Online retail and automated lockers: What you need to know

8 Mar 2021

Online shopping was growing in popularity even before the pandemic made it harder, or sometimes even impossible, for us to get to the shops in person. But over the last twelve months, demand has been so high that the news has recently been full of stories of widespread cardboard shortages caused, in part, by all those deliveries. 

Even supermarkets have been feeling the pinch with Asda, Lidl and the Co-Op having to use plastic instead of cardboard boxes for their eggs, a move which has led to much criticism on social media.

Two options with online retail

So, let’s start by taking a quick look at how online retail works these days. The two main options for customers with this method of shopping are delivery and Buy Online Pick-up In Store (BOPIS), otherwise known as click and collect.

Delivery gives you the advantage of ultimate convenience, but it is neither cheap nor reliable. 31% of online shoppers expected to miss at least one delivery in 2020 that would require redelivery attempts or depot collection. More worrying, 20% experienced lost or stolen parcels last year.

BOPIS provides the convenience of shopping from the comfort of your own home and then collection, at your convenience. The downside of BOPIS include long queues at some of the more overworked and under-staffed collection points, and only being able to pick up items during the shop’s normal opening hours. Nevertheless, BOPIS is growing in popularity fast. 90% of bricks-and-mortar retailers say they will offer BOPIS eCommerce options by 2021.

New automated lockers

Automated lockers are a relatively recent introduction that help make the BOPIS option even more attractive. They’re usually situated just inside the store and they enable customers to pick up their items without having to join a queue. Better still, the locker section of a store can remain open after the store itself has closed. This gives customers the ultimate convenience of being able to collect their products any time of day or night.

The way they work is simple and easy to manage. For the retailer, the Order Management System (OMS) alerts an in-store employee, responsible for BOPIS, that an order is ready for fulfilment. The employee locates the product and puts it into an empty locker. The employee enters the order in the locker system, which is integrated with the store’s existing systems, and this triggers an email or text message to the customer, letting them know that the order is ready for pick-up.

It’s easy for the customer too. First, they receive an email or text from the retailer informing them that their product is ready for pickup. They then go to the store and head to the lockers. Scanning the bar code from the text or email message, they open the locker door and retrieve their purchases. All this takes as little as 15 seconds and is easier than using an ATM.

Benefits of automated lockers

Whether you look at it from the retailer’s or the shopper’s side, the benefits are significant. The retailer reduces costs by using the store as a distribution point, automating the process and saving on expensive last-mile fulfilment. More cost savings come from the reduced time and touches needed by integrating lockers with existing systems. There’s also increased productivity as you can allow store employees to focus on other activities. To top it all, the lockers enable the retailer to deliver an improved customer service, which is so key to success these days.

Customers have the peace of mind of knowing their packages are safe and secure from the ‘porch pirates’ who occasionally intercept their deliveries. They also save the cost of delivery and the inconvenience of having to stay in and wait for those deliveries to arrive. (Not such a hardship during lockdown, admittedly, but with the vaccination programme rolling out so successfully, it looks like it won’t be long before we’ll all be getting out and about again.) The fact that they never have to queue to pick up their items is another compelling advantage.

Choosing the right locker solution

Automated lockers are the central technology to delivering a contactless BOPIS solution for both retailers and their chosen logistics partners. However, not all locker solutions are the same.

Here are some of the key things you should look for from your automated locker provider to ensure your BOPIS solution meets the ever-increasing expectations of your customers.

If this is an area you have little experience in, and that will apply to most retailers, then it makes sense to choose an established supplier with many years of tried and tested experience. And, as your store will have its own specific requirements, pick a supplier that can offer personalised products and software solutions that can be tailored to your individual needs.

To ensure your solution delivers a customer experience fit for 2021, it will help if you can access consultancy advice before you buy. That way you can tailor a solution that provides everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

Find out more about automated lockers

Meridian Digital Solutions have over 25 years of experience working globally with some of the world’s biggest brands to deliver automated kiosk and locker solutions, both in and out of store. 

We can offer you totally bespoke products and software solutions to meet the needs of your logistics business, along with the consultancy and pre-sales expertise to ensure your solution delivers an amazing customer experience, fit for 2021. If you’d like to know more about automated lockers, please just get in touch and we’ll be delighted to help.

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