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Publication numberUS20050080689 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/001,454
Publication dateApr 14, 2005
Filing dateDec 1, 2004
Priority dateJun 5, 2000
Also published asUS6871184
Publication number001454, 11001454, US 2005/0080689 A1, US 2005/080689 A1, US 20050080689 A1, US 20050080689A1, US 2005080689 A1, US 2005080689A1, US-A1-20050080689, US-A1-2005080689, US2005/0080689A1, US2005/080689A1, US20050080689 A1, US20050080689A1, US2005080689 A1, US2005080689A1
InventorsBarnet Liberman
Original AssigneeLiberman Barnet L.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
System and method of delivering groceries purchased over the internet
US 20050080689 A1
Abstract
Delivery items ordered over the Internet by a particular time in the early evening may be delivered by the next morning to a location within a 5-6 hour delivery radius of a warehouse, according to one specific aspect of the present invention. The order for the delivery items is filled at the warehouse, where the items are placed in a tote for delivery. The filled tote is placed on a movable rack, with shelves that are pitched such that when a tote is removed, another tote falls into the space previously occupied by the first tote. Racks holding the totes are transferred to a first vehicle, typically a large trailer, that transports the racks to a transfer point where one or more racks are transferred to a second smaller vehicle, such as a van. The van delivers the totes to customers along a pre-established route. Upon reaching a delivery destination, the driver removes the appropriate tote and secures it in a locked expandable bag, such as a mesh net or insulated bag, that may be locked in two places and that is itself secured to a delivery box, which is secured outside the delivery destination. Later, the customer can remove the tote from the bag, and removes the delivery items from the tote.
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Claims(65)
1. A system for distributing delivery items comprising:
a tote in which a delivery item is placed, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer for delivery to a delivery destination;
a movable rack for receiving the tote loaded with the delivery item, said movable rack being capable of holding a plurality of totes and of being moved about within a warehouse;
a first vehicle for receiving the movable rack, wherein the movable rack holding the tote may be secured within the first vehicle, and wherein said first vehicle is dispatched from the warehouse to a transfer point;
a second vehicle for receiving the tote from the first vehicle at the transfer point, wherein said second vehicle is dispatched from the transfer point to the delivery destination;
a box at the delivery destination; and
a secure expandable bag attached to the box for receiving the tote from the second vehicle, wherein said bag can expand to hold the tote, and wherein said bag comprises:
a first opening;
a first lock on said first opening, wherein said first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the bag through the first opening, and wherein said first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the bag;
a second opening; and
a second lock on said second opening, wherein said second lock is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote through the second opening.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein, when the bag is not used to store the tote, the bag is in a collapsed state and is stored within the box.
3. The system of claim 1, wherein the bag is one of a mesh net and an insulated bag.
4. The system of claim 1, wherein the movable rack comprises:
a shelf on which the tote is placed.
5. The system of claim 4, wherein the shelf on which the tote is placed is pitched such that when another tote is located on the rack behind the tote and the tote is removed, the other tote falls into a space previously occupied by the tote.
6. The system of claim 1, wherein the warehouse is situated within an approximately six hour travel radius from a plurality of delivery destinations.
7. The system of claim 6, further comprising:
a plurality of warehouses to stock a plurality of delivery items, including said warehouse situated within an approximately six hour travel radius from a plurality of delivery destinations.
8. The system of claim 1, wherein the tote further comprises:
means for maintaining the delivery item at a chilled temperature within the tote.
9. The system of claim 1, wherein the tote further comprises:
a portion to insert a frozen insert for maintaining the delivery item at a chilled temperature within the tote.
10. The system of claim 1, wherein the delivery item is maintained at a chilled temperature by feeding a chilled gas into at least a portion of the tote.
11. The system of claim 1, wherein the delivery item is a grocery item.
12. The system of claim 1, wherein the second vehicle receives the movable rack holding the tote from the first vehicle.
13. The system of claim 1, wherein the storage capacities of the first and second vehicles are such that the first vehicle may hold contents equivalent to the contents of a plurality of second vehicles.
