Digital disruption in the post and parcel industry will see robots and driverless vehicles delivering the mail, augmented reality creating efficiencies in delivery and Artificial Intelligence (AI) making it easier to connect customers to products and services, according to new research from Accenture.

The report, The New Delivery Paradigm, examined delivery and purchasing trends, business practices and analysis of 25 postal organisations and delivery companies conducting business across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

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The research found investments in advanced digital technologies could help generate more than $500 million of value annually for an average post and parcel organisation.

The right digital strategy also could unlock the potential of 22nd Century and last-mile delivery systems and remain relevant in an industry facing not only declining mail volumes but also increased competition for hyper local delivery and a rapidly changing last-mile landscape to fight for growing parcel volumes, Accenture said.

Brody Buhler, who leads Accenture’s global post and parcel practice, said being digital would mean transforming core operations to enable digital transformation and grow profitability and could include AI, smart collectors, digital warehouses, connected vehicles, connected lockers, augmented workforce and robotic process automation.

“In an era when customers are always connected and are becoming accustomed to a digital customer experience, high-performing posts and parcel organisations need to embrace digital more fully unlock the dynamic potential in advanced technologies to drive every aspect of the business.”

According to the report, multiple options exist to become a digital business: digital marketing, sales transformation, chatbots for 24-hour customer service, development of online loyalty programs. Among the new business models that could be developed are on-demand deliveries, drone deliveries, B2C subscriptions, sharing platforms, payment systems and digital identifications.

The report shows that AI and robotics already are enabling post and parcel organisations to make possible new opportunities across fundamental business practices.

The US Postal Service is using AI to create post office collection points that weigh, price and collect mail and parcels and answer questions.

In the Netherlands, robots and guided vehicles are being used to pick up, place and move parcels through the warehouse and help at main sortation facilities. UPS and Amazon are leveraging AI through chatbots to create customer service assistants and increase self-serve and auto-serve options.

And new delivery companies are testing self-driving vehicles, drones and self-driving parcel carriers to augment the delivery process.

Robotics have the potential to transform delivery organizations’ warehouse operations, supporting peak demand and lowering costs. Using robotics to support human effort in repetitive tasks, like pulling packages, can improve productivity and reduce costs.

Robots and guided vehicles accelerate the movement of product through warehouses while reducing a distribution center’s physical foot print. These actions can have a profound effect on revenue and cost savings.

The report also looked at the use of augmented reality, determining that AR and support applications are empowering the workforce in new ways. Pick-by-vision enables employees with real-tune information and guidance to improve productivity, reduce errors and minimise paperwork.

Dynamic route planning information and parcel and customer information with AR overlays creates a more seamless experience for the delivery workforce.

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