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Verizon introduces parcel lockers at 250 stores

Buy online pickup in store — or BOPIS, as it’s known in retail — has become second nature to the U.S. consumer. The idea is simple: Shoppers place orders on a retailer’s e-commerce site, travel to a brick-and-mortar location and pick up the items on their time. Easy enough, right? But there’s always room for improvement.

Just ask Verizon (NYSE: VZ). The New York City-based cellular provider announced Monday that it is adding parcel lockers to its stores, aiming to make the BOPIS process as seamless as it can be. Verizon said it will be rolling out Express Parcel Lockers at locations around the country, where customers can make pickups quickly and, at certain stores, 24 hours a day.

“Time is precious, which is why we want to give our customers options that work for their busy lives,” said Kelley Kurtzman, senior vice president of consumer field sales. “Our lockers are a new and innovative way Verizon is bridging the gap between traditional retail and e-commerce, giving our customers more ways than ever to get what they need and get on with their day.”

Verizon over time has steadily grown its array of fulfillment options for shoppers. The company has offered in-store pickup for years, recently introducing curbside pickup and same-day delivery options. But while Verizon wasn’t an early adopter of those latter services, it’s jumping on the locker trend quickly.

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Parcel lockers are still in their infancy, but they’re gaining traction among both retailers and consumers. According to a Verizon survey released alongside Monday’s announcement, while more than two in five Americans (42%) use curbside pickup services, less than one in five (17%) use a locker.

However, it appears that’s due to a lack of availability more than anything. About three-quarters of survey respondents said they would prefer to pick up online orders from a locker rather than in-store.

The reason? The same Verizon survey revealed that more than half (55%) of Americans would use lockers to avoid lines and crowds, 48% would use them to make pickups after hours and 45% would use them “simply to save time.” Two in five respondents said they would use lockers to avoid shipping times. And 38% cited fears of package theft by “porch pirates” as their motivation.

In response, Verizon installed lockers at 250 retail locations across the U.S., and the company said that more are being added each month. The cellular provider joins companies like Lowe’s and Albertsons as one of the first U.S. retailers to test the service.

While parcel lockers have yet to sweep the U.S., they’re moderately popular in other countries, particularly in Asia and Europe. Danish parcel locker company Swipbox, for example, operates a network of lockers in over 47 countries. That includes Denmark, where we could be seeing a glimpse into the future lockers in the U.S.

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In the U.S., lockers so far have been retailer-specific. Verizon’s lockers, for instance, are stationed outside its retail stores and are only used by Verizon customers. Contrast that with Denmark, where the nation’s postal service is buying hundreds of Swipbox lockers. Rather than deploy them at stores, though, the agency set up an open network of lockers around the country. Customers can open the lockers remotely using a mobile app.

Denmark’s locker network, which primarily facilitates product returns, is carrier-agnostic, meaning that multiple carriers can retrieve returned items from the same locker. According to Arshaad Mirza, co-founder of last-mile delivery orchestration company Delivery Solutions, it might not be long before we see something similar in the U.S.

“If you look at what’s happening in Europe, or in Australia, the numbers are even much better. They’ve seen a lot more adoption over there,” Mirza told Modern Shipper. “It’s early days here, but the trajectory is in the right direction.”

Mirza and others envision a future where lockers could be stationed on city blocks or in suburban neighborhoods, providing easy access to any customer or retailer. Adoption of lockers is still too low at the moment — Mirza estimates that around 5% of retailers are using them — but the future of the last mile could look a lot like the halls of your old high school.

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