In addition, expected despatch times were decreasing: pre-2008, a five day order-to-despatch pattern was acceptable, but today's customers expect their parcels to be delivered within a few hours of being ordered online.
All of this made it essential that cost effective solutions be offered to retailers of all sizes, or they just would not be able to handle the volumes and speeds required for despatch. Carriers realised that web-based solutions were the answer, but these needed to be able to handle millions of parcels each month, had to be secure and reliable, and so would be complex to produce and costly to maintain. The market then began to accept that SaaS solutions were a real option.
TRP: How did technology help to boost growth of the online shopping industry?
BC: The increasing availability of high-speed broadband and improved web tools have had a significant impact on online shopping over the past five years. Consumers want to complete the online purchasing process with as few clicks and delays as possible.
The recession was also a significant factor, with shoppers utilising price comparison across multiple websites and looking for effective returns processing.
More recently, the ability to seamlessly integrate with online order processing and warehousing systems using real-time web services enables retailers to handle much higher volumes, despatch goods within a few hours, and deliver them to the consumer's choice of location or collection point.
TRP: Was there a particular innovation that had a greater impact than you expected?
BC: Yes, the development of our International solution. In 2008, we expanded our portfolio of services to include all the global rules required for cross-border shipping. This option illustrates all the advantages of SaaS, as we have created a knowledge-based system that 'knows' the rules for each country – the address format, the type of label required, the customs documentation, the currency and the customs rules.
TRP: What are the drawbacks of using a SaaS solution?
BC: The use of SaaS is not very different from any other type of outsourcing. Some organisations would consider an outsourced solution to be a risk – in terms of both business continuity and meeting service levels. This shouldn't be a problem if there is a very high element of trust between solution provider and customer, and if the relationship with the customer is that of a business partner rather than a supplier.
The counter to this is that proven service levels and industry expertise developed over 15 years, as well as the methods for delivery of reliable, secure and scalable software 24x7x365, are hard to replicate within an individual organisation.
TRP: The industry has seen some structural changes. How have these changes been led by developments in technology?
BC: The change from B2B to B2C has meant that deliveries of individual parcels have increased exponentially, together with the numbers of parcels returned. Order to despatch times have reduced from five days to just a few hours. The ability to seamlessly integrate retailers' sales order processing and warehouse systems with their postal or parcel carrier has eliminated manual data entry, multiple carriers' labelling systems and data duplication, and minimised the risk of human error.
In terms of the delivery market, this helps improve order fulfilment and first time delivery rates, which is essential as failed deliveries cost the industry over $1.4bn (around £840 million, AU$1.5bn) each year. Technological developments will continue in the industry as consumer preference moves towards convenient/alternative delivery options, and carriers and retailers work to keep up with consumer-led expectations.
TRP: What does the future hold for the sector?
BC: These are exciting times for post and parcel carriers. The latest Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) figures indicate that, in the UK alone, 940 million parcels will be despatched this year, an increase of 19% over the previous year. The question is: who will deliver them?
As well as the existing carriers – both postal and parcel – now in heavy competition with each other to own both domestic and cross-border delivery, we can see new players in the market. This is particularly true of the fast growing Click and Collect sector: those who would own their supply chain, such as Amazon and Google; and Asian newcomers, AliBaba and Rakuten; in-store Click and Collect, such as Tesco and Argos; and locker boxes from Inpost and Nightline's Parcel Motel.
Over the past 15 years, we have accumulated a wealth of data on parcel deliveries, and we plan to launch a SaaS-based analytics service for carriers and retailers that will evaluate things like consumer patterns to help them recognise potential business opportunities and formulate future strategies.
About Becky Clark
Becky is the CEO of NetDespatch which she co-founded in 1999 with the vision of delivering integration software for postal and parcel delivery companies from a web-based platform. NetDespatch is now the fastest growing global player in the delivery of innovative web services-based solutions to major postal and parcel carriers and their customers.
Are you a pro? Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up to the TechRadar Pro newsletter to get all the top news, opinion, features and guidance your business needs to succeed!
Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.