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Publication numberUS20020040564 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 09/961,433
Publication dateApr 11, 2002
Filing dateSep 25, 2001
Priority dateSep 25, 2000
Also published asCA2423576A1, EP1322206A2, WO2002024040A2, WO2002024040A3
Publication number09961433, 961433, US 2002/0040564 A1, US 2002/040564 A1, US 20020040564 A1, US 20020040564A1, US 2002040564 A1, US 2002040564A1, US-A1-20020040564, US-A1-2002040564, US2002/0040564A1, US2002/040564A1, US20020040564 A1, US20020040564A1, US2002040564 A1, US2002040564A1
InventorsBernard Killingbeck, Richard Danby
Original AssigneeKillingbeck Bernard Richard, Danby Richard Clinton
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Systems and methods for delivering goods
US 20020040564 A1
Abstract
Systems and methods are provided for delivering containers filled with goods (such as groceries and foodstuffs). According to embodiments of the invention, a delivery order is taken from a customer for a set of goods; the set of goods ordered by the customer are packed in a container; the container with the stored goods is transported to the residence of the customer; and the container is locked to a docking station at the residence of the customer. Thereafter, using a key, the customer may unlock the container and remove the ordered goods from the container. Additional embodiments for facilitating the delivery and ordering of goods are also provided.
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Claims(20)
What is claimed is:
1. A method of delivering goods to customers, comprising:
receiving a delivery order from a customer for the delivery of a set of goods, the delivery order including a delivery address for the customer;
packing the set of goods in a container;
transporting the container with the packed goods to the delivery address of the customer; and
locking the container to a docking station provided at the delivery address of the customer.
2. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
providing a unique identification code to the customer when the customer registers with a supplier of the goods.
3. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
permanently attaching the docking station at the delivery address of the customer to provide a docking and locking location for the container.
4. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
securing the container with a tamper-evident seal after packing the goods in the container and before transporting the container to the delivery address of the customer.
5. A method according to claim 1, wherein the step of locking includes locking the container to the docking station with a master key.
6. A method according to claim 5, wherein the container is locked to the docking station such that it cannot be unlocked thereafter by the master key.
7. A method according to claim 5, wherein the container is locked to the docking station such that it cannot be unlocked thereafter by a master key until it has been unlocked by a specific key for the docking station.
8. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
providing a specific key for the docking station to the customer.
9. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
delivering a specific key for the docking station to the customer at the time of transporting the container to the delivery address.
10. A method according to claim 1, further comprising:
notifying the customer of a unique code for unlocking a lock of the container.
11. A method according to claim 1, wherein the step of receiving a delivery order includes scheduling the delivery of the set of goods to the delivery address of the customer at a predetermined time in the future.
12. A method of providing receipt-acknowledged delivery of goods, comprising:
providing a docking station at a residence of a customer;
notifying the customer of a unique identification code;
packing a set of goods in an security box, the security box including a lock;
transporting the security box to the residence of the customer;
locking the security box to the docking station at the residence of the customer;
in response to receiving the unique identification code from the customer, providing the customer with a code to unlock the lock of the security box; and
recording receipt of the delivery of goods to the customer.
13. A method according to claim 12, further comprising:
providing the security box with a tamper-evident tag before the security box is transported to the residence of the customer.
14. A method according to claim 12, wherein the unique identification code comprises a telephone number of the customer.
15. A method according to claim 12, wherein the step of providing a docking station includes attaching the docking station to an external door of a residence of the customer, the external door being provided with a hole to allow access to a lock of the security box.
16. A method according to claim 12, wherein the step of providing includes attaching the docking station on an exterior wall of the residence of the customer.
17. A system for delivering goods to the residences of customers, the system comprising:
at least one container, each container comprising a plurality of trays for storing goods ordered by customers;
a docking station permanently attached to the residence of each customer, wherein each container includes a locking device to permit the container to be locked to the docking station by a delivery person;
at least one distribution hub where goods are received and packed into containers according to delivery orders placed by customers; and
at least one zone depot where packed containers are received and then delivered to the residences of customers.
18. A hub and zone distribution method for delivering groceries to customers, comprising:
delivering food products to at least one distribution hub;
packing, at each distribution hub, a set of food products into containers according to delivery orders for customers;
transporting the packed containers to a plurality of zone depots; and
receiving, at one of the zone depots, the transported containers and, thereafter, delivering the containers to the residence of customers in accordance with the delivery orders.
19. A method according to claim 18, further comprising:
providing a docking station at the residence of each customer; and
upon delivery of a packed container at the residence of the customer, locking the container at the docking station.
20. A method according to claim 18, wherein the step of packing includes providing the container with a tamper-evident tag before the container is delivered to the residence of the customer.
Description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] I. Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates to systems and methods for delivering goods to customers. More specifically, the present invention relates to systems and methods for delivering goods to the residences of customers and, additionally, to delivery systems and methods in which goods are delivered in containers that suitable for storing a wide range of goods.

[0003] II. Background and Material Information

[0004] Delivering goods to the residence of a customer is a convenient service for customers. Home delivery represents an opportunity for the supplier of the goods to provide an extra service, promoting supplier recognition and goodwill, and increasing overall turnover and profit.

[0005] As home computers and the use of the Internet have become more commonplace, ordering goods and paying for them from home have become more convenient for customers worldwide. Electronic ordering of goods and payment before dispatch of the goods is also convenient and can be profitable for the supplier.

[0006] However, the range of goods suitable for home delivery is limited by a number of factors, including the perishability of the goods, the intrinsic value of the goods, the security aspects of leaving the goods unattended at the home and the cost of delivery. For many goods, home delivery is only practicable at a specified time when it is known that the customer or a household member of the customer will be able to accept delivery. Thus, the customer or a household member of the customer is obliged to be at home for an extended period of time to await for the arrival of the delivery.

[0007] Currently, unattended delivery of food products and other goods with particular temperature requirements is not feasible, unless the property of the customer is equipped with a refrigerator or freezer which is accessible from outside.

