The term last mile delivery might not sound exciting, but it’s the new battle for your dollar in online retail. That final leg to your doorstep, considered a costly step, holds many opportunities for retailers. From finding savings in operating costs, ensuring on-time or same day delivery, or providing a personal touch upon final receipt. Retailers can think of many reasons why this could be the key to winning your online business, and therefore need to secure its control.

Fedex delivery robotHowever, it could also have some small knock-on effects on the future of residential architecture. That’s because the delivery of a package to your door is one thing; ensuring safe and secure receipt is another. With delivery theft on the rise, the challenge facing retailers is guaranteeing your goods are delivered safely and remain that way until you are home.

In last year’s McKinsey report, Parcel delivery: The future of last mile, 30% of respondents said that they are willing to pay extra for a faster and reliable delivery service. While this year, a surge in availability of connected security cameras and smart devices suggests homeowners are also seeking better home security. When these two factors are combined, we discover an unusual interface between arriving deliveries and secured short-term storage at home. Retailers began exploring these options many years back, with some now starting to come to fruition.

Retail Delivery

The last mile journey begins with actually getting the package from a local warehouse to your front door. While we wait for our two-legged android servants to arrive, drones have long thought to be the most obvious solution. Alternatively, terrestrial robots known as droids are equally gaining recognition as different methods of delivery. Regardless, receival zones at the place of residence need to be considered, either on the roof or at ground level. These zones would require a means to secure the delivery from theft, and be kept away from the elements.

Deliveries by drone or droid are likely to be more suitable for non-perishable and non-refrigerated goods, but not so much for those living in apartments. In this case, different technologies mixed with a change in social norms may produce other new and unusual options.

Despite the widespread adoption of the sharing economy, McKinsey suggests it won’t have a strong presence in the delivery chain. But the elimination of all human interaction is equally unlikely, with hand delivery a preferred choice (for now) by the retailer. A new scenario could be that a real person still carries your package up to your door, then… opens your door, places the package inside, then leaves, closing the door behind them. All the while no-one else is at home.

Sounds a little creepy right?

Security

Yet this is precisely what online retail giant Amazon has recently announced with their Key product. You fit the home’s front door with a smart lock, and a smart camera inside looking towards the door. This combination provides unique front door access to the delivery person, and the camera some visual security. Trust obviously plays a large part in this relationship, but it seems we have officially entered a new era of home connectivity. More on this later.

But it may not stop there.

Now consider the delivery of other consumables, particularly perishables. As we become overwhelmed with work, online grocery shopping and other pre-prepared / meal kit services grow in popularity. Just as though you went shopping yourself, these items ideally should be refrigerated as soon as possible. So, could you see yourself allowing a grocery delivery person further access into your home, such as up to your refrigerator? These are the questions retailers are no doubt asking themselves right now. How much is the home occupant willing to endure in the name of convenience?

Add to this mix smart appliances and smart rooms. Refrigerators and pantries that know which staple food items need reordering, or the bathroom requesting toilet paper and toothpaste as stocks get low. To a point, some appliances and devices can already do this. The rooms those appliances exist in may too have built-in intelligence through computer vision to track items and occupants. Residential design will move beyond the physical bricks and mortar, to the point where software/AI engineering becomes equally important.

A home that does the grocery shopping for you

Connecting all the dots, what we end up with is a home smart enough to interface directly with the retail supply chain. Throw in a splash of blockchain technology, and you now have a full chain of custody where the home not only orders the goods but also takes the final receipt.

Consider when the fridge detects you are low on milk. The fridge places an order to the supplier, who then processes and despatches it. A delivery person brings it to your front door where the home authenticates their identity first through the front door’s smart lock, and again through computer vision. Their identity is confirmed and access granted. They are tracked by internal security cameras as they place the milk into the fridge and then leave closing the locked door behind them. Should the front door forget to be locked, the home can do this too. The cycle continues.

The home of the future is only set to become smarter. It will learn how its occupants interact with it and with others. It will make recommendations, and as we’ve seen above even act on your behalf. These are considered design factors with untested social impacts. More questions will need asking, and issues overcome. But eventually, what appears to be creepy to us now will likely evolve, be tested, and ultimately one day become commonplace.