesn't cause disturbance."
Testimonials aside though, the category is still just catching on. Smartbox, and Bengluru's QikPod, are two of the companies that are working in this space, and both launched in late 2015. The former has 100 locations in Delhi, while the latter has over 300 lockers in Bengaluru. That sounds like a lot, but in reality it means that the lockers are spread far and wide, and the ones inside apartment complexes are typically not accessible even for people living in neighbouring buildings.
That's why most of these lockers end up clustered around tech-parks and office complexes - even if the package arrives on the weekend, you can always pick it up during your lunch break on Monday.
How does it work?
Six months ago, Smartbox said it was close to partnering with e-commerce companies to enable you to select it as a delivery option. Today, that partnership hasn’t been announced yet, and a set of questions to the company asking about progress on its goals was not replied to.
An employee of the company who didn't want to be named did tell us that Flipkart integration is likely to be rolling out from next month, but she could not share details on the company's plans to add new lockers.
QikPod follows a slightly different method for deliveries. Instead of QikPod having to integrate with the e-commerce sites, it manually manages the last stage of deliveries. So you register with QikPod, and choose the location you want to use. After that, you give the QikPod warehouse as your delivery location.
Once the package reaches QikPod, it's delivery men will bring the parcel to your locker, and send an OTP to you; then you can pick up the package anytime within two days.
It's a simple system that allows anyone to use QikPod from any e-commerce site; we've successfully used it with both Amazon and Paytm. In both cases, the experience was smooth and convenient - and as a consumer, you're not paying anything for the service either. QikPod and Smartbox are both looking at monetising by charging a nominal amount from sellers, though this is something that is still very much a work in progress.
Will lockers catch on in India?
Smartbox didn't reply to our mail, but a former employee we spoke to said the concept hasn’t really caught on.
"People live with their families, offices and apartments all have guard rooms where a package can be collected, and people prefer CoD even now," he added, "so it can be hard to get them excited, even though it's a great idea."
Srikanth Gururaj, a director at QikPod, has a slightly different view. "The traffic data is proprietary to our partners so cannot share, but safe to say we are delivering thousands of parcels monthly across our initial Bengaluru footprint, and growing volumes as we onboard more partners," he says.
Flipkart is a top partner, he adds, and the company is going to be increasing density in Bengaluru this year, before expanding to other cities next year. On the roadmap, he adds, are a number of features that customers will find useful, making it even more appealing.
For instance, QikPod wants to add support for digital payments, so that you can pay for a package after it's been delivered. This means that there's no uncertainty for the shopper of spending money ahead of time and wondering when your product will be delivered.
The challenge is getting the right balance of availability of lockers against the cost of deploying them. QikPod’s Gururaj sounds quite confident though, and if Smartbox does go live on Flipkart soon, it will likely help kickstart this category in India.