[0008] In addition, home deliveries of goods requiring the customer's signature (for example, for the delivery of valuable and/or confidential goods) are currently practicable only with attended deliveries.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] Embodiments consistent with the present invention provide systems and methods for delivering goods to customers.

[0010] In accordance with an embodiment of the invention, a method is provided for delivering goods that comprises: taking a delivery order from a customer for a set of goods, the delivery order including a delivery address of the customer; packing the set of goods ordered by the customer in a container; transporting the container with the stored goods to the delivery address of the customer; and locking the container to a docking station at the delivery address of the customer.

[0011] Optionally, the delivery address may correspond to the residence or home of the customer. Further, the delivery order may be for a wide array of goods, including groceries or foodstuffs.

[0012] According to another embodiment of the invention, a system is provided for delivering goods to the residence of a customer. The system may include a container that is adapted to store a wide array of products, including food products, and a docking station that is provided outside of the residence of the customer. Optionally, the container may include a locking device to permit the container to be locked to the docking station by a delivery person, then unlocked by the customer to permit emptying of the goods, and later removed from the docking station by the delivery person to permit the return of the emptied container.

[0013] In accordance with other embodiments of the invention, methods are provided for permitting customers to order goods that are delivered to customers at a predetermined time in the future.

[0014] According to yet additional embodiments of the invention, methods are provided for administering, managing and processing financial data related to the delivery of goods to customers.

[0015] Embodiments of the invention address issues related to the delivery of perishable goods, such as groceries and other food products. Embodiments of the invention also address the issues of unattended delivery and receipt acknowledgement of valuable or important goods, which are too bulky to pass through the letterbox of most houses. Examples include legal documents, or other packages which are normally delivered by recorded delivery, with the recipient's signature being required as proof of delivery.

[0016] In addition, embodiments of the present invention enable the provision of goods, including but not restricted to groceries, delivered direct to the consumer, at prices comparable with, and capable of being genuinely lower than, general supermarket prices. Embodiments of the invention can significantly reduce the supply chain and costs associated therewith by removing the “bricks and mortar” supermarket with its associated storage and display costs.

[0017] Moreover, consistent with embodiments of the invention, customers can be invited to “buy forward”, committing today to buy (and paying today), for delivery up to a few weeks in the future. The planning and logistical advantage this gives to the manufacturer and retailer make deep price cuts possible without reducing profit margin. It also removes from manufacturers the risk of being penalized by supermarket customers for supplying discounted goods to a smaller customer (the home delivery retailer). The manufacturer's supply prices remain in line with the buying power of the retailer customer, and the home delivery retailer can genuinely afford to offer lower retail prices because of efficiencies in the supply chain.

[0018] Embodiments of the invention also provide interactive display and selling techniques for use with the Internet. Such techniques include a conversion process (“Why did you not buy?”) that is designed principally to convert waverers into customers, and a bargaining process (“How much would you be prepared to pay for this item?”) to gather information on how an offer could be made more appealing to customers.

[0019] Further, systems and methods consistent with the invention include interactive pricing methods. Such methods may be provided to reintroduce the practice of bargaining into the otherwise fixed price regime of the modern supermarket.

[0020] For example, consistent with embodiments of the invention, a variable delivery charge method may be provided. According to such methods, the charge for delivery may be shown on the screen as the customer compiles a shopping list on-line. Goods which are efficient to deliver by container (for example, by virtue of being compact in relation to their price), or undemanding in their temperature requirements, trigger a reduction in the delivery charge as they are added to the shopping cart. Additionally, goods which have the opposite characteristics may be neutral in their effect on the delivery charge, or may even increase it.

[0021] Examples of other interactive pricing methods include rollover cashback methods. For instance, consistent with embodiments of the invention, rollover cashback methods may be provided. According to such methods, as the shopping list is complied on-line by a customer, the accumulated cashback is displayed on the screen to the customer. The accumulated cashback may represent money which can be set against the next order placed by the customer.

[0022] Moreover, consistent with additional embodiments of the invention, the above-described price reductions may be made visible before the customer passes through the checkout, and can be varied by the customer to achieve maximum advantage.

[0023] Systems consistent with embodiments of the invention may also be adapted to permit the virtual trial of goods, such as clothes, by the customer before deciding whether to buy. For example, using existing computer-aided design technology, the customer can enter his or her physical measurements, optionally with a photograph. Selecting a garment from the choice displayed on the supplier's Web site can give a visual demonstration of the fit and appearance of the garment as actually worn by the customer.

[0024] Consistent with embodiments of the invention, systems may be provided to facilitate the delivery of goods to the residence of a customer. Such systems may include: a docking station permanently attached to the property of a customer; and a set of lockable boxes that can be locked to the docking station. The lockable boxes may be adapted to store goods delivered to the customer and may have different sizes.

[0025] Optionally, the lockable boxes may be made of a robust but reasonably lightweight material, such as a thermo-plastic or paper/thermo-plastic composite. The lockable boxes may include an expanded or foam layer for cushioning the goods to be packed in the box. Further, the combined weight of the box and contents may be restricted to a predetermined weight limit (such as a weight not to exceed 25 kilograms) to comply with manual lifting legislation in most countries.

[0026] Each lockable box may also include a lock, such as a combination lock that is mechanical and/or electronic in construction. The lock may be operated by a code which is made available only to a customer or person telephoning from the delivery address. Additionally, each box may include a feature such as the removable tamper-evident seal, the purpose of which is to prevent anyone other than the intended recipient of the goods from removing the packed and locked box from the docking station.

[0027] Consistent with embodiments of the invention, receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods may also be provided. According to such systems and methods, the customer registers with the carrier or supplier of the goods for home delivery. The registration may include a unique identification code, such as the customer's telephone number. The carrier or supplier arranges for a docking station, to be attached to the customer's property. The docking station may be attached to an external door, which may be provided with a hole to allow access to the lock from inside the property, or it may be as a docking station located on the exterior wall of the property. The goods are packed in one of the secure boxes or containers of an appropriate size. Each box is locked with a code, which is recorded in the customer's details, but not on any of the documentation notifying the customer of delivery. The documentation, or the parcel itself, may be marked with a code, such as an order or delivery number.