14. A box for receiving a delivery item at a delivery destination, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer, comprising:
an interior; and
a secure expandable bag attached to the box for receiving a tote containing the delivery item, wherein said bag can expand to hold the tote, wherein said bag may be stored within said interior of the box in its collapsed state, and wherein said bag comprises:
a first opening;
a first lock on said first opening, wherein said first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the bag through the first opening, and wherein said first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the bag;
a second opening; and
a second lock on said second opening, wherein said second lock is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote through the second opening.
15. A bag for receiving a tote containing a delivery item at a delivery destination, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer, comprising:
a first opening;
a first lock on said first opening, wherein said first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the bag through the first opening, and wherein said first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the bag;
a second opening; and
a second lock on said second opening, wherein said second lock is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote through the second opening;
wherein the bag is securely attached to a box at the delivery destination; and
wherein the bag is expandable such that it can expand to hold the tote, and it can collapse to be stored within the box.
16. The bag of claim 15, further comprising:
a plurality of O-rings secured to a perimeter of one of the first and second openings, such that the one of the first and second openings is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another.
17. The bag of claim 15, further comprising:
a first plurality of O-rings secured to a perimeter of the first opening, such that the first opening is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another with the first lock; and
a second plurality of O-rings secured to a perimeter of the second opening, such that the second opening is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another with the second lock.
18. A bag for receiving a tote containing a delivery item at a delivery destination, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer, comprising:
an interior for holding the tote, wherein the bag is expandable such that it can contain the tote;
an opening to said interior; and
a two-way zipper across the opening for opening and closing the opening, the zipper having first and second ends, and first and second sliding pieces that close the zipper when fully extended apart from one another;
wherein a first lock locks the first sliding piece to a first position on the bag;
wherein a second lock locks the second sliding piece independently of the first sliding piece to a second position on the bag different from the first position on the bag;
wherein the first lock is unlocked in order to place the tote through the opening into the interior of the bag and is locked in order to secure the tote within the bag; and
wherein the second lock is unlocked in order to retrieve the tote from the interior of the bag.
19. The bag of claim 18, wherein the bag is securely attached to a box at the delivery destination, and it can collapse to be stored within the box
20. A system for distributing delivery items comprising:
a tote in which a delivery item is placed, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer for delivery to a delivery destination;
a movable rack for receiving the tote loaded with the delivery item, said movable rack being capable of holding a plurality of totes;
a vehicle for receiving the movable rack, wherein the movable rack holding the tote may be secured within the vehicle, and wherein said vehicle delivers said tote at least partway to the delivery destination; and
a receptacle secured at the delivery destination for receiving and containing the tote, said receptacle comprising:
a first lock which is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the receptacle, wherein said first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the receptacle; and
a second lock which is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote in the receptacle.
21. The system of claim 20, wherein the receptacle further comprises:
an opening to the interior of the receptacle; and
a two-way zipper across the opening for opening and closing the opening, the zipper having first and second ends, and first and second sliding pieces that close the zipper when fully extended apart from one another;
wherein the first lock locks the first sliding piece to a first position on the receptacle; and
wherein second lock locks the second sliding piece independently of the first sliding piece to a second position on the receptacle different from the first position on the receptacle.
22. The system of claim 20, wherein the receptacle further comprises:
a first opening associated with the first lock, wherein said first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the receptacle through the first opening;
a second opening associated with the second lock, wherein said second lock is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote through the second opening.
23. The system of claim 22, wherein the receptacle further comprises:
a plurality of O-rings secured to a perimeter of one of the first and second openings, such that the one of the first and second openings is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another.
24. The system of claim 22, wherein the receptacle further comprises:
a first plurality of O-rings secured to a perimeter of the first opening, such that the first opening is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another with the first lock; and
a second plurality of 0-rings secured to a perimeter of the second opening, such that the second opening is closed by locking the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another with the second lock.
25. The system of claim 20, further comprising:
a box secured at the delivery destination for containing the receptacle, wherein the receptacle is attached to said box.
26. The system of claim 20, wherein the receptacle is a box.
27. The system of claim 20, wherein the receptacle is a bag.
28. The system of claim 27, wherein the bag comprises one of a mesh net or an insulated bag.
29. The system of claim 20, wherein the receptacle is expandable in order to hold the tote.
30. The system of claim 20, wherein at least one of the first and second locks comprises a padlock.
31. The system of claim 20, wherein the movable rack comprises:
a shelf on which the tote is placed.
