Amazon exploring public transit delivery

Discussion
Aug 31, 2015

In the latest of its far-flung experiments into delivery, Amazon has applied for a patent for delivering packages on public transit, i.e. buses, subways and trains.

Todd Bishop of GeekWire, which first reported the news, described the system as "essentially an Amazon Locker on wheels, installed inside or attached to the outside of a bus, train or other form of transit."

In its patent application, Amazon notes that customers may choose to have an item delivered while they are riding a public bus, "which the user takes every day travelling from the office to home." Another option is to pick up a package at a bus stop at a set time.

"Also, in regions where carriers for delivering items are rare or prohibitively expensive, a mobile pickup location may be utilized to deliver items, such as to a rural village," Amazon wrote.

The patent also notes that coordinates of a mobile pickup location may be tracked with GPS. The customer could be informed of the location via text message when the ordered item is approaching.

Amazon explains that the option offers more flexibility beyond home/office delivery and standard pickup locations.

Amazon mobile pickup patent

Source: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

"Some customers may not live or work near pickup locations, or may otherwise not want to take the time to travel to one," Amazon wrote. "In addition, some customers may live and work in regions where there are few or no carriers for delivering packages, thus complicating the delivery of items to any destinations near the customer."

The document, labeled "Mobile Pickup Locations," was initially filed in February 2014 and issued and made public by the patent office on Aug. 14.

While providing an option for rural areas with less regular delivery schedules, the system could also work for city dwellers unable to be present to receive a package.

"The strategy makes the whole system aligned with a customer’s day-to-day habits, without having them … deviate from their normal routine," wrote Martin Blanc for Bidness Etc.

The "Mobile Pickup Locations" comes in addition to Amazon’s delivery experimentations with drones, crowdsourcing, bike messengers, as well as Amazon Lockers.

What do you think of opportunity to delivery packages on public transport? How may such a system have to be tweaked to work? Do you see greater needs for such deliveries in urban or rural settings?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This really doesn’t look like an end-run, but rather a strategic move in Amazon’s chess game with Walmart and others. This later effort makes it clear Amazon is moving closer and closer to brick-and-mortar, and closer to buying the U.S. Postal Service."
"Frankly, this shows how broken our patent system is."
"While I trust UPS to find a way to figure this out, I don’t expect public transportation to cooperate."

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23 Comments on "Amazon exploring public transit delivery"


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Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Classic Amazon innovation … thinking outside of the box to create a customer-centric pickup box!

The new competitive edge in omnichannel retail is logistics. The winners will be the ones who create ways to deliver the “last mile” and get a package into the hands of the consumer.

But the real key to winning is delivery based upon consumer choice and options they perceive as valuable. No one understands that better than Amazon.

While the bus system will need some testing and tweaking, it looks much more practical than drone delivery. Click-and-collect is on the rise, and this looks to be a very viable solution in urban markets.

Ron Margulis
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

This really doesn’t look like an end-run, but rather a strategic move in Amazon’s chess game with Walmart and others. This later effort makes it clear Amazon is moving closer and closer to brick-and-mortar, and closer to buying the U.S. Postal Service.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Frankly, this shows how broken our patent system is.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 8 months ago
Amazon is doing nothing more — and certainly not less — than attempting to “own” the notion of distribution whether by standard delivery, drone, retail drop points or now customer interception. It isn’t really necessary for them to actually implement any of the these systems, at least at scale. What is critical is that they keep the competition off balance and busy chasing logistical shadows. Put another way, Amazon wants its brand promise to read something like, “We can get anyone, anything, anytime at any place in any way.” It’s a pretty powerful promise if you think about it. The bus/bus stop idea only makes sense if you can aggregate demand to a fixed location. Years ago Amazon initiated a variant of this approach by delivering to 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo. The idea was that consumers all passed by a 7-Eleven on the way to and from work and so it was a natural delivery point. Worrying about the particulars of the system — no, I don’t think package delivery on buses traveling rural routes makes a… Read more »
Zel Bianco
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

While I trust UPS to find a way to figure this out, I don’t expect public transportation to cooperate. Buses and subways are notoriously off schedule and it is hard to imagine how a city-dweller would get the right bus or subway for their package when so many are running on each line everyday. Amazon Locker-style delivery systems at bus and subway stations could work well though.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Seriously? This is Amazon thinking so far outside the box that the box is not even in sight. Or maybe a better way to say it is: pushing the limits of the box from a size 34 to a size 40.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Finding a way to limit more delivery vehicles on the road in crowded, urban areas makes sense. Is there room for packages on heavily-used mass transit routes in those urban areas? Using transit centers as delivery locations may make sense for increasing traffic on the mass transit lines and for people who find it undesirable to have packages left at their doors. Depending upon routes, using public transportation could be helpful for rural areas. Success depends upon routes, space, size of packages and the use of public transportation by those ordering products. In any event, providing the opportunity to consider using public transportation adds flexibility and new possibilities to Amazon’s delivery system.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Amazon is all about getting goods to their customers. That is their reason for being. They provide convenience. They provide what their customers need when they want it. This is just another tool for their bag of tricks. It doesn’t matter if it is widespread or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter if it is costly. What is important is what it says about the company.

Warren Thayer
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

You’ve been able to ship packages by Greyhound bus and other bus lines for decades. It’s easy, and fast. Forty years ago, I also routinely drove to the airport near my Boston offices and sent “raw” film to my NYC headquarters so the publisher could process the pictures and get to print the same day. As I recall, the service I used back then was called Delta Dash, but I know the old Eastern Airlines also did it. Since I’ve been living in the woods in Vermont the past 15 years, I’ve found an amazing number of ways to get packages from Point A to Point B in a hurry. But having lived in NYC and urban environs for 25 years, I have to say I cannot imagine a satisfactory way of sending packages via subway or cross-town bus or whatever. They had a hard enough time getting ME around the city, let alone a package.

