Sour milk may become a thing of the past, thanks to a new Amazon refrigerator under development. The fridge, using some of the same technology implemented by Amazon Go cashier-less stores, could scan for expiring products or dwindling supplies, then make refill orders. This is an example of how Amazon is leaning into the last mile of delivery. Let’s take a closer look at this news, first reported in Business Insider.

The News

While Amazon’s smart fridge is still in development, its basic mandate is already clear: this is an appliance meant to make users’ lives easier by taking stock of purchasing habits, monitoring supplies, and sensing if certain repeat-purchase items (milk, say) are running low or getting old. Smart refrigerators are not new. What makes the Amazon smart fridge intriguing is that it would replenish through Amazon-owned stores like Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods. And for the time-stressed refrigerator owner, helpful recipe suggestions, predicated on the fridge’s identification of products that may need to be cooked soon, are also under discussion. Ever tried creamy paprika pork? Your fridge may lead the way.

Amazon does not plan to manufacture the cutting-edge fridges; rather, the vision is to partner with a home-appliance company to create a product preinstalled with Amazon camera hardware and computer-vision software similar to tech already used in Amazon Go stores. There’s even been talk about adding the Alexa voice assistant to the fridge’s array of features.

According to Insider, a team based in Seattle, India, and SoCal has been working on Amazon’s smart fridge initiative for at least two years. A launch date hasn’t been determined, but the project speaks to Amazon’s interest in putting more Amazon devices directly into user homes.

Why the News Matters

E-commerce is a cornerstone of this initiative: after all, once your fridge tells you the eggs are low, you need to replenish them — somehow. Amazon, with its built-in infrastructure for fulfillment, is well-positioned to make sure that you can get those eggs in timely fashion.

And that’s not a gimme: while the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce for everything from groceries to apparel, some retailers have been challenged by the surge of purchases—especially in the area of delivery. Retailers have wrestled with supply chain issues; as we’ve blogged, there’s been a scramble to improve the “last mile of delivery,” that crucial short-distance delivery of products from a store or fulfillment center to the consumer’s front door.

But Amazon is one retailer that hasn’t struggled with fulfillment. That skill is already “baked in,” as the e-commerce behemoth has mastered last-mile delivery expertise through its legacy online retail business, as well as its network of Amazon Go and Whole Foods stores. A smart appliance gives Amazon an opportunity to lean into this advantage.

What Businesses Should Do

What can brands learn from Amazon and its visionary fridge? You may not be in a position to develop a smart refrigerator, but whatever you’re selling, you’re wise to demonstrate a commitment to innovation via fulfillment. You won’t be alone.

Consider UPS, which is thinking outside the box in terms of delivery vehicles. Municipal governments in a growing number of cities in Europe are banning or restricting delivery carriers from using gas-emitting vehicles in busy areas, and UPS has responded by equipping their delivery fleet with electrically-assisted cycles (e-cycles). That last mile can now be covered in a mindful, climate-friendly manner; moreover, because the e-cycles are narrow enough to travel on cycle lanes and side streets, they simply . . . take up less space. No more blocking traffic or monopolizing large parking spaces.

Meanwhile, there’s Best Buy, which is managing its own last-mile deliveries by leaning on a partner for whom delivery is a core competence: Instacart. Instacart, perhaps best known for delivering groceries, has expanded its universe to encompass retailers like Best Buy. As reported by The Verge, the partnership allows Best Buy to give consumers efficient, reliable same-day delivery in every state in the U.S. Here’s a case of one brand recognizing where its own strengths lie — and acknowledging that the complex logistics of delivery might be better addressed by another brand that has that skill nailed.

However your brand addresses fulfillment, understand that doing so will require your business to do a better job capturing real-time data about your supply chain. As noted in this Moonshot blog post, being more agile and offering multiple ordering/pick-up options requires supply chain managers to better understand where their products are at all times. Here’s where artificial intelligence can play a role: that coveted real-time awareness probably requires AI to transform silos of data into intelligence insight.

The good news is that tools such as design sprints can help businesses test new ideas (about fulfillment, the supply chain, and everything else) quickly and cost-effectively. A design sprint consists of a four-day workshop in which a team identifies a business problem with no easy solution, and develops a prototype for a solution. Real customers are involved as part of the vetting process.

Moonshot relies on design sprints all the time as part of our FUEL methodology for unlocking innovation. We believe that starting with a design sprint allows brands to generate creative solutions with consumers in mind.

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