32. The system of claim 31, wherein the shelf on which the tote is placed is pitched such that when another tote is located on the rack behind the tote and the tote is removed, the other tote falls into a space previously occupied by the tote.
33. The system of claim 20, wherein said vehicle comprises:
a first vehicle which is dispatched to a transfer point from a warehouse from which the movable rack holding the tote came.
34. The system of claim 33, further comprising:
a second vehicle for receiving the tote from the first vehicle at the transfer point, wherein said second vehicle is dispatched from the transfer point to the delivery destination.
35. The system of claim 34, wherein the second vehicle receives the movable rack holding the tote.
36. The system of claim 34, wherein the storage capacities of the first and second vehicles are such that the first vehicle may hold contents equivalent to the contents of a plurality of second vehicles.
37. A receptacle for receiving and containing a tote containing a delivery item at a delivery destination, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer, comprising:
an interior for holding the tote; and
at least one sealable opening to said interior;
wherein a first lock can be used to seal the at least one opening;
wherein the first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the interior of the receptacle through the at least one opening upon delivery, and the first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the receptacle;
wherein a second lock can be used to seal the at least one opening; and
wherein the second lock is unlocked in order that the tote be retrieved from the interior of the receptacle through the at least one opening.
38. The receptacle of claim 37, wherein the at least one sealable opening comprises one of (i) a single opening sealable with a two-way zipper, and (ii) two openings, each being sealable by one of the first and second locks.
39. The receptacle of claim 37, wherein the receptacle is expandable so that it may contain the tote.
40. The receptacle of claim 37, wherein the receptacle is collapsible so that it may be contained in a box secured at the delivery destination.
41. The receptacle of claim 40, wherein the receptacle is securely attached to the box.
42. The receptacle of claim 40, wherein the receptacle is only collapsed when storing the receptacle in the box while the receptacle does not hold a tote.
43. A box for receiving a tote containing a delivery item at a delivery destination, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer, comprising:
an interior; and
a receptacle securely attached to the box for receiving and containing the tote containing the delivery item, wherein said receptacle comprises:
at least one sealable opening to an inside of the receptacle;
wherein a first lock can be used to seal the at least one opening;
wherein the first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the interior of the receptacle through the at least one opening upon delivery, and the first lock is locked in order to secure the tote inside the receptacle;
wherein a second lock can be used to seal the at least one opening; and
wherein the second lock is unlocked in order that the tote be retrieved from the inside of the receptacle through the at least one opening;
wherein said receptacle may be stored within said interior of the box.
44. The box of claim 43, wherein the receptacle may be stored in the box when the receptacle contains the tote.
45. The box of claim 43, wherein the at least one sealable opening comprises one of (i) a single opening sealable with a two-way zipper, and (ii) two openings, each being sealable by one of the first and second locks.
46. The box of claim 43, wherein the receptacle is expandable so that it may contain the tote.
47. The box of claim 43, wherein the receptacle is collapsible so that it may be contained in a box secured at the delivery destination.
48. The box of claim 47, wherein the receptacle is only collapsed when storing the receptacle in the box while the receptacle does not hold a tote.
49. A tote for containing a delivery item, said delivery item having been ordered by a customer for delivery to a delivery destination, comprising:
an interior into which a delivery item is placed;
wherein the tote may be placed in a receptacle at the delivery destination in order to be securely contained from the time the tote is delivered and placed in the receptacle until the customer can retrieve the tote from the receptacle;
wherein said receptacle comprises:
at least one sealable opening to an inside of the receptacle where the tote is to be placed;
wherein a first lock can be used to seal the at least one opening;
wherein the first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the interior of the receptacle through the at least one opening upon delivery, and the first lock is locked in order to secure the tote inside the receptacle;
wherein a second lock can be used to seal the at least one opening; and
wherein the second lock is unlocked in order that the tote be retrieved by the customer from the inside of the receptacle through the at least one opening.
50. The tote of claim 49, wherein the at least one sealable opening comprises one of (i) a single opening sealable with a two-way zipper, and (ii) two openings, each being sealable by one of the first and second locks.
