Retail technology vendor innovation: MetaPack

What is MetaPack?

MetaPack describes itself as a delivery management platform, providing software that aims to make the retail delivery process more efficient and convenient.

A number of leading retail executives, including former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy, sit on the MetaPack board and they have a hands-on role in the company's development and strategy.

What's new at MetaPack?

MetaPack has come a long way since its 1999 inception as an onsite software installation business, with sales & business development director Rob Minns suggesting things ramped up a gear in 2009 when it moved to a software-as-a service platform.

According to Minns, 76 of the top 100 retailers in the UK use MetaPack, as do approximately two-thirds of the next 300 mid-size retailers, highlighting the prominent role the business is currently playing in the retail delivery sector.

Having provided much of the technology that helps retailers keep track of deliveries and shipping, which in turn allows the customer to understand when their product is set to arrive, MetaPack is now looking to allow retailers to provide a more tailored delivery service to their online shoppers.

Rather than having static delivery options displayed on their websites, retailers will be able to specify delivery time-slots based on a consumer's individual location and behaviour.

"We've paid a lot of attention to how you can bring real-time options into the website, based on who you are and what you're buying and where you want it delivered," said Minns.

"Because we have the warehouse connected to retailers' websites, we know all the delivery cut-off times and services that they can offer. And because we have the carriers' delivery times we know exactly how many they can take."

The tool has been built and is currently in use on chocolate specialist Thorntons' website, but MetaPack expects other retailers to utilise the solution in due course. It is viewed as being particularly useful for shoppers who live outside of the major metropolitan areas who, Minns says, often find their delivery expectations can't be met.

Another huge growth area within the delivery ecosystem is the function for customers to pick up their parcels at corner shops, garages or other stores. Companies such as Collect Plus have helped lead the way in this area, setting up a network of local stores that are able to receive parcels from retailers, before consumers pick them up at a suitable time.

MetaPack has been involved in a working group that is looking at bringing together the growing number of pick-up/drop-off services, and implementing them on a retailer's eCommerce site. Three retailers in the UK are currently piloting it.

Minns commented: "It's been a real collaboration between us, retailers and carriers. The carriers have invested in putting the service together – the retailers are ready to take it, but for some of the larger ones it's a little too close to peak season.

"We're testing it with some more nimble retailers, but then after Christmas we expect the large retailers to take it on."

What makes MetaPack stand out?

Whether it is by working closely with carriers or via the strategic advisory group it participates in with some of the leading UK retailers, MetaPack seems keen to collaborate with the industry to ensure its services are relevant in today's fast-changing retail world.

Patrick Wall, the founder of the business, is described by Minns as "pioneering in his ideas", and the presence of Leahy and other prominent executives help strengthen the company's offering through their network and "keen interest in retail technology".

"We're permanently taking new ideas back to customers and carriers and saying 'have you thought about this, what about that?'," Minns remarked.

"We are pioneers in moving things forward to improve the whole delivery experience for customers. We don't necessarily think of the retailers as our customer, we think of every shopper as our customer."

What the director says...

Although Minns (pictured below) acknowledges that all areas of the retail business are important, like many industry commentators he knows how crucial fulfilment is for the industry, and what a "hot topic" it has become. He also suggested that the UK is leading the way in terms of online retail.

"Without any doubt, the UK is ahead of the game in terms of eCommerce," he added.

"Consumers are also ahead of the game with what they demand – so there are two dynamics to consider.

"In the beginning, most retailers went for economy options and home delivery. That's changed and retailers have realised their consumers simply want convenience. This doesn't mean fast or next-day specifically, but it means they want deliveries when it is best for them."

Retailers that understand this are viewing delivery as a way in which they can distinguish themselves from the all-powerful pure-play e-tailers such as Amazon, which have taken huge market share across various retail sectors over the last decade.

It is clear that technology is being used to improve the delivery process, and it would seem there are plenty of new options retailers will be able to offer their customers in the new year.