From the rise of the Internet to the development of smartphones, technological innovations have changed the way we live our lives and how our businesses function. The delivery sector is no exception, especially when considering how swiftly it has evolved in the past 10 years.

Not only is it easier than ever to track a package from warehouse to destination, there are also services that can get goods to customers in a matter of hours. This shifting framework is pushing delivery innovation faster and further than ever before – with new customer expectations being set seemingly every day. Just over 10 years ago, same-day delivery looked like a failed business model. Now, the National Retail Federation estimates that about 51% of retailers offer same-day delivery to date and expects that number will only continue to rise.

As much as same-day delivery has changed the game, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Delivery standards are ever-changing with tech – including the internet of things (IoT) – generating ground-breaking practices. It’s important to be aware of what’s coming so you don’t get caught underprepared for the trends that are poised to shift the future of the industry. So, what are the shipping and delivery logistics trends of 2020?

Automation of supply chain processes

One of the more recent trends has been optimization and streamlining of supply chains and logistics. Functionally, this removes the silos between operations (such as shipments, warehousing, procurement and inventory) and allows them to be handled in a centralized process. In the future, these operations could be accelerated even faster with fully automated assembly lines.

Robots on assembly lines

The most common challenge with the shipping industry is ensuring that orders are packed and ready to go on time and correctly. Mistakes happen, but in a competitive market it’s important to stand out with impeccable service. Automated assembly lines can help take the human error out of fulfillment. Robots are already being added to some large e-commerce assembly lines, supported by humans, to increase efficiency and productivity – that means no more missing items in large shipments, more efficient packing, lowered labour costs and a faster overall process.

Other e-commerce companies are also developing automated systems to stay ahead. Ocado, an online grocery store based in Britain, has developed an automated order system that will eventually process 3.5 million items or around 65,000 orders every week. While it’s still in development, the plan is to have automated robots – supervised by humans – assembling orders as well as organizing and maintaining their large inventory to help increase efficiency and their scale of operation.

Self-driving vehicles

Like a faster assembly line, autonomous shipping can speed up the delivery process, reduce error and injury, help lower overall labour costs and get companies ready to handle the increasing demand for faster delivery without putting strenuous pressure on their employees to meet these expectations.

It still sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but this trend is gaining traction. In 2019, a self-driving development company, Nuro, announced a partnership with Domino’s Pizza in Houston to supply the company with autonomous vehicles designed for food delivery. Also in 2019, a China-based company, Neolix, began production on driverless delivery vans for Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co.

Delivery drones

Drones are smaller, faster and capable of quickly travelling far distances, making them an attractive new concept for delivery services. Of course, there are limitations to drone use. For example, the size and weight of items that can be carried, where a drone can land, the maximum distance travelled away from a depot – as well as the legal concerns that arise from flying packages through the airspace.

Delivery drones are quickly becoming a reality – the FAA recently approved commercial drone flights for limited drone delivery in the suburbs of North Carolina. Amazon Prime Air is currently developing a “30-minute or less” delivery service using drones, and expect to scale the service quickly and efficiently.

Underground delivery systems

Increasing traffic congestion in urban areas can make it difficult to meet the demand for faster delivery and while drones are an option to combat this, other companies are looking at taking delivery routes underground.

Instead of struggling to find spaces in the city for fulfillment warehouses, developing depots underground keeps them closer to consumers while bypassing busy downtown traffic. An Israeli company, CommonSense Robotics, built an underground micro-fulfillment centre in Tel Aviv in 2019 aimed at getting online grocery orders to customers in an hour.

Real-time tracking

Anyone who has ever ordered something online has (most likely) given in to the urge to refresh tracking info for the latest status of when their package is going to arrive. As the industry moves forward, tracking information is only going to get more sophisticated, accurate and accessible in the future.

Real-time tracking becoming common among e-commerce companies, with IoT connected devices allowing customers to know exactly when to expect their package. It’s also beneficial to the businesses too – real-time updates help to monitor fuel costs, oversee diagnostics and keep track of delivery drivers’ performance for increased safety.

Increased flexibility in delivery options

The demand for a progressively faster delivery service shows no sign of slowing down. Furthermore, it’s driving the trend for increasingly flexible systems that let users choose additional delivery locations or allows them to pick a precise delivery time – so there’s no need for constant refreshing or calling customer care lines for more visibility into your delivery.

Automated delivery communication

Mobile applications are being developed to create solutions that allow packages to communicate directly with their recipients. For example, mobile tracking technology is being used at IoT integrated checkpoints to communicate to the consumer when they should expect their delivery or if there are any further instructions. For packages containing food items, be on the lookout for this innovative function – messages sent from checkpoints will soon notify you if the contents have passed food safety temperatures.

Although the industry is rapidly changing with innovative delivery options, it’s not necessary to have a stronghold on every trend. Having the knowledge of what’s being developed to improve the way we deliver goods is the first step in preparing for the future of smart shipping. And while we can’t entirely predict the future, having an insight into the latest concepts will help anticipate (and meet) the forecasted delivery expectations.