Delivery

Secure delivery lockers are huge all over the world. Why not in the US?

In the states, they’re more often used as an in-store pickup solution.
article cover

Quadient

· 8 min read

With online shopping skyrocketing during the pandemic, retailers are increasingly dependent on deliveries going smoothly to keep customers loyal, and yet so much can go haywire—especially on that obsessed-over last mile.

  • 210 million packages were stolen in 2021 in the US, according to a survey by Safewise, a home-security firm.
  • About a quarter of e-commerce businesses admit that they fail to deliver more than one out of 10 packages on the first try, costing retailers an average of $197,730 per year, according to Loqate, a location intelligence firm.

The good news? To address all of the above, there are hundreds of thousands of conveniently located secure lockers where retailers can use a carrier of their choice to deliver packages. Plus, customers can pick them up at their convenience—and often even send returns back from the same locker. The lockers, naturally, are high-tech: Both shoppers and carriers unlock them with QR codes or apps. Virtually no package theft or missed deliveries.

The bad news? These lockers are easily accessible all over Europe and Asia…but they’re not in the US.

To be clear, the US has plenty of them, some made by the same companies whose lockers are all over the rest of the world. But in the US they are not—in industry parlance—“agnostic.” In other words, the lockers aren’t open-network, meaning either multiple carriers won’t agree to deliver to them, or they’re not accessible to everyone, or, like Amazon Locker, they’re retailer-exclusive.

But if that ship-to-a-secure-locker system works so well for a company like Amazon, why can’t it be universalized in the US as it has been in so many other countries? Why can’t we have nice things?

Not here, but there

In Japan, they have a lot of nice things: 6,200 locker stations from one company alone, Quadient.

“At this point, there’s a locker within five minutes of most residents” in Tokyo, Gerry Casey, EVP of sales and operations at Parcel Pending by Quadient, told Retail Brew. “If you want a package delivered to [a box] on your walk to work, or the train station or the gym, you just request that via the app and it will be delivered wherever you want.”

  • Multiple carriers deliver to the lockers, which also accept returns.

But in the United States? The closest Quadient has stateside to its system in Tokyo are in 5,600+ residential communities and apartment buildings. And while multiple carriers agree to deliver to the lockers, they aren’t accessible to non-residents, meaning that for retailers, they serve only a sliver of their customers in those cities and towns.

Casey said that for Quadient to set up a truly agnostic network in the US would be…complicated.

“The carrier network in Europe and Asia is a little bit different,” Casey told us, characterizing things in the US as “a little bit of a duopoly…between FedEx and UPS. And so I think you can make an argument that maybe they haven’t been willing to utilize an agnostic, open-network locker system because they want to have their own unique scenario that doesn’t exist as much in Europe and Asia, because…there’s more carriers.”

  • FedEx and UPS combined accounted for 40% of deliveries in 2020, while rapidly growing Amazon Logistics accounted for 21% and USPS for 38%.

UPS did not respond to a request for information from Retail Brew about secure lockers, while FedEx spokesperson, Rae Lyn Rushing, emailed a statement that made no mention of them. “We encourage consumers to use the extensive FedEx retail convenience network, which totals more than 60,000 locations,” including “well-known retailers such as Walgreens, Dollar General, Office Depot, and Albertsons,” it read.

Postmarked

Meanwhile, in Denmark: There’s Swipbox, which operates an open-network of parcel delivery lockers essentially funded by the country’s postal service, PostNord (since they actually buy the lockers).

“With the national post of a country, they have kind of a national interest,” Allan Kaczmarek, the founder of Swipbox, told us. “So…they were kind of saying we wanted to have an open network. So they share this network with others.”

Even though carriers haven’t adopted such a system in the US, Kaczmarek said they are the system’s biggest cheerleaders elsewhere—something Swipbox has come to learn being in 47 countries with a network of ~190,000 lockers.

Stay up to date on the retail industry

All the news and insights retail pros need to know, all in one newsletter. Join over 180,000 retail professionals by subscribing today.

The reason, he said, is the system allows workers to deliver packages “asynchronously”—they don’t have to be in sync with someone answering the door, then having to leave a delivery notice, and returning later. It’s not hard to see how much more efficient it would be if, say, a delivery person dropped 10 packages to a bank of lockers rather than ringing 10 doorbells and hoping for the best.

Carriers “need to get rid of the parcels as fast as they can, as many as they can,” Kaczmarek said.

In Denmark alone, with a population of only 5.8 million, Swipbox is on pace to have 10,000 locker stations installed within two years. At that point, Kaczmarek said a box will be on average about 300 meters from a Dane’s home.

  • Oh, and the lockers in the country are free for consumers—unless a retailer is charging for shipping. In that case, retailers often charge more to ship to a residence than a locker, according to Swipbox.

Thinking outside of the box

Sweden-based Instabox, on the other hand, sidesteps carriers altogether for its secure lockers. Its model is to partner directly with retailers (more than 100 in Sweden, including Ikea), who all pay Instabox for the service. The company has its own fleet of vehicles that both deliver packages to lockers from, say, Ikea, and also collect returns from those same lockers to bring back to the store.

  • Instabox grew from fewer than 1,800 locker compartments in 2016 to ~280,000 in 2021. In that time, it also expanded from Sweden into Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands, with plans to enter Germany this year.

Victor Melander, Instabox’s global manager of PR and communication, told Retail Brew that it works to place lockers in users’ existing orbit.

“Collecting your parcel should be a part of your everyday life, right?” Melander said. “We have a lot of lockers in grocery stores, in kiosks, in gym chains…The ambition is to be to be where people are going anyway, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be close to home—it might as well be close to your work or on the way in between your work in your home.”

  • An International Post Corporation global survey in 2021 found that 39% of respondents had used parcel delivery lockers, not far behind how many had used their country’s post office (51%).

Take us home

As they are with Instabox, retailers are fueling the use of parcel lockers in the US—but not for shipping, and not collectively. Here, the lockers play a critical role: as an in-store pickup solution.

  • Lowe’s, for instance, partnered with Quadient and installed lockers in all its US stores in 2021, touting it as a contactless-pickup solution and overall BOPIS win.

But a Forrester report from December, suggested the lockers offer many benefits for retailers, including being truly contactless, labor-saving when it comes to curbside pickup, and streamlining returns.

  • Price? A tower of pickup lockers costs an average of $20,000 annually per store location, Forrester estimates.

Some store pickup lockers offer outdoor lockers for use anytime, like a pilot program by Best Buy using lockers from Luxer One. The lockers are flush with the front of the building, and the compartments have back doors, enabling employees who are inside to load purchases or unload returns.

  • Refrigerated pickup lockers for grocery stores have also been introduced by grocers including Albertson’s and Stop & Shop.
  • 46% of consumers want more stores to offer pickup lockers, and 31% are likely to “continue in-store pickup regularly after Covid-19” (which’ll be when exactly?), according to Forrester.

Whether all those lockers and their evolving technology ever get deployed for an open-network shipping-and-return solution in the US, though, is an open question.

Melander, from Instabox in Sweden, pondered the question with a bit of competitive national pride that sounds just about right with the Winter Olympics coming up.

“In Sweden, I think we're pretty far ahead in terms of e-commerce solutions,” he said. “The Swedish people are quite positive when trying new things.”

Stay up to date on the retail industry

All the news and insights retail pros need to know, all in one newsletter. Join over 180,000 retail professionals by subscribing today.