51. A system for securing a tote for holding delivery items outside a delivery destination, comprising:
a box secured outside a delivery destination, the box having a cavity;
an expandable bag secured to the box and storable in a collapsed state within the cavity, the bag being expandable to an expanded state into which a tote may be placed, and
a lock for securing the tote within the bag.
52. A box for securing a tote for delivery items, the box comprising:
a cavity into which the tote may be placed, and
means for securing the tote that is placed within the cavity.
53. The box of claim 52, wherein the means for securing the tote comprises:
an expandable bag placed around the tote.
54. The box of claim 53, wherein the means for securing the tote further comprises:
a lock for securing the tote within the bag.
55. A rack for holding a first tote for delivering delivery items, the rack comprising:
a shelf on which the tote is placed; and
means for mounting the shelf on a surface such that the shelf is pitched downward when it is mounted and, when the first tote is removed, the second tote falls into a space previously occupied by the first tote.
56. The rack of claim 55, further comprising:
means for removably mounting the rack on a rack holder for removal with the tote on the rack.
57. The rack of claim 55, wherein the mounting means comprises a bracket for mounting the rack with the shelf pitched.
58. A bag for securing an item therein, the bag comprising:
an interior;
a sealable opening to the interior of the bag,
a two-way zipper across the opening to open and close the opening, the zipper having first and second ends, and first and second sliding pieces that close the zipper when fully extended apart from one another,
first means for locking the first end of the zipper to the bag by locking the first sliding piece to a first position on the bag, and
second means for locking the second sliding piece independently of the first sliding piece to a second position on the bag different from the first position on the bag.
59. The bag of claim 58, wherein the first and second locking means each comprise a padlock.
60. The bag of claim 58, wherein the bag comprises one of a mesh net or an insulated bag.
61. A bag for securing an item therein, the bag comprising:
a first opening having a perimeter;
a plurality of O-rings secured to the perimeter of the opening, such that the opening is closed by securing the plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another.
62. The bag of claim 61, further comprising a second opening having a second perimeter, and a second plurality of O-rings secured to the second perimeter of the second opening, such that the second opening is closed by securing the second plurality of O-rings in proximity to one another.
63. The bag of claim 61, wherein the bag comprises one of a mesh net or an insulated bag.
64. The bag of claim 61, wherein the item secured in the bag is a tote.
65. A method of distributing delivery items using a hierarchy of containment structures, comprising the steps of:
placing a delivery item ordered by a customer in a tote;
placing the tote onto a removable rack in a warehouse;
transferring the rack with the tote thereon into a first vehicle; and
dispatching the first vehicle to deliver the delivery item.
Description
    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • [0001]
    The present application is a divisional/continuation application from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/587,201, filed on Jun. 5, 2000, which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0002]
    1. Field of the Invention
  • [0003]
    This invention relates to a method for distributing groceries that are ordered over the Internet, or by some other remote means such as by phone, email, or fax.
  • [0004]
    2. Description of the Related Art
  • [0005]
    Some grocers have in recent years sought to develop businesses in which a full line of groceries may be sold over the Internet as an alternative to in-store sales. Selling merchandise over the Internet eliminates the need to maintain an abundance of sales personnel and thereby reduces costs. However, costs remain unnecessarily high for these Internet grocers because they have sought to emulate the business model of a conventional supermarket. Thus, they offer a full array of products, including both perishable and non-perishable items, and promise quick delivery, such as delivery within 30 minutes.
  • [0006]
    To meet these goals, the Internet grocers have established an abundance of warehouses for stocking the groceries in close proximity to each service area to which the groceries are to be delivered. The amount of capital required to maintain multiple warehouses in each neighborhood has limited the potential to achieve profitability as well as the business' ability to expand the number of areas they can service.
  • [0007]
    Moreover, in the existing business model, delivery people also serve as customer service personnel who interact with the customers by handling customer orders and complaints. It is difficult to find an abundance of qualified people who have the requisite customer relations skills and who are willing to perform such multiple responsibilities at a reasonable cost, particularly during prosperous economic times when the available labor pool is relatively small.