[0028] Further, in such receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods, the box is delivered to the customer's address, and locked to the docking station. Notification of the delivery may be posted through the letterbox (or the package could be handed to someone at the customer's home, with no need to wait for a signature). The customer releases the box or container from the docking station (for example, from inside the property if the appropriate docking/locking station is fitted). The customer then telephones the registration number. The code to unlock the container is then released on recognition of the customer's telephone number or other unique recognition code, and by the customer quoting or keying in the order or delivery number. Simultaneously, receipt of the goods in the package is recorded. The customer opens the container, removes the goods, and then closes the container. Having unlocked the box, the feature that prevented the delivery person's key from removing the box from the docking point is removed. This permits the delivery person to remove the empty box during a subsequent visit.

[0029] Alternatively, consistent with embodiments of the invention, if the container is to be used for the return of goods (for example, clothes supplied on a “sale or return” basis), then the container can be re-sealed, with the tamper-evident tag (supplied with the goods) and placed back on the docking station. The customer telephones the supplier to say that goods are being returned and the driver is issued with a duplicate of the customer's key for only that shift in which the container with the returned goods is to be collected.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0030] In order that the embodiments of the invention may more readily be understood, a description is now given, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

[0031]FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary container for the storage and delivery of goods, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0032]FIG. 2a is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary tray of a container for storing frozen food goods;

[0033]FIG. 2b is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary tray of a container for storing chilled food goods;

[0034]FIG. 2c is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary tray of a container for storing hot food goods;

[0035]FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary tray of the type of FIG. 2a;

[0036]FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary container of the type of FIG. 1 that is ready for transport;

[0037]FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary empty docking station at a residence, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0038]FIG. 6 is view of an exemplary container of the type of FIG. 1 that is secured to a docking station, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0039]FIG. 7a illustrates an exemplary docking station of the type of FIG. 5 and part of a container of the type of FIG. 1 in exploded view;

[0040]FIG. 7b illustrates the exemplary docking station of FIG. 7a in the closed mode;

[0041]FIG. 7cis a cross-sectional view of the exemplary docking station of FIG. 7a and a part of a container of the type of FIG. 1 as seen from above;

[0042]FIG. 8a illustrates profiles of exemplary keys of a customer and a delivery person, respectively;

[0043]FIGS. 8b and 8 c illustrate different views of an exemplary lock mechanism, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0044]FIG. 8d illustrates the interior of an exemplary docking station, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0045]FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary stack support for trays of the type of FIG. 3;

[0046]FIG. 10 illustrates an exemplary stack support of the type of FIG. 9 that is locked to a docking station;

[0047]FIG. 11a is a perspective view of part of an exemplary tray, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0048]FIGS. 11b, 11 c and 11 d are cross-sectional views of exemplary trays of the type of FIG. 11a in different modes of use;

[0049]FIG. 12 illustrates an exemplary security box, consistent with embodiments of the invention;

[0050]FIG. 13 illustrates the exemplary security box of FIG. 12 secured to a docking station;

[0051]FIG. 14 is a sectional view of the exemplary box of FIG. 12 at the docking station shown in FIG. 13;

[0052]FIGS. 15a and 15 b are exemplary flowcharts of supply chain delivery methods, consistent with embodiments of the invention.

[0053]FIG. 16 is an exemplary graph illustrating the number of packs needed to maintain the temperature inside a container for different outside temperatures; and

[0054]FIG. 17 is an exemplary graph associated with a pricing method, consistent with embodiments of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0055] Embodiments consistent with the present invention may utilize a container for facilitating the delivery of goods to customers. FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary container 1 for storing and delivering goods. The dimensions of container 1 may be set according to a number of factors, including the type or size of goods to be stored therein and delivery requirements or restrictions. By way of a non-limiting example, container 1 may have a height of approximately 1 meter, a width of approximately 0.6 meters (such that it can readily fit through a standard door width) and a depth of approximately 0.5 meters. Container 1 may be constructed from numerous materials, such as a low density polyethylene or a high density polyethylene plastics material. As will be apparent to those skilled in the art, other materials may be used to construct the container.

[0056] In the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1, container 1 includes a vertical closure panel 2, which slides downwardly along vertical flanges 3 extending down both sides and along the top of container 1. Container 1 also supports a set of trays 4 (by way of example, four trays are illustrated in FIG. 1), each tray having a runner 5 (see FIGS. 2a, 2 b, 2 c and 3) to engage with a co-operating horizontal static runner on the interior of container 1. The trays 4 may be used to store a wide range of goods, such as groceries and foodstuffs.

[0057] Any one or more of the four trays 4 may have a thermally insulating liner 6 formed of a base section 7 and lid 8. If the tray 4 and liner 6 is to contain frozen foodstuff, then an eutectic plate 9 may be provided on the bottom interior of base 7 and another eutectic plate 9 may be provided on the top of the frozen foodstuffs. FIG. 2a illustrates an exemplary tray 4 for storing frozen food goods. Consistent with embodiments of the invention, each eutectic plate 9 may contain a solution of sodium chloride.

[0058] Trays 4 may also be adapted for storing chilled groceries. FIG. 2b, for example, illustrates an exemplary tray 4 for storing chilled food goods. When a tray (such as the exemplary tray 4 of FIG. 2b ) is to contain chilled foodstuffs, then plates containing ice (at or about −1° C.) may be used instead of eutectic plates 9.

[0059] Trays 4 may also be adapted for storing warm or hot groceries. FIG. 2c, for example, illustrates an exemplary tray 4 for storing warm or hot food goods. When a tray (such as the exemplary tray 4 of FIG. 2c) is to contain warm or hot foodstuffs, then plates 11 of latent heat paraffin may be used instead of eutectic plates 9.

[0060] Consistent with embodiments of the invention, container 1 may be adapted to contain a number of trays 4 of different temperature conditions. In such cases, any tray 4 that contains frozen foodstuffs may be positioned at or near the bottom of the container, and any tray 4 that contains hot foodstuffs may be positioned at or near the top of the container so that the temperature distribution is such that increasing temperature increases with height.

