Amazon who?, gravity-defying warehouses, and the man who changed the world

By Maia on Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Alibaba walking the talk on grocery

Amazon Go may have been stealing the headlines on the future of grocery, but China’s Alibaba has gone much further.

Their new grocery proposition, Hema, melds the physical and digital in the most seamless way that we’ve seen yet. Everything in Hema has a barcode, which in-store shoppers use to scan (with their personal smartphones) for origin, nutritional information, recipe suggestions, to pay or request delivery later. The store also doubles as a warehouse, with Hema store staff picking and packing alongside customers. Online orders are shipped within 30 minutes, and one store fulfils thousands of orders a day.

Evidence, if needed, that the big Chinese firms are no longer just copying, but leading innovation, as they have with clever vending machines and payments in the past. And perhaps the best example we’ve come across of a seamless in-store/online customer experience, with delivery woven deep into the retail experience.

Gravity defying warehouses are a thing

Grabit Warehouse - The Last Mile Newsletter

Grabit, a robotics startup based out of Menlo Park, is on the verge of bringing anti-gravity to life. In warehouses, at least. They make electroadhesive conveyor belts that can be set up at gravity-defying angles, gripping boxes that would otherwise fall to the floor.

It’s a new technology in robotics – rather than using claw-type mechanics to grip objects, they use electric fields that adhere to any surface. Nike is an early investor and their first customer, but the most interesting application is probably in e-commerce.  With same-day delivery in cities now pretty much a norm, warehouses need to move closer to the consumer – and hence closer to urban locations, where the only way to build is up if you’re building a warehouse. Anti-gravity conveyor belts could be key to making that vision a reality.

Retail-as-a-Service on the rise

Getting a business off the ground could well have become a lot easier. b8ta, the brainchild of some ex-Nest staff, is offering brands a turnkey retail solution covering storefront design and build through to all the software they need to manage it. Think plug-and-play for your own retail store, or Shopify in the real world.

This could change the game for direct-to-consumer brands and pure-play e-commerce retailers. Combined with convenient doorstep delivery using Logistics as a Service providers, they can offer a complete retail ecosystem with little up-front investment and no need to manage a fleet or estate. Potentially a game-changer for new and emerging businesses.

Sainsbury’s trials electric bikes

Electric bikes with a giant basket at the front. That’s the latest answer to the challenge of last mile delivery for supermarket deliveries in cities.

Although the big vans used so far by supermarkets can contain large loads, they often get stuck in traffic, have problems parking, have multiple deliveries to make and have been built around the idea of being loaded from big depots.

These bikes, being trialled in south London by Sainsbury’s, can be loaded from large supermarkets in residential areas which double up as delivery fulfilment centres. They can use cycle lanes and drive right up to a person’s home.

A much better format, in our view, to achieve same-day delivery.

Recommended Reading

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson

Ever wondered how the shipping container became, well, the shipping container? A hint – it involved the Vietnam War and the Mafia out in NYC. It also redefined the global economy as we know it. If you’re interested in anything logistics, or just in a story of how a regular guy turned a simple idea into a revolution, get your hands on a copy of The Box – it’s a page turner, we promise.


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