  • [0008]
    In an effort to service areas outside their local delivery areas, some Internet grocers offer to ship non-perishable groceries via an overnight delivery service. But the Internet grocers have found it challenging, if not impossible, to find an economical method of delivering perishable groceries, including dairy products, meats, frozen goods, and fresh fruits and vegetables outside of their local delivery areas without the groceries becoming spoiled. Perishables may be delivered without spoilage in refrigerated delivery trucks. However, refrigerating the delivery trucks is extremely expensive, results in increased pollution levels, and wastes a great deal of energy, particularly where the truck is filled with both perishables as well as non-perishables that do not require refrigeration.
  • [0009]
    It would be advantageous to have an alternative method of quickly and economically delivering groceries, which requires fewer resources, including fewer customer service personnel, and less capital outlay per area served.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0010]
    In one aspect, the present invention is directed to a system and method for distributing delivery items in which delivery items, which have been ordered by a customer for delivery to a delivery destination, are placed in a tote, which, in turn, is placed on a movable rack. The tote may be capable of holding a plurality of items and the movable rack may be capable of holding a plurality of totes. The movable rack holding the tote is moved into, and secured to, a vehicle which brings the tote at least partway to the delivery destination. At the delivery destination, the tote is placed in a receptacle which is securely attached to the delivery destination. A first lock on the receptacle is unlocked in order to place the tote in the receptacle, and it is locked in order to secure the tote in the receptacle. A second lock on the receptacle is unlocked by the customer at a later time to gain access to the tote (and thereby the delivery item).
  • [0011]
    In another aspect, the present invention is directed to a system and method, a second vehicle receives the tote from the (first) vehicle at a transfer point, and the second vehicle delivers the tote to the delivery destination.
  • [0012]
    In yet another aspect, the receptacle is a bag attached to the box, where the bag expands to hold the tote, and the bag comprises a first opening, a first lock on said first opening, wherein said first lock is unlocked in order that the tote be placed in the bag through the first opening, and wherein said first lock is locked in order to secure the tote in the bag; a second opening; and a second lock on said second opening, wherein said second lock is unlocked by the customer to gain access to the tote through the second opening
  • [0013]
    In yet another aspect, the bag only has a single opening with a two-way zipper having first and second sliding pieces that close the zipper when fully extended apart from one another. The first lock locks the first sliding piece to a first position on the bag, and the second lock locks the second sliding piece independently of the first sliding piece to a second position on the bag different from the first position on the bag. The first lock is unlocked in order to place the tote through the opening into the interior of the bag and is locked in order to secure the tote within the bag, while the second lock is unlocked in order for the customer to retrieve the tote from the interior of the bag.
  • [0014]
    There are many other aspects of the present invention, which will understood and/or described herein.
  • [0015]
    The presently preferred embodiment of this invention provides a method of doing business in which fresh and frozen products, as well as dry goods, may be delivered to the consumer quickly, efficiently, economically, and in an environmentally responsible way.
  • [0016]
    The present invention provides a method of distributing groceries ordered by a customer over the Internet, by email, by fax, or by some other means. Customers place their orders by an early evening cutoff time for delivery of items on the following morning. If the deliveries are not placed by the cutoff time, delivery of the items will be delayed by one day. The grocery order is filled by a clerk at a warehouse within a 5-6 hour delivery radius of the delivery destination specified by the customer. The clerk places the groceries in a tote, which may be partitioned into at least two sections. To serve a larger area with a larger radius while maintaining the 5-6 hour delivery time, one or more additional warehouses will be established. Means for maintaining the groceries at a desired chilled temperature are introduced into the tote when perishable groceries are to be delivered. These means may be, but are not limited to, a frozen insert placed into the tote before the tote is sealed or a chilled gas pumped into a portion of the tote.
  • [0017]
    After being sealed and filled with chilled gas (if necessary) the tote is placed on a rack that is mounted by a bracket or similar means onto a rack holder. The rack holder may have rollers on the bottom to enable the rack holder to be rolled with the racks thereon from place to place. The rack is removable from the rack holder with the tote on it and has shelves that are pitched or biased such that when a first tote is removed a second tote behind the first tote falls into the space of the first tote. There will generally be multiple racks of totes for delivery each day.