[0061] Thus, insulated liner 6 of container 1 may be used, together with temperature control packs or plates 9, 10 and/or 11, to maintain food products at particular or required temperatures. As will be apparent to those skilled in the art, the required temperature is determined based on the nature of the food. For example, typically frozen food is kept at −21° C. to −18° C., chilled food is kept at 0° C. to +5° C., and hot food is kept above +63° C.

[0062] For home delivery of groceries, it is convenient to pick and pack the order, deliver it to the customer's home, and for the goods then not to require unpacking and transfer to the customer's fridge or freezer for a few hours. Using a container consistent with embodiments of the present invention, a storage time may be provided of at least 24 hours at the required temperature for chilled or frozen food. Further, for hot food products, storage times are generally less, because most food loses quality if kept hot for long periods.

[0063] Consistent with embodiments of the invention, the container 1 may provide sufficient thermal insulation to hinder the flow of heat into or out of the food, and include temperature control packs or plates containing a suitable phase-change material (PCM) which changes phase at or near the required temperature for the food.

[0064] Heat flowing into or out of container 1 is taken up or lost by the phase-change material as latent heat, resulting in a change of phase of some of the material, without significant change in temperature. Only when all the phase-change material has changed phase will further heat transfer result in a change in temperature.

[0065] By way of non-limiting examples, suitable phase-change materials for container 1 include: eutectic solution of sodium chloride (23% w/w, changes phase at −21° C.); water (0° C.); and latent heat paraffins (for instance, a normal-paraffinic hydrocarbon with 30 carbon atoms in the molecule melts at approx 65° C.). The phase-change material may be contained within a leak-proof container. The phase-change material is not intended to come into contact with food, but must still be non-toxic.

[0066] The rate of flow of heat (Q) is given by the equation: Q=λA dT/dx, where λ is the thermal conductivity, A is the cross-sectional area, and dT/dx is the temperature/thickness gradient. For an insulated tray 6 as described above, the product λA has to be determined by measurement of the box itself, rather than from literature or theoretical values. Once the behavior of the box has been established, it is possible to calculate the amount of phase-change material (or number of packs) needed to maintain the temperature inside the box for 24 hours for different ambient (external) temperatures. An exemplary graph illustrating the number of packs needed to maintain the temperature inside the box for 24 hours for different ambient temperatures is provided in FIG. 16.

[0067] In accordance with embodiments of the invention, the weather forecast may be taken into account when packing the goods. For instance, the forecast temperature for the next 24 hours may be used to determine the number of phase-change material packs placed in the insulated box with the food goods.

[0068] By way of a non-limiting example, for a tray 4 with a liner made of expanded polystyrene, a wall thickness of approximately 5 centimeters is practical and suitable for frozen foods, and a wall thickness of approximately 2.5 centimeters for chilled foods. The weight of the phase-change material packs can be substantial, but there need be no problem with lifting a container 1 as it may be provided with two wheels 15 (see FIG. 1).

[0069] As illustrated in FIG. 3, an individual tray 4 may include a cover 12 for covering the top opening of the tray. Cover 12 may be provided with a tamper-evident seal 13 to detect tampering or unwanted removal of cover 12. Seal 13 may be formed with a plastic click tab and/or a lock along one of the edges including one of the runners 5, as shown in FIG. 3.

[0070] Once the trays 4 are filled with goods and the closure panel 2 has been slid into place, a tamper-evident tab 14 is activated so that the container 1 is now sealed ready for transport and delivery, as illustrated in FIG. 4. As indicated above, container 1 has two wheels 15 along a lower edge to enable the container to be readily moved by a delivery person.

[0071]FIG. 5 is a view of an exemplary empty docking station 16. Docking station 16 may be provided at the delivery address or residence of a customer. As illustrated in FIGS. 7a and 7 c, docking station 16 may comprise a base plate 17, secured by four large masonry screws 18 to a wall 19 of the customer's residence. Docking station 16 may also include two protruding latching members 20, 21 each with a hooked end 22, 23, respectively. Additionally, docking station 16 may be provided with a hinged cover 24 with a lock 25, a keyhole 26 and a viewing hole 27 (see FIGS. 7a, 7 b and 7 c).

[0072] When container 1 is positioned at docking station 16 (see, for example, FIG. 6), the top edge of the upper rim 28 of closure panel 2 and the top edge of flange 3 is placed against base plate 17 such that latching members 20, 21 pass through apertures 29, 30 in the flange 3 of container 1 and apertures 31 and 32 of the rim 28. Thereafter, hinged cover 24 is closed over the flange 3 allowing the spring-loaded latches 71, 72 to engage behind the latching members 20, 21. Flange 3 and rim 28 are sealed together by tamper-evident seal 14, the body 33 of the seal protruding from flange 3. Now that the cover is closed, the connecting rod 73 connecting the lock body 69 to latch 72 rests against the seal body 33. Clockwise rotation of the key in the lock is now impossible because downward motion of the connecting rod is prevented (see FIG. 7c). Connecting rod 74 extends between lock body 69 and latch 71.

[0073] By way of a non-limiting example, FIG. 7b shows the docking station 16 with cover 24 closed over the upper rim of panel 2 and the upper edge of container 1 and locked in position. Further, FIG. 7cis a cross-sectional view of the docking station 16 when seen from above with container 1 attached.

[0074] As indicated above, docking station 16 may be provided with a lock 25. Keys may be issued to a customer and a delivery person to operate lock 25. For instance, FIG. 8a illustrates exemplary profiles of keys 40, 41 for the customer and the delivery person, respectively. In accordance with embodiments of the invention, customer key 40 may be adapted to work in both the clockwise direction (to lock) and counter-clockwise direction (to unlock) the container provided at the docking station of the customer's residence. In contrast, the delivery person's key 41 may be a master key that can operate all locks of all docking stations in a given area, but key 41 may only be able to provide clockwise action to lock a container to a docking station.

