Mobile sandwich vans and McDrives

The unexpected strategic acquisition of online retailer by Ahold in May this year appears to have kicked the Dutch retail industry into action. Companies and entrepreneurs finally seem to be taking e-commerce – the only real, clear opportunity for business growth – seriously. Whereas webshops have tended to dominate the e-commerce scene for the past decade, B2B (Business to Business) companies are now showing signs of movement – from B2B to D2C (Direct to Consumer). B2B companies upstream in the supply chain, such as Unilever and Philips, currently have more opportunities than ever before to come into direct contact with – and even to sell to – end users. In addition to being a popular online community, Facebook has become a powerful sales channel.

The biggest challenge facing all these new online sales initiatives is the logistics aspect: e-fulfilment. How can companies get the products they sell into their customers’ hands? During a seminar we’d organised recently, one of the speakers said that, in his street, a single white van delivered parcels to households on behalf of several express courier services. I replied that it would be even better if the van driver just stopped halfway along the street and honked his horn loudly, prompting anyone expecting a parcel to come running out to pick it up. I predict a delivery model similar to that of the mobile sandwich van, parking up in the street at the same time each day to deliver products that have been ordered online.

One of my business contacts recently asked me for my vision on the distribution centre of the future. I responded that I thought it would look like a McDonald’s with loading bays. Inside, orders arriving through various channels would be processed in accordance with strict, intelligent protocols by warehouse staff equipped with headsets and computer monitors. And outside, consumers would be driving through the ‘McDrive’, many of them after work, to collect the goods they’d ordered online. In The Netherlands, Albert Heijn is already trying to develop a national network of pick-up points on industrial estates, but local councils are regarding them – unjustly – as retail operations. Unfortunately, it seems that not yet everyone understands that e-commerce and e-fulfilment are two different things.

Martijn Lofvers

Chief editor