Shep Hyken
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

If it moves, Amazon will most likely consider the viability of using it for package delivery.

Back in the ’50s, my dad used to take pictures at social functions at the University of MO. He put the film in a box and stuck it on a bus back to St. Louis where my Uncle Harry would develop the film and send the pictures back by bus a day or two later. I guess my dad and uncle were ahead of their time!

In all seriousness, the future of delivery is a system that exploits all forms of transportation. The system is already in place. Cabs, Uber, planes, trains, trucks and buses. And drones. All (and more) is fair game.

Ed Dunn
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

This patent does more harm than good. It will not hurt first-world nations who are simply not going to allow strangers to carry or deliver large packages on public transportation systems out of public safety.

This patent hurts developing nations like India who are using mobile applications and using public transportation such as the train or bus to deliver to rural locations. This is not new and novel and shameful Amazon would patent a process most developing nations would have to do for distribution delivery.

John Karolefski
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Seriously? I’d like to see the box remain intact on the subway in some sections of New York City. Amazon is out of control.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
6 years 8 months ago

Interesting concept, but have you ever been to a bus station? Delivery is one thing, but inventorying the items to place on certain buses will be a nightmare. Does Amazon expect the bus station to protect their items? I’ve been to the one in downtown Cleveland and I’m telling you, those items won’t leave the station.

Hey Amazon, here’s an idea … partner with Uber. They are already on the road, they are cheap and if they can drop off a package for a small fee while in the neighborhood they like to drive in, it seems like a much more safe and distributed model where you know exactly who is in possession of those items. Just give me a nickel for each item delivered and I’m happy to give you the patent rights!

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
6 years 8 months ago

Amazon has a long history of trying innovative new ideas (or throwing it on the wall and seeing if it will stick), many, many of which never worked out or were effective enough to continue. This looks like one of them.

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Hmmm. I’m wondering if Amazon has been studying India’s famous LunchBox Delivery System? Will we soon see a new venture into the social sharing economy called Dabbawalas?

My 2 cents says, cool!

Matt Talbot
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Without a true brick-and-mortar presence, Amazon is constantly looking for new means of expanding their “omnichannel” offerings.

Free two-day delivery from Amazon Prime is the most-compelling reason to order a product from Amazon as opposed to walking, driving, biking or taking public transportation to a brick-and-mortar competitor like Walmart or Target. However, delivery to home or office isn’t a viable option for everyone, so those consumers continue to purchase goods from stores with physical locations near them.

“Mobile Pickup Locations” is a way for Amazon to compete for business from some of these consumers. A new delivery method like this could cause some shoppers to choose Amazon over a brick-and-mortar competitor and that’s a win for Jeff Bezos and the folks at Amazon HQ in Seattle.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

And how do the transit operators feel about it? Here in the Bay Area we already have enough problems with people bring their bicycles, luggage (airport) and oversized backpacks on BART, we sure as h$%% don’t need the passenger cars (even further) turned into goods wagons by Amazon. (Not to mention the obvious security issues of having an unattended “locker” aboard). Of course that’s assuming this is a real proposal, not a PR ploy…not that THAT would happen….

Tony Orlando
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Public transportation…Hmmmm….

Good luck on getting the trains and buses to run on time, and not screw this deal up. Amazon keeps thinking big, but I wouldn’t trust public anything to work like it does in the private sector.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

A patent on this? Really? A USPTO examiner actually determined that parking a package on a moving conveyance represented a sufficiently novel concept as to merit intellectual property protection. I’m a bit aghast.

I’m puzzled about the practicality too. Will I have to buy a bus ticket to get my box and ride to the next stop? If I miss my bus at the appointed time (say my 5:00 meeting ran long), where do I retrieve my item?

Maybe Amazon foresees a “mail call” situation using buses that stop in rural locations once a day. There may be some other business models based on this idea that are worth trying. In the big city, however, I see this as a potential mess, with unclaimed packages riding around in endless circles like “Charlie and the MTA.”

richard freund
Guest
richard freund
6 years 8 months ago

Using public transportation for deliveries has been done in the past. How on earth can this be issued a patent?

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

I can see this in countries where mass transit dominates and is reliable enough. With subway systems and buses being where a lot of people spend time, the ability to get your package basically from a mobile locker can work. They would have to pay the transit system for the privilege, but it can be a win win for both sides if the financial numbers work out. Only thing interesting is that it creates a possible scenario with the “highway men” robbery if the lockers carry expensive enough items.

J. Kent Smith
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Urban operations? Potential. Otherwise—no. But it still might give them both fast and economical coverage, especially in those areas they will service grocery clients. Remains to be seen, BUT one has to admire Amazon’s ability to try things out. So called bricks & mortar retailers may not want to copy what Amazon DOES but should consider HOW they innovate. (Hint: don’t be afraid to fail.)

Gordon Arnold
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

The airline industry makes it a point to sell space for freight as a priority. With ten of thousands of buses and subway trains burning energy with little or no return, there is potential for some meat on the bone in this idea to be looked at very closely. Add to this the proximity and convenience for the small mail box business, and it looks even better.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This really doesn’t look like an end-run, but rather a strategic move in Amazon’s chess game with Walmart and others. This later effort makes it clear Amazon is moving closer and closer to brick-and-mortar, and closer to buying the U.S. Postal Service."
"Frankly, this shows how broken our patent system is."
"While I trust UPS to find a way to figure this out, I don’t expect public transportation to cooperate."

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