This Week in Logistics News (October 31 – November 6)

logistics newsAs I wrote earlier this week, the election is behind us – well, maybe not. With record numbers of mail-in votes still being counted, a winner has yet to be declared. As of the writing of this, swing states including Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina were still counting ballots, and the races are too close to call. And even for some of those states that have been called, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, there are still legal challenges to be settled. Considering 2020 has been a year unlike any other, it’s only fitting that the election is unlike any other as well. All we can do now is sit back and wait for the final results to come in (which could be next week). And now on to this week’s logistics news.

Nearly two years ago, Amazon officially did away with the Dash button, the small stick-on buttons that allowed customers to quickly reorder popular household items with a press. However, the benefits and functionality of the Dash button proved too much to be ignored and the technology has now been reimagined. Amazon Business has rolled out the Dash Smart Shelf for companies to automatically reorder office supplies. Amazon describes the Dash Smart Shelf as a “weight-sensing, Wi-Fi-enabled auto-replenishment scale designed to streamline restocking critical workplace supplies and other essentials for businesses.” The device is geared toward small and medium size businesses to enable automated online ordering of office supplies like rolls of packaging tape and toilet paper. The Dash Smart Shelf is about one inch tall and comes in three footprints: small (7” x 7”), medium (12” x 10”), and large (18” x 13”).

According to reports from investment bank Morgan Stanley, Amazon’s in-house parcel delivery arm is on track to be roughly the same size as FedEx in the US by the end of 2020 and as big as UPS by 2022. Amazon has spent the last few years building out its logistics services, investing in private fleets of delivery vans and trailers, cargo planes, and drone capabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic surged e-commerce to levels never seen before, and Amazon was quick to use its private fleet of vans to handle last mile deliveries for its packages. And now, as those capabilities continue to grow, Morgan Stanley is predicting that Amazon will likely launch a third-party delivery service as soon as 2021. It will be interesting to see if Amazon officially joins the ranks of the current big three of parcel carriers.

About a year and half ago Walmart announced plans to expand its use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for real-time, on-shelf product data. The robots are built by Bossa Nova Robotics and were scheduled to be sent to over 350 stores. After a years-long push to automate shelf scanning tasks, Walmart is ending its contract with Bossa Nova and is pulling the plug on the robots. The main reason for ending the contract was the fact that simpler solutions were able to complete the task just as effectively. Namely, with the influx of e-commerce orders, more store associates are walking the aisles to pick orders and have been able to monitor store shelves. Walmart will continue to use other robots in its stores to perform other tasks such as cleaning floors.

Earlier this week I highlighted some of the challenges that remain in place when it comes to developing and  distributing coronavirus vaccines. Once a vaccine is approved and distributed, there still comes the task of administering the vaccine. Companies like CVS and Walgreens have been pushing for the US government to waive state scope of practice rules and allow pharmacy technicians the ability to vaccinate. The US Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidance that “authorizes both qualified pharmacy technicians and state-authorized pharmacy interns acting under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist to administer FDA-authorized or FDA-licensed COVID-19 vaccines to persons ages three or older.” This is a big win for pharmacy chains that have struggled to keep up with demand for seasonal flu shots; with a coronavirus vaccine looming, this ruling will allow more people to be vaccinated in a short period of time.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has unveiled a new “Beyond” program to replace the now-expired Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP) in advancing commercial drone applications. The new program will focus on the more regular execution of drone flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of an operator, making waivers for individual operations unnecessary. Data gathered from the various demonstrations will inform two new drone regulations the FAA plans to release by year’s end. “Beyond” is an acronym that stands for BVLOS-Expanding Your Operations Needing Drones.

DoorDash has announced a partnership with Sam’s Club to provide same-day prescription delivery service to patients across the US. The new partnership will include the service at 500 Sam’s Club locations across 41 states and will utilize DoorDash’s business delivery platform Drive. Delivery of prescription drugs requires more oversight than simply delivering food, on both the driver and consumer side. Making sure that prescriptions are delivered safely will be a priority in the program. Customers who want to access the service will have to request it through the wholesale club directly, and both members and non-members of Sam’s Club can take advantage of same-day delivery.

After hitting a 14-year high in August, the US trade deficit fell to $63.9 billion in September. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that the difference in what the US sells and what it buys abroad fell 4.7 percent from a high of $67 billion. Year to date, the goods and services deficit has jumped $38.5 billion, or 8.6 percent, to $485.6 billion. The total deficit for goods and services for the same period in 2019 was $447.1 billion. Total exports are down 17.4 percent this year from 2019, while imports have declined by 12.4.

The meal kit delivery market has been expanding over the last few years, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has only fueled more market growth. Nestle SA has acquired US meals group Freshly Inc. in a $950 million deal. Launched in 2015, Freshly’s subscription-based model offers meal plans to consumers with a rotating menu of “better-for-you” dishes, including gluten-free and low sugar versions of classic comfort foods. It currently ships meals to more than one million customers per week and is forecasted to reach $430 million in sales in 2020. Freshly plans to work with Nestle to increase menu variety by tripling its number of weekly meals.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, The Waiting by Tom Petty.

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