AI tech helps couriers gear up for China's annual shopping spree
FROM:    2018-11-15
The race among China's major express couriers, such as ZTO Express, YTO Express and Yunda Express, is likely to escalate as the annual Double-11 (Nov. 11) online shopping spree approaches. Since its inception in 2009, organizers of the Double-11 shopping festival chose the special day, known as China's Singles' Day, to stage the nationwide shopping extravaganza. After all, one way to help people temporarily forget their singlehood is to let them participate in a frenetic shopping festival by offering them numerous discounts and coupons. Transactions in this event have been growing for eight years straight, with the leading business-to-consumer (B2C) platform netting 168.2 billion yuan (US$24.16 billion) on Nov. 11 last year, up 39 percent year on year. However, while customers indulged in a sea of discounted products and purchased them with a simple click, many were annoyed by delays in deliveries. "The shopping experience at the Double-11 festival is getting better and better. However, last year when a franchise delivery outlet in our neighborhood went bankrupt, our parcels did not reach us. They did not arrive even a month after our order. When we enquired with the delivery company, they said they didn't know where the parcels were," complained Sun Chaoru, a resident from Beijing's Chaoyang District. "This year, since online transactions during the Double-11 shopping festival are likely to reach a new record high, express delivery services, especially tail-end courier services, will be tested," said Sun Kang, deputy director of the China Express Association. To better prepare for the massive size of orders and improve the accuracy of last mile delivery, many express couriers have begun to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as Cloud Video Surveillance and Routing Algorithms to improve the efficiency of deliveries. According to Li Qiang, a technician in charge of warehousing, shipping and distribution at the Cainiao Network, the logistics industry in China has more than 1,000 distribution centers, 180,000 delivery outlets and more than one million video monitoring cameras. Cainiao Network is the logistics unit of Alibaba Group, which was founded by Jack Ma Yun, the renowned Chinese billionaire. Extending their partnership with major express firms in China such as ZTO and YTO, as well as Deppon Express which is headquartered in Shanghai, Cainiao rolled out its Cloud Video Surveillance System on Sept. 26 with its logistics partners. "Previously, we used human labor to find out whether parking lots were available and whether there was traffic congestion. Now video cameras can replace all these manual monitoring efforts, they can recognize things that are going wrong and send signals of abnormal circumstances to the center where people can be dispatched to tackle the problems," said Ding Junzhe, senior supervisor of the Operation and Research and Development Center of Deppon Express. By doing so, according to Ding, internal efficiency has increased by 15 percent. In addition, routing algorithms, which have been increasingly deployed in the logistics industry, have shown encouraging development. "The logistics market in China is the largest in the world," said Hu Haoyuan, a technician in charge of AI warehousing and traffic routing algorithms at Cainiao. "With a huge number of vehicles and personnel involved, a major breakthrough in routing algorithms enables shortcuts in delivery routes and can definitely create more efficiencies," he explained. Meanwhile, delivery services are also growing their business and partnerships in overseas markets. At the end of September, YTO announced a partnership with Zhejiang Sea Port, Ningbo Zhoushan Port and DP World to build the company's third overseas logistics center in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, Cainiao has established nearly 50 overseas storehouses, including many in Japan, New Zealand and the United States. It's little wonder then that a resident surnamed Ru from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, was surprised at the speed of the delivery of her parcel from abroad. "It is so amazing and completely beyond my imagination," said Ru, who received her parcel 33 minutes and 15 seconds later after her order was confirmed. According to Sun, every Double-11 festival tests the last mile service of the domestic logistics industry. "It's expected that after being tested this year, express couriers are likely to offer more solutions in last mile delivery services, not just for the Double-11 sales this year or the next, but for an indefinite future to come," the deputy director said.
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