Yamato Asia exploring open locker concept in Singapore

YAMATO Asia is looking to embark on a trial of an open locker system here to facilitate deliveries of parcels to consumers, even as it expresses support for the government's nationwide locker system.

At the same time, it will be the operator that receives, consolidates and distributes deliveries to retailers in a government-supported trial.

Managing director Richard Chua told The Business Times: "We are happy to support the government in any way we can on the nationwide locker system.

"But we are also open to any form of business alliance to work on the idea of an open locker system that will bring convenience to consumers."

These initiatives underscore Yamato Asia's plans to be more cost-efficient in last-mile delivery in Singapore, as growth in online shopping entails more parcels that need to be delivered to recipients.

Yet, with each incidence of deliverymen arriving at the recipient's home when no one is in, cost per delivery goes up.

To address this problem, Yamato Asia, which runs the Ta-Q-Bin delivery service here, started the 7-Connect Locker service last year.

Through this service, consumers can choose to have parcels delivered at a pre-arranged time to these lockers located in any of the 29 branches of convenience store 7-Eleven islandwide.

Singapore Post has previously introduced its version of parcel lockers, called POPStations, back in 2013, and has about 140 POPStations presently. Logistics start-up Ninja Van also has its own locker system.

But Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had recently said that companies setting up their own locker solution in each neighbourhood is "impractical and costly".

Therefore, government agencies are setting up a common infrastructure "federated lockers" - a nationwide common parcel locker system.

Mr Chua said that Yamato Asia supports the government in this initiative.

But while details are still being worked out, Yamato Asia is prepared to go ahead with its "trial" of open concept of lockers in the hopes of driving down last-mile delivery costs.

The 7-Connect Locker system it has now is for Ta-Q-Bin deliveries only. Locker space is thus not used optimally, said Mr Chua.

On the other hand, the proposed open locker system will see Yamato Asia tie up with other businesses - primarily involved in parcel deliveries - to set up these lockers.

This way, higher delivery volumes can ensure that locker space is used more efficiently, thus driving down infrastructural costs, explained Mr Chua.

"You see several ATMs in shopping malls now - it's not an efficient use of resources. Why not just one ATM that can serve different customers? This locker system will be like that, and we think it'll be the trend," he said.

Should the plan to have open lockers in Singapore prove successful, Mr Chua is open to having the same partners roll out the initiative to other markets in the region.

While Mr Chua did not reveal more details, Yamato Asia's Tokyo-based parent company, Yamato Transport, has recently started on a similar collaboration with Paris-based shipping solutions provider Neopost.

They have set up a joint venture in Tokyo just three weeks ago to operate an open network of "secure automated parcel lockers for the delivery of parcels in Japan".

Neopost had said the pilot phase of this system has been successful. About 1,000 customers used the installed lockers during this trial period, translating to a 2 per cent fall in Yamato's missed home deliveries. "This had a positive impact on both customer service and the environment," said Neopost in a release.

Rollout of the lockers is underway in Tokyo's metro stations.

At the same time, Yamato Asia will be the operator who is taking part in an in-mall distribution trial, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has said.

The trial, mooted by IDA, Spring Singapore and CapitaLand Mall Trust, will see Yamato Asia being placed within a mall to receive and consolidate goods delivered there.

It will then deliver them to the respective shops.

Tampines Mall and Bedok Mall will be the first two malls to take part in the trial, due to start in the coming months.