[0075] Providing lock 25 with dual-lock action makes use of lock technology to limit the possibility of theft of the contents of the container 1 while the box is locked to the customer's property, and before it is opened and emptied by the customer.

[0076] In past attemtps, the delivery person was issued with a master key for all the containers locks in his or her area. Each customer would be issued with a key unique to his or her lock. The possibility existed, however, that the driver's key would in time be lost or stolen, or an unauthorized copy made, and the security of a large number of locks would be compromised.

[0077] Embodiments consistent with the present invention prevent this drawback by introducing a feature which affects the action of the lock in such a way as to distinguish between a container before it has been opened by the customer and after it has been so opened (i.e., between a full and an empty container).

[0078] In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, the lock may be opened by clockwise action of both the driver's master key 41, and by the customer's unique key 40. As illustrated in FIG. 8a, the customer's key 40 may be provided with a longer shaft, with further levers at the distal end, which are needed to open the lock in the counterclockwise direction.

[0079] As indicated above, container 1 may be sealed with one or more tamper-evident disposable tags 14. Tags 14 may be inserted through holes in the container 1 and closure panel 2. One of the tags 14 may be provided at the top flange of container 1, in an area which engages with the docking station. This tag may include a body 33 (made of, for example, plastic) which stands proud of container 1, and projects into the locking area, just to the right and slightly below, lock 25. The lock has a cam on its inner end, and projecting to the right.

[0080] The delivery person can open an empty docking station with the master key 41, by turning the key clockwise. When a sealed, and therefore full, container 1 is locked to the docking station 16, the cam is obstructed by the body 33 of the tag, and the lock is prevented from working in the clockwise direction. The master key 41 is therefore ineffective, only the customer's key 40 can now release the box. Once the tag 33 has been removed, there is no obstruction to clockwise action of the lock, so the delivery person is able to remove an empty container 1 by using the master key 41.

[0081]FIGS. 8b, 8 c and 8 d illustrates examples of how docking station 16 and the above-described lock mechanism work, with the hinged cover plate 24 closing to grip the rim of the container between the cover and base plate 17. The cam 150 inside the docking station 16 engages the removable tamper-evident tag 33, preventing clockwise function of the lock. The delivery person's key 41 only works in the clockwise direction. Removal of the tag 33 when the box is opened allows the lock to work in either direction. In FIG. 8b, the position of cover 24 when open is indicated by 24 1, and when closed by 24 11.

[0082]FIG. 8b illustrates the interior of docking station 16 in relation to the position shown in FIG. 8b.

[0083] As indicated above, container 1 may include one or more trays 4 for storing goods. Depending on the size of container 1, a maximum number of trays 4 (such as six trays) may be supported in the container. In accordance with an embodiment of the invention, container 1 may include one or more trays which are deeper or shallower than other trays 4. Also, container 1 may be used to hold goods not held in trays, for example large objects or items on hangers (e.g., clothes which are new or have been cleaned). As will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art, container 1 may include any possible combination of such alternatives.

[0084] In accordance with an embodiment of the invention, receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods may be provided for delivering goods to customers. Such systems and methods may be adapted for delivering various types of goods, including food products, valuable items or confidential documents.

[0085] With the receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods, a customer may first register with a carrier or supplier for the home delivery of a set of goods (i.e., one or more goods, including valuable or confidential items). As part of this registration process, a unique identification code may be assigned, such as the customer's telephone number.

[0086] If the registered customer does not have a docking station, then the carrier or supplier may arrange for a docking station to be provided at the customer's property. For example, a docking station may be attached to an external door of the customer's property. The door may be provided with a hole to allow the customer to access to the lock of the docking station from inside the property. Alternatively, docking station may be located on the exterior wall of the property.

[0087] The set of goods for the customer are packed in one or more secure boxes of an appropriate size. Before delivery, each box is locked with a code. The code for locking the box is recorded, but not on any of the documentation notifying the customer of delivery. The documentation, or the parcel itself, is marked with a code, such as an order or delivery number.

[0088] The secure box containing the set of goods is then delivered to the customer's address. At the customer's residence, the box may be locked to the docking station. Notification of the delivery may be posted through the letterbox. Alternatively, the package could be handed to someone at the customer's home, with no need to wait for a signature.

[0089] To access the set of goods, the customer may first release the secure box from the docking station. This may be achieved from inside the customer's property if the appropriate docking/locking point is fitted. The customer then telephones the registration number. The code to unlock the box is released on recognition of the customer's telephone number or other unique recognition code, and by the customer quoting or keying in the order or delivery number. Simultaneously, receipt of the goods by the customer is recorded.

[0090] Using the code, the customer may then open the box. The secure box may include a lock (such as a mechanical and/or electrical combination lock) that can be operated with the code. After unlocking the secure box with the code, the customer may remove the set of goods, and then close the box and lock it to the docking station. Having unlocked the box, the feature that prevented the delivery person's key from removing the box (e.g., tag 33 or another suitable tamper-evident device) from the docking station is removed. Thereafter, the delivery person may remove the empty box during a subsequent visit to the customer's residence.

[0091] The receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods of the present invention may be provided with a number of features. For example, a docking station is permanently attached to the customer's property to facilitate delivery of the security boxes or containers. Further, a range of lockable boxes in different sizes may be provided. The boxes can be made of a robust but reasonably lightweight material, such as a thermo-plastic or paper/thermo-plastic composite, and may include an expanded or foam layer for cushioning the goods to be packed in the box. By way of a non-limiting example, the combined weight of the box and its contents may comply with manual lifting legislation in most countries, and, for example, may not exceed approximately 25 kilograms.

[0092] Additionally, as disclosed herein, the lock of the security box may be a combination lock type, such as a mechanical and/or electronic lock. The lock may be operated by a code which is made available only to a customer telephoning from the delivery address. Moreover, the security box may include a removable tamper-evident seal, the purpose of which is to prevent anyone other than the intended recipient of the goods from removing the packed and locked box from the docking station.

