Smart Lockers: The Next Breakthrough for Deliveries, the Curbside?

Peachtree Corners, Ga., is partnering with Smartmile, the maker of technology that helps to integrate retailers and delivery services into smart lockers, to streamline parcel deliveries and free up the increasingly crowded curbside.

FedEx workers making curbside deliveries on a busy street in New York City. Shutterstock

Parcel delivery lockers could become regular parts of the e-commerce infrastructure cities will need to plan for and regulate.

To prepare for this future, Peachtree Corners, Ga., is partnering with Smartmile, a technology company focused on integrating deliveries across retailers and couriers providers. Smartmile has developed a technology platform that can work with any parcel delivery company, regardless of how these systems are designed, said Michelle van Weverwijk, head of marketing at Smartmile.

The technology connects with parcel lockers to “integrate all of these different systems and allow all of these players, together, to align and to build new services for customers locally,” said van Weverwijk.

“On the other side we integrate retailers … to realize services that can also run through these parcel lockers, such as automated click-and-collect,” she added.

The idea of shared parcel lockers is an expanding concept in cities, which have seen generous upticks in e-commerce activity, the volume of deliveries and all of the concerns these entail — ranging from crowded delivery zones, double-parking and even stolen packages left at front doors. Lockers offer a quick and secure delivery solution for couriers providers, while also improving efficiencies at the curbside.

“That curbside delivery has not changed,” remarked Brandon Branham, assistant city manager and chief technology officer in Peachtree Corners, referring to the sharp increase deliveries took during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s still a high demand for that.”

The locker system provides a form of “grab-and-go service,” he added.

E-commerce remains a $1 trillion a year industry, said Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, speaking at the recent Urbanism Next Conference in Portland, Ore., adding that investment in last-mile delivery ventures has “has essentially been on fire.”

Peachtree Corners will be working with the North Texas Innovation Alliance on the Smartmile project. Smartmile, which has a strong presence in Europe, has already been leading deployment operations in a number of Dallas suburbs. The project in Peachtree Corners will more finely develop the operation for the U.S. market.

“We want to build this kind of ecosystem internationally, and this way we can use local producers,” said van Weverwijk. “It’s all about being this neutral player.”

Parcel lockers have the ability to significantly improve delivery efficiencies, particularly when thinking about deliveries made to apartment buildings, eliminating the need for couriers to roam hallways in search of the correct apartment.

“We’re talking significant changes in time that a delivery person needs to be in that building,” said Kelly Rula, director of the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington, adding this translates to less time spent at the curb.

Peachtree Corners is home to more than a dozen mixed-use developments that integrate multifamily housing with shops and retai,l making at-the-door delivery not always the best option due to thefts as well as the time delivery operators can save by depositing parcels into a locker-style system.

“Because right now we’ve got a couple of Amazon lockers, but if you order from someone other than Amazon, good luck,” said Branham.

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