  • [0018]
    After the rack of totes is prepared for shipping, which is usually after the order cutoff time, the rack with the totes thereon is transferred to a first vehicle, typically a large trailer, that transports the rack (and totes) to a transfer point somewhere between the warehouse that filled the order and the delivery destination. At the transfer point, the rack is transferred to a second smaller vehicle, such as a van. The transfer occurs usually in the late evening or early the next morning. The van then delivers the totes to customers along its route.
  • [0019]
    Upon reaching a delivery destination, usually a customer's home, by early the next morning, the van driver removes the tote from the van for that customer and places it in a specially designed expandable bag, supplied to the customer along with a study, relatively small box in which the bag is stored when the bag is not in use. The box is permanently affixed to a post, such as to the ground or a door. Given its use in a method of delivering groceries, the box is referred to herein, for convenience, as a grocery box, although no groceries are necessarily placed within the box. The bag may be a mesh net or insulated bag secured by a cable or a chain to the box. An opening in the bag through which the tote is inserted is generally kept locked. Access to the bag may be available through two separate locks to permit separate access for the van driver and the customer.
  • [0020]
    To place the tote in the bag, the van driver removes the locked bag from the grocery box, opens a first of the two locks to gain access to the inside of the bag, inserts the tote in the bag, locks the first lock, and leaves the bag containing the tote on the ground near the grocery box while the bag remains secured to the grocery box. The totes remain locked in the bag until the customer opens the second lock, removes the tote, closes the second lock and places the locked bag back into the grocery box. The customer thereafter removes the groceries from the tote and returns the used tote to the bag outside the grocery box before the next expected delivery to that customer, at which time the delivery driver will pick up the emptied tote. The emptied totes are nestable within one another, allowing more than one emptied tote to be placed in the bag for return to the grocer. Rather than placing the bag with the tote outside the grocery box, a grocer may supply the customer with a grocery box large enough to place the bag along with the enclosed tote inside the grocery box.
  • [0021]
    Other objects and features of the present invention will become apparent from the following detailed description considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. It is to be understood, however, that the drawings are designed solely for purposes of illustration and not as a definition of the limits of the invention, for which reference should be made to the appended claims. It should be further understood that the drawings are not necessarily drawn to scale and that, unless otherwise indicated, they are merely intended to conceptually illustrate the structures and procedures described herein.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0022]
    In the drawings:
  • [0023]
    FIG. 1 is a flow chart illustrating the steps for practicing the method of the present invention;
  • [0024]
    FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the distribution system for practicing the present invention, including the various locations between which the groceries are transported and the methods of transporting the groceries between these locations;
  • [0025]
    FIG. 3 is an isometric view of a tote used for transporting the groceries;
  • [0026]
    FIG. 4 is an isometric view of a portion of a rack holder having pitched shelves on which the totes of groceries are placed;
  • [0027]
    FIG. 5A is a perspective view of a grocery box of the present invention as mounted on a well;
  • [0028]
    FIG. 5B is a cross-sectional view of the grocery box mounted to the wall along line 5B-5B of FIG. 5A and showing an expandable mesh net bag in its collapsed state that is stored within the grocery box when not in use;
  • [0029]
    FIG. 6 is an isometric view of the expandable bag in its fully expanded state with a two-way zipper used as a means for securing the tote within the grocery box;
  • [0030]
    FIG. 7 is a top view of the bag of FIG. 6;
  • [0031]
    FIG. 8A is a top view of an alternative bag used as a means for securing the tote within the grocery box;
  • [0032]
    FIG. 8B is a side view of the bag of FIG. 8A with a side of the bag unlocked;
  • [0033]
    FIG. 8C is a side view of the bag of FIG. 8A with a side of the bag locked; and
  • [0034]
    FIG. 9 is a flowchart of a grocery delivery method according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PRESENTLY PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
  • [0035]
    FIG. 1 illustrates the steps for practicing the method of the present invention. At step 10, a business establishes a network of warehouses 150 and transfer points 170, shown in FIG. 2. Warehouses 150 are generally designed to be large enough to stock a large variety of products, some requiring refrigeration, and to maximize turnover and variety. Transfer points 170 located at points between the warehouses and a cluster of potential customers' homes (or some other delivery destination) 190 are established as locations at which large trailers 160 transporting the groceries can transfer the groceries to smaller transport delivery vehicles like vans 180 to deliver the groceries to the customers' homes 190. As an alternative to trailers 160, other means of transportation like rail lines (not shown) may be used to transport the groceries to transfer points 160. The warehouses 150 are situated such that there is an approximately a 5 to 6 hour travel radius from any warehouse 150 in the network to a customer's delivery location, e.g., home, including the time it takes to transfer groceries between trailers 160 and vans 180 at transfer points 170. Because travel times for a given distance may vary due to traffic congestion, speed limits, or other reasons, the appropriate distances to achieve a maximum acceptable travel radius will have to be determined at the time the locations for the warehouses are selected. This problem should be reduced by confining deliveries to the late night/early morning time frame. Placement of the warehouses 150 should also take into consideration whether the potential location can attract an adequate labor pool of part-time order packers who can staff the warehouses 150 in the early evening.