[0093] The receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods of the present invention are similar to the above-described delivery systems and methods that may be implemented with exemplary, wheeled container 1. However, there are some distinctions for delivery systems and methods implemented with container 1. For example, container 1 is sealed with a tamper-evident seal, but not a lock. Therefore, there is no need for the customer to phone the supplier to obtain a code to unlock the container. Further, container 1 is wheeled, so it is not weight restricted. Thus, whereas the maximum weight for a container of groceries can between 30 to 60 kilograms, a confidential box of the exemplary receipt-acknowledged delivery systems and methods may be limited to a maximum weight of 25 kilograms.

[0094] Additional delivery systems and methods may be provided, consistent with the invention. For example, if the secure box or container is to be used for the return of goods (for instance, for clothes supplied on a “sale or return” basis), then the box or container can be re-sealed, with a tamper-evident tag (supplied with the goods) and placed back on the docking station. The customer then telephones the supplier to say that goods are being returned. In response, a driver is issued with a duplicate of the customer's key for only that shift in which the container with the returned goods is to be collected.

[0095] In accordance with additional embodiments of the invention, container 1 may be replaced by other tray support mechanisms or arrangements at the customer's residence. For example, FIG. 9 illustrates an exemplary vertical stack support 50 which is adapted to hold one or more trays 4. The trays may be stacked when full, either by using cover 12 to support another tray, or by a support molded into, or attached to, the tray 4 itself. This support may be in the form of a handle or handles which when folded flat, serve to support another tray.

[0096] For delivering goods to a customer, one or more trays 4 may be packed with goods (such as ambient, chilled or frozen food goods) as already described and marked with customer identification. The packed trays may then be delivered to the customer's residence and placed on vertical stack support 50, as illustrated in FIG. 9.

[0097] Other tray support mechanisms are feasible. For example, as illustrated in FIGS. 11a and 11 b, runners 170 may be provided to support a tray 4 in a hinged arrangement so that in one position they lie outwardly of a side wall 171 of tray 4 and operate as runners allowing sliding motion by cooperation with runners or grooves in container 1. In another position, runners 170 may lie inwardly of the sides 171 of tray 4 in order to enable stacking of the trays 4. As illustrated in FIG. 11c, this may permit the trays 4 to be stacked with goods contained in the trays. Additionally, the position of runners 170 shown in FIGS. 11a and 11 b enables two or more trays, when empty, to be stored or transported while taking up minimal space (see FIG. 11d).

[0098] In the embodiment of FIG. 11a, each runner 170 may be provided with two or more hinge bars 172. Further, each hinge bar 172 may include a pivot 173 connecting the hinge bar 172 to the side wall 171 of tray 4. Bar 172 is connected by a second pivot (not visible) to runner 170.

[0099] For home delivery, trays 4 may be taken on a wheeled trolley to the customer's home. The trolley itself or the stack of trays may be attached to a docking station 16, as illustrated in FIG. 10. Such an arrangement may also be particularly suited for personal pick-up from the shop or depot after the customer telephones in the order, or after the customer submits the order over the Internet.

[0100] For personal pick-up, the stack of trays may be secured to a docking station or within a secure enclosure at the store or depot. The location of the goods may be identified, and a key issued to release them upon production of suitable identification by the customer. Alternatively, the location can be identified on the customer's confirmation of the order, and the goods released by swiping a card, such as the customer's loyalty card. The store or depot provides a means for return of the trays, lids and any insulated inserts and temperature control packs.

[0101]FIG. 12 illustrates an exemplary confidential documents or security box 80, consistent with embodiments of the invention. Security box 80 may include a lid 81, hinge or catch 82, combination lock 83 and flange 84 with slot 85 to permit locking of the box to a docking station.

[0102] By way of non-limiting example, FIG. 13 illustrates security box 80 attached to a docking station 86, which is mounted on the outside of the front door of a customer's property.

[0103]FIG. 14 illustrates a sectional view of an exemplary security box of the type of FIG. 12. As illustrated in FIG. 14, a bevelled latching extension 90 may be provided that has square or hexagonal head 91, which engages with a mating socking 92 on the end of a spring-loaded shaft 93. Shaft 93 may protrude through a door 94 of the customer and be operated by a knob 95 inside the customer's property.

[0104] In accordance with embodiments of the invention, security box 80 may be attached to docking station 86 such that it cannot be removed by the delivery person's master key. This may be achieved through the interaction of a tamper-evident tag on the box 80 and a clockwise-obstructing cam on the lock, similar to that described above in connection with other embodiments of the invention.

[0105] The customer can release the security box 80 from the docking station 86 from inside the property by rotating the knob 95 on the inside of the front door 94 in a clockwise direction (this would be counter-clockwise if looking at the lock from outside the customer's property). The release of the box 80 may also be performed with a key. Alternatively, the docking station could be operated from outside the customer's house with two keys, as described above in connection with FIG. 8a.

[0106] After the security box 80 is released from the docking station 86 into the customer's custody, the customer may be required to register receipt of the box in order to get the code for the combination lock. In such a case, the customer may telephone a registration number and, upon authentication, receive the code or combination to unlock the security box 80.

[0107] Consistent with embodiments of the invention, “smart” technology (such as those incorporating radio frequency identification (RFID) tags) may be used to allow tracking of the container and/or its stored items. For example, the container or its stored items may be “labeled” by attaching a tracking device or chip that is connected to an antenna, and optionally a battery. Such devices are commercially available in many different forms, ranging from a passive barcode label replacement, such as the GemWave Folio range, to temperature monitoring and active transmitting devices.

[0108] Various tracking, identification and other methods may be performed. For example, in accordance with an embodiment of the invention, asset tagging may be performed. To perform asset tagging, each component of the container, namely the container 1 itself, each tray 4, each insulated liner 6 (being base 7 and cover 8), and/or each eutectic pack 9 is labeled with a passive RFID tag. Once container 1 is packed with the customer's goods (such as groceries) and sealed, the whole container 1 may be passed through a detection “portal”, which reads and records the identification of each component. On return, the empty container 1 is again passed through the detector, and any missing components are immediately identified, and can be charged to the customer's credit card or account.

