We’ve made it. Another year has passed, one marked by a shift in consumer expectations and emerging shipping trends like flexible delivery options, cross-border shipping and additional return options. While 2015 was all about consumer options, the New Year will add an additional layer geared toward self-service and the ability for consumers to act upon which options are best for them.

From delivery to pick-up to returns, businesses must continue providing not only more options that consumers want, but the options that will allow consumers to serve themselves. In doing so, businesses are giving consumers the power and control they’ve been seeking.

Fortunately, we have the technology to enable these self-services so long as shippers evolve processes to meet these emerging consumer preferences. Here are three areas to begin your shipping evolution during 2016.

Consumer-Selected Delivery Times

Have you ever requested a service appointment from your TV or Internet provider? If so, you know the feeling you get when the customer representative offers a four or five-hour service window.

Consumers often feel the same way when it comes to receiving a package, which explains why 98% of consumers track their orders. Many shipping providers now offer consumer-selected delivery times, much like telecommunications providers, that span across several hours. However, consumers want specificity when it comes to shipping. They want to self-select delivery services within windows of as little as 30 minutes (just enough time to run home during a lunch break).

Contrary to popular belief, consumers don’t always care how a package gets from Point A to Point B —they care about when it’s going to get there. In 2016, expect to see consumer-selected delivery times to be offered in minutes, and not just in hours. No longer will you need to track your package because you’ll now have the option to choose the exact moment you can expect the doorbell to ring.

Parcel Urbanization

Imagine the average Manhattan high-rise apartment building — a structure comprised of more than a hundred units with 1,000 plus residents. As e-commerce continues to boom, the influx of inbound parcels will too. Unfortunately, the physical space within urban buildings will not be expanding to accommodate all these parcels.

As more parcels arrive, the space to store them decreases. Often, residential building personnel are running back and forth to makeshift mailrooms in search of a package, unable to tend to their other day-to-day facilities responsibilities. For the consumer, this can mean waiting for personnel to find a package stored away, or in some cases, receiving a misplaced package late.

In 2016, new solutions for urban facilities will resemble locker storage in Europe. The US will see more operations opening to act as a drop-off location for packages (think UPS Store or FedEx Kinkos). In step with these new drop-off locations will also come more intelligent drop-offs. Parcel holding facilities will be able to notify a recipient immediately that their package has arrived and can be picked up at a certain time.

This change in the urban chain of custody will again enable consumers to self-serve in that they can now pick up their own package when they want to, ultimately alleviating these pressures from residential service professionals, reducing the chance for lost packages, and lowering shipping costs for carriers.

Location Intelligent Returns

When we think about the customer shipping experience, we tend to think about the process it takes for a package to move from a business to a consumer. But what happens after a customer receives the package? What if they decide they want to return it?

This year we will see location information used in an entirely new way, specifically around parcel returns. For the 39% of shoppers that prefer to return online purchases to the store and the 38% that prefer to return to a shipping provider, they will receive the name and address of three best next return locations based on their personal preferences.

We’ll also see technology play a role in returns with scan and pay labeling. For the 20% of consumers that prefer courier pick-up, every package will now include a return label — customers who need to make returns can simply scan and pay — eliminating unnecessary costs to the business, and for consumers, a trip to the store.

While I see consumers playing a more active role in shipping services, the obligation for businesses and shipping carriers to provide superior customer service will not go away. It’s evolving. Keep your eye on these emerging preferences and solutions. Businesses that transform their processes to address both the traditional and self-served consumer will have a bright outlook for 2016.

Christoph Stehmann is President of Enterprise Business Solutions, Pitney Bowes.

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