“Necessity is the mother of invention.” — Plato
What was true for Plato holds true in modern history as well. Consider these examples of innovations arising from various challenges and needs.
- Like millions of students sent home abruptly from college due to COVID-19, Isaac Newton, too, was sent home on account of the bubonic plague. While on his mother’s farm, Newton was left to educate himself. He approved to be an adept teacher and student rolled into one, as he developed the principles of calculus as well as the theories of gravity and motion during that time. Not bad!
- Computers took root during WWII when the U.S. military needed to accelerate ballistic research. That necessity birthed ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the very first programmable general-purpose electronic digital computer, a.k.a. the “Giant Brain,” paving the way for today’s sophisticated computing technology.
- When Prohibition increased the need for quick getaways by bootleggers, car mechanics got to work figuring out how to modify engines for high performance. Cars emerged from that era far faster than their predecessors, and one Prohibition-era mechanic in Daytona, Florida set up a formal race for these souped-up cars. NASCAR was born!
In a similar vein, the necessities of COVID-19 have ushered in innovations in various sectors, including delivery. Here are five advances in delivery practices and technologies that we believe will outlive the pandemic.
- Better OCR technology. Many mailrooms in America are still using hardware in the form of barcode scanners, but that can lead to a raft of problems and inefficiencies. Even the best scanners on the market are error-prone and temperamental, and there’s always the problem of items that make their way into the mailroom without a bar code (or multiple bar codes from multiple carriers).
With deliveries ramping up due to COVID-19, many mailrooms traded out the clumsy bar code scanner for software solutions based on optical character recognition (OCR). This dramatically increased accuracy and efficiency as processes were enhanced by features like “smart suggestions” (when addresses are only partially legible, the OCR system actually generates suggestions based on relevant data). And unlike the hardware they are replacing, these OCR-based mailroom apps allow for scanning from any location and easy updates of scanning software to keep all parties operating with the latest and greatest technology.
- Contactless delivery. Contactless delivery pulls human interaction out of the equation—no handing over of packages, no signing on the dotted line to ensure receipt. Without a workable vaccine in sight, the contactless delivery options that have risen out of the pandemic could remain critical for months to come. And even beyond COVID-19, there’s no underestimating the deep impression this virus has left on the global psyche. People associate contactless delivery with greater health and hygiene, and they aren’t likely to back off of that.
In addition to health benefits, there are other perks that will give contactless delivery staying power, such as fraud reduction. Delivery management software can ensure delivery with a photo on the doorstep—or a photo of the package being picked up by the recipient. This helps eliminate fraudulent claims of people not receiving packages (which have been rampant in recent months).
- Contactless pickup. This comes into play with multi-family, retail, commercial and university properties. These properties have been drowning in packages with the USPS alone reporting a 70% surge in package volume since the pandemic started. The deluge has left many mailrooms struggling to make room for all the boxes and figure out how to distribute them accurately while minimizing human contact.
As a result, apartment package management systems are streamlining and sanitizing pickup options with apps that notify residents to pick up their packages and scan ID card photos for proof of pickup. (Look ma, no pens!) Delivery lockers have gained traction, too. They negate the need for human interaction and, as a side benefit, improve security as packages stay locked down until they’re retrieved.
- Expansion to more sectors. COVID-19 has greatly enlarged the scope of products that people are having delivered to their homes. Cleaning supply orders were up 235% in an April year-over-year study by Rakuten Intelligence. Food orders have surged, too. A report by Inmar Intelligence showed that roughly 79% of Americans reported ordering groceries online during the pandemic, as opposed to 39% before the COVID-19 outbreak. Business at DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub is also soaring as people get restaurant fare delivered straight to their doorstep.
The infrastructure was in place to order these items before, but a large portion of the population didn’t necessarily think of them as deliver-able. It took a pandemic to get people to start routinely adding these items to their virtual shopping cart.
Trends dictate that once a convenience has been discovered, it’s hard to get people to abandon it. While some people may return to in-person shopping for these products, many will likely opt to continue these “no-hassle” online purchases.
- Better communication. The developments above are, in part, facilitated by applications that allow the shipping service and recipient to talk. You’ll feel nervous about having ice cream delivered to your door if you don’t know when it’s coming or you can’t specify what should be done with it when it arrives (“Leave in cooler on porch,” etc.)
Delivery management software makes it possible for recipients to specify preferences and for delivery services to keep recipients informed all along the way. And when the recipient is a large-scale mailroom, good communication allows employees to budget space wisely for upcoming deliveries.
Our package notification system can send communicate delivery updates through email, SMS or Slack—and even send reminders when a pickup is forgotten.
These delivery advances have been in the works for some time, but COVID-19 took them from being a nice “extra” to a necessity. And along the way, Americans are discovering that they’re not just good during pandemics. With their ability to increase convenience, speed, access, personalization, and security, these innovations have what it takes to improve delivery far into the future.
As people return to work after the COVID-19 outbreak, or continue to work remotely, let us help you use our Digital Mailroom features to ease the transition. They allow users to manage their mail like they’re managing email—simply and touch-free.
Mailroom staff can send notifications with our four new action buttons, allowing mail recipients to 1) forward, 2) hold, 3) discard or 4) snap and email documents and packages. This allows recipients to work productively from anywhere. Contact us to learn more.