[0109] In accordance with another embodiment of the invention, a picking method may be performed. To perform picking, a customer's order may be picked at a store or depot directly into the trays. For example, frozen or chilled food goods may be picked into the insulated liner 6 or a box in the tray 4. A number of trays (such as 6 trays representing part of 6 different orders) may be picked at a time. The rewritable tag on the tray can carry not just the customer's identification (such as name, order number, account number etc., which is essential to the picker, and which replaces the barcode label), but can be written with other information such as the time of picking.

[0110] According to still another embodiment of the invention, tag programming methods may be performed. For example, the customer and delivery details may be programmed onto a tag for container 1. The delivery driver or person may then scan each box to ensure correct delivery. Also, the docking station can be tagged to identify the customer and address. The use of re-writable tags replaces paper barcode labels, thereby saving cost, labor and litter.

[0111] In accordance with other embodiments of the invention, temperature recording methods may be performed. For instance, a historical record of temperature can be stored on the chip or tag of the container to monitor and guarantee food safety over the period the food goods are stored in the container.

[0112] Various labeling methods may also be performed, consistent with embodiments of the invention. For example, a container or security box may be labeled with an active RFID tag that has its own power source. The active RFID tag may transmit a signal, allowing tracking of the box, and acting as an anti-theft measure.

[0113] In accordance with another embodiment of the invention, route monitoring methods may be performed. For example, when goods are transported through a transport system (such as a hub and spoke transport system), the re-writable tag on a container or security box can be used to record progress and timings of the container or box through the transport system. Additionally, an active tag on the delivery vehicle itself can help to track the vehicle, and also through global satellite positioning, to confirm correct delivery locations and to plan routes efficiently.

[0114] Consistent with other embodiments of the invention, ultra-chill or chilling methods may be performed for the delivery of foodstuffs. For example, frozen food order by a customer can be placed in a chilled food insulated insert, together with chill packs with a phase change temperature at or about 0° C. During its transit from the supplier to the customer, the temperature of the food can increase to about 0° C., and then be held at that temperature. Such an arrangement is particularly suited to food goods which the customer wishes to receive chilled, but which are more conveniently stored frozen by the supplier. Examples of such food goods include fish, ready meals, cakes, etc.

[0115] Systems and methods consistent with the embodiments of the present invention enable the provision of goods, including but not restricted to groceries, delivered direct to the consumer, at prices comparable with, and capable of being genuinely lower than, general supermarket prices. For example, embodiments of the invention significantly reduce the overall supply chain by removing the “bricks and mortar” supermarket with its associated storage and display costs.

[0116] In accordance with embodiments of the invention, various pricing methods may be performed. For example, customers can be invited to “buy forward”, committing today to buy goods (and paying for such goods today), for delivery up to a few weeks in the future. The planning and logistical advantage this gives to the manufacturer and retailer can permit deep price cuts possible without reducing profit margin. It also removes from manufacturers the risk of being penalized by supermarket customers for supplying discounted goods to a smaller customer (the home delivery retailer). Further, the manufacturer's supply prices may remain in line with the buying power of the retailer customer, and the home delivery retailer can genuinely afford to offer lower retail prices because of efficiencies in the supply chain.

[0117] As illustrated in the exemplary graph of FIG. 17 (for example only), the lowest sustainable retail prices from a basic price supermarket may be set at 100%. A cut-price warehouse operation might be able to sustain 98%, but only by offering a mix of economy own-label and special offers of short-life and special purchase goods. An average quality mainstream supermarket would probably run at about 105% and better quality supermarkets up to about 115%. By permitting customers to order in advance, economies of 15% and more are obtainable, and allow a typical home delivery container to be delivered free without impacting on the normal grocery margin.

[0118] Additionally, interactive display and selling techniques may be provided in connection with, for example, customers on the Internet. For example, consistent with an embodiment of the invention, a conversion process (“Why did you not buy?”) may be performed that is designed to convert waverers into actual customers. Additionally, a bargaining process (“How much would you be prepared to pay for this item?”) may be performed to gather information on how an offer could be made more appealing to customers.

[0119] In accordance with other embodiments of the invention, interactive pricing methods may be performed. Such methods may be implemented to reintroduce the practice of bargaining into the otherwise fixed price regime of the modern supermarket. The interactive pricing methods may be implemented with respect to customers that place orders for goods on-line. For instance, a merchant or deliverer may operate a Web site that is accessible through the Internet by customers. Customers operating a browser on their personal computer, laptop or handheld device (such as a mobile phone or personal digital assistant (PDA)), may navigate the Web site and place orders for goods on-line. A delivery order from a customer may include various information, including the set of goods to be delivered and a delivery address (such as a home or business address of the customer). The interactive pricing methods of the present invention may be implemented as part of the customer's shopping experience on-line, such as during the selection of goods or during checkout or submission of the final order.

[0120] For example, a variable delivery charge method may be provided in which the delivery charge for a customer's order is adjusted according to a number of factors (such as the quantity of goods, the size of the goods, the location of customer's residence, etc.). The charge for a delivery may be displayed on a screen as the customer compiles a shopping list on-line. Goods which are efficient to deliver with a container by virtue of being compact in relation to their price, or undemanding in their temperature requirements, may trigger a reduction in the delivery charge as they are added to the shopping cart. Goods which have the opposite characteristics may be neutral in their effect on the delivery charge, or may even increase it.

[0121] Additionally, a rollover cashback method may be provided in accordance with embodiments of the invention. For instance, as a customer's shopping list or cart is compiled on-line, the accumulated cashback is displayed on the customer's screen, representing money which can be set against the next order made by the customer.

[0122] The above-described pricing methods may be implemented such that any price reductions are visible before the customer passes through the checkout, and can be varied by the customer to achieve maximum advantage.

[0123] Systems and methods consistent with embodiments of the invention may be adapted to provide additional features. For example, system and methods may be provided to facilitate the virtual trial of goods, such as clothes, by the customer before deciding whether to buy. Using existing computer-aided design technology, the customer can enter his or her physical measurements, optionally with a photograph. Selecting a garment from the choice displayed on the supplier's Web site can give a visual demonstration of the fit and appearance of the garment as actually worn by the customer.

