The Rise – and Potential Fall – of Delivery Bots


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Last quarter, FedEx announced it would be testing out a same-day delivery robot. Aptly named the ‘SameDay Bot’ this puts FedEx in the race with heavy hitters like Amazon, who’s also testing out its own delivery robot, Amazon Scout. Partnering with brands such as Walmart, Target, Pizza Hut, Lowe’s and others, FedEx is looking to bring faster delivery to consumers in a way only Amazon really mastered before with its 2-day Prime delivery.

A key reason FedEx, Amazon and others are moving in this direction with robotics and AI is to help tackle the challenge around local business-to-consumer deliveries that can and should be made in one day. As brands continue to deploy these kinds of technology to improve the consumer experience economy, robots and other IoT devices are becoming the under-reported and under-discussed aspect of AI aimed at removing friction from the purchase to delivery experience. The customer experience in this part of the buyer’s journey has become the key metric for how we measure the success of these endeavors.

So, how can FedEx ensure these tests are successful? How can they avoid setbacks and major pitfalls? And what might this mean for the future of CX in delivery service? Here are my insights around what will support success, what can cause failure and how I see this tech moving forward.

Brand transparency + local supply = success
In announcing its plans around the SameDay Bot, FedEx has already covered half the equation for success. Sharing a clear statement about where testing would take place – at FedEx headquarters in Memphis – and in what capacity this would occur – between FedEx office locations – has set the company up for better acceptance by locals once they start seeing the bots on the streets. As the company continues to test these bots it will be crucial that they remain transparent with the public about what the future of this service will be, how it will be an improvement for them and how it will keep deliveries on track and make that service better.

The trickier part of the equation is ensuring local supply can meet the local demand on these deliveries. Testing phases are on a much smaller scale than full product roll outs, so it will be important for FedEx to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what local consumers in any given market want. This will help them scale up the service to meet needs in larger markets while still reducing friction on the overall experience of ordering and delivery.

Food subscription services are a great example of this concept done well. They’ve been disrupting both the grocery and restaurant industries – changing the way we shop and more specifically the way we shop for perishable food items since we can get them on a same-day basis. Consumers can cook restaurant quality meals at home and receive the groceries they need in the same, or in some cases even less, amount of time than it would take to go to a restaurant to eat or grocery store to buy food.

Lags in delivery + potential for damage = failure
On the flip side of this equation, not enough supply for a specific market or other issues that could cause lags in delivery times would make this fail. This ties back into the notion that AI, and in this case specifically, robots, is a crucial solution for brands in removing friction from their customer experience and delivering on promises to the consumer. If there are too many issues in hitting set delivery times, consumers won’t want the service. Again, it’s about convenience and eliminating friction – if you can’t supply something that makes a specific process easier for someone than if they went out to a store and procured what they needed for themselves, you might as well go back to the drawing board.

Another key piece that could lead to the failure of these bots, is the potential for property or package damage. Same day delivery already exists in many cities – we call them courier services – and for delivery bots to be successful, they’ll need to operate much in the same way as a human courier would, with the same kind of eye for avoiding loss or damages and for delivering packages on time. This means ensuring intersections can be passed through safely, the bots won’t run into cars or buildings or other people and so on. If these issues prevail, then, again, consumers won’t want it.

Using same-day delivery bots has the potential to really change not only how goods are delivered to consumers, but in how manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and more are connected to their customers. The supply chain and manufacturing will change as items will need to be sourced hyper-locally. This will change how suppliers and manufacturers plan where their warehouses and supply centers are located and what they keep in stock there. If powerhouses like FedEx and Amazon can be successful with their respective same-day delivery bots, I see even more retailers, manufacturers and postal services, like UPS, USPS and others, following suit to create powerful delivery solutions that support this new delivery economy. I’ll be watching developments around this closely and look forward to seeing how it progresses.

Rob Maille
Rob Maille is Head of Strategy and Customer Experience at CommerceCX, as well as one of the co-founders. Rob is a seasoned entrepreneur and CX expert with over 25 years in digital strategy, enterprise application development and user experience. Rob’s primary role at CommerceCX is to inspire, create, and define digital solutions for clients.


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