[0124] Embodiments of the invention can address the issues of unattended delivery and receipt acknowledgement of valuable or important items, which are too bulky to pass through the letterbox of most houses. Examples include legal documents, or other packages which are normally be delivered by recorded delivery, with the recipient's signature being required as proof of delivery.

[0125] As indicated above, systems and method consistent with embodiments of the invention can be implemented to significantly reduce the overall supply chain process and, therefore, the costs associated with operating a traditional supply chain. For example, conventional supply chains include costs associated with maintaining “bricks and mortar” store location(s), as well as extra delivery, storage and stockroom costs. Typically, a supply chain for supermarket home deliveries includes the following steps: arrival of goods to manufacture; stored goods picked for manufacture; production; finished goods; storage of finished goods; goods ready for dispatch; dispatched goods to depot; delivery of goods from depot to retail; retail depot picked goods ready to dispatch to store; store receives goods to stockroom; stockroom to retail display; displayed goods picked for home shopping; picked goods stored in chiller or freezer until delivery van available; home shopping goods to van; and van delivery to home. Such supply chains are inefficient and include extra costs.

[0126] Consistent with embodiments of the present invention, systems and methods may be provided to implement efficient supply chains for delivery goods to customers. FIGS. 15a and 15 b illustrate exemplary flowcharts of supply chain delivery methods that may be implemented using a container, such as container 1 of FIG. 1. Such methods may be performed to reduce the distribution and overall supply chain.

[0127] To implement the exemplary methods of FIGS. 15a and 15 b, a hub and zone distribution system may used with a central “hub” or depot where goods are picked and placed into containers, and a number of “zones” or areas are defined to facilitate delivery to customers. For example, a large wholesaler or a consortium of manufacturers may deliver their products to a central depot, or depots, where goods are picked into container(s) according to individual customers' orders. The sealed containers may then be transported to “zone” depots, from where they are finally delivered to each customer's home. The ability to maintain food at a variety of appropriate temperatures allows ample time for nationwide distribution from a very limited number of depots.

[0128] Alternatively, consistent with embodiments of the invention, a retailer or supermarket based in a country (other than the country where this distribution is to be implemented) may use the containers and distribution systems described to enter a new market, gaining direct contact with the consumer and using existing picking and distribution facilities, without the capital cost of buying or building local retail stores.

[0129] Referring to FIG. 15a, an exemplary flowchart is provided of a supply chain method in which goods are delivered to the homes of customers using, for example, a container of the type of FIG. 1. As illustrated in FIG. 15a, steps S1-S7 relate to steps performed by the supplier(s) or manufacturer(s) of the goods, including the dispatch of the goods to one or more distribution center hub(s). From steps S8 to S10 the distribution chain, and costs associated with it, are greatly reduced. In particular, based on orders from customers, the goods are picked at a central depot, or depots, and placed into container(s) (step S8). Then, the sealed containers are dispatched and transported to the appropriate “zone” depot or store (step S9), from where they are finally delivered to each customers' home (step S10).

[0130]FIG. 15b illustrates another exemplary flowchart of a supply chain method. The exemplary method of FIG. 15b may be used to deliver goods to homes of customers where the goods have been ordered in advance by customers. As illustrated in FIG. 15b, steps S20-S24 are similar to the steps S1-S7 of FIG. 15b except, for example, the finished goods do not need to be stored since orders are placed in advance by customers. Therefore, the goods may be dispatched directly to the distribution center hub or hubs based on the advanced orders requested by customers. From steps S25 to S27 the distribution chain, and costs associated with it, are also greatly reduced. In particular, based on orders from customers, the goods are picked at a central depot, or depots, and placed into container(s) (step S25). Then, the sealed containers are dispatched and transported to the appropriate “zone” depot or store (step S26), from where they are finally delivered to each customer's home (step S27).

[0131] Each of the zone depots may be assigned to different delivery regions or groups of customers. Further, any combination of the above-described features may be incorporated in the exemplary methods of FIGS. 15a and 15 b. For example, a container of the type of FIG. 1 may be used to deliver goods. Further, a tamper-evident tag or seal may be provided with the container before delivery is made to a customer. Alternatively, a security box or container as disclosed herein may be utilized.

[0132] The invention is not limited to the particulars of the embodiments disclosed herein. Other embodiments of the invention will be apparent to those skilled in the art from consideration of the specification and practice of the systems and methods disclosed herein. Further, individual features of each of the disclosed embodiments may be combined or added to the features of other embodiments of the present invention. In addition, the steps of the disclosed methods herein may be combined or modified without departing from the spirit of the invention claimed herein. Accordingly, it is intended that the specification and examples be considered as exemplary only, with a true scope and spirit of the invention being indicated by the following claims.

[0133] The present application claims priority to GB Patent Application No. 0023563.0 (filed Sep. 25, 2000), GB Patent Application No. 0028850.6 (filed Nov. 27, 2000) and GB Patent Application No. 0112015.3 (filed May 17, 2001), the disclosures of which are expressly incorporated herein by reference to their entireties.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7124098Oct 7, 2002Oct 17, 2006The Kroger CompanyOnline shopping system
US7689465Mar 10, 2005Mar 30, 2010Amazon Technologies, Inc.System and method for visual verification of order processing
US7724154 *Oct 30, 2006May 25, 2010Acumera, Inc.System and method for food service storage bin monitoring
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US7988245 *Apr 26, 2007Aug 2, 2011Borroughs CorporationClothing and textile system
US8256852Jun 24, 2011Sep 4, 2012Borroughs CorporationClothing and textile system
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Classifications
U.S. Classification53/416
International ClassificationA47G29/20, A47G29/14, F25D3/06
Cooperative ClassificationA47G2029/146, F25D2331/804, A47G29/20, A47G2029/144, A47G2029/147, F25D2400/38, A47G2029/145, A47G29/141, F25D2303/0831, F25D3/06, F25D2700/08
European ClassificationA47G29/14E, A47G29/20, F25D3/06