  • [0036]
    Customers place orders for groceries at step 20. The orders may be placed at any time via the Internet, such as by accessing a designated Web site, e-mail, or by phone, or fax, or by standing order in which a customer specifies groceries to be delivered on a regular basis, or by any other means, and are received by the grocery supply establishment. For various reasons, including efficiency, simplicity, and minimizing staffing, the Internet is a preferred means of accepting orders. Customers must place their orders by some early evening cutoff point, such as 7 p.m., in order to receive their orders by the next day. (More remote locations may have an earlier cutoff point, such as at 5 or 6 p.m.) At step 30, the orders are filled at warehouses 150 by personnel, mostly part-time employees, who select the grocery items ordered (and any other non-grocery items sold by the business and stocked at the warehouse) off the appropriate shelves in the warehouse and load the groceries ordered by a particular customer into an appropriately-sized tote 200 (FIG. 3) or in a portion of tote 200.
  • [0037]
    Totes 200, which may come in different sizes (one possible size is 12″H12″W24″L), may be made of a sturdy, washable material, such as a strong plastic designed to hold dry goods, refrigerated, and frozen products within a cavity 213 in the tote, and have a cover 205 to seal the cavity 213 of tote 200. The cavity 213 of tote 200 may be partitioned into multiple sections 217 with an insulated material 218 held within vertical grooves 219 cut at intervals along the length or width of cavity 213. For example, where a tote is 12″H12′W24″L, grooves 219 may be cut every 2 inches along the width of tote 200 at points between 4″ to 16″ from a first side 200 a of the tote. The partition may also extend into the bottom 200 b and cover 205 of tote 200 so that a section of the tote 200 can be pressurized with a chilled gas, like carbon dioxide or nitrogen, as described below.
  • [0038]
    The groceries are kept at a desired chilled temperature, whether frozen or refrigerated, within totes 200 or within sections 217 of totes 200. This may be accomplished in various ways. For example, a frozen insert 210 containing an appropriate mix of frozen cells, such as a belt of encapsulated ice substitute described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,860,202 entitled Process for Preparing Ice Substitutes may be inserted as a lining in the tote 200. The tote can then be sealed with cover 205. Another means of freezing or refrigerating the groceries within totes 200 is by first sealing tote 200 and then introducing a chilled gas, such as chilled nitrogen or carbon dioxide via a pressure relief valve 215 on the tote 200. The chilled gas may be introduced into the entire tote 200 or only a section 217 of the tote 200. The pressure relief valve 215 has a mechanism (not shown) for opening the valve before tote 200 is opened.
  • [0039]
    Where a frozen insert 210 is used, different combinations of cells having different freezing points may be used to maintain a desired temperature having two points at which the heat of fusion is absorbed to maintain the desired temperature for a longer time in combination with any insulation provided by the shell of or lining on the interior of tote 200. It is desirable to provide sufficient refrigeration and insulation to maintain the desired temperature for at least 16 hours in an 80 F. atmosphere. If the groceries do not completely fill tote 200, packaging materials, such as Styrofoam or bladders, may be used to fill any voids in tote 200. The size of the tote 200 used to fill an order and the amount of fill need to fill a void in a tote 200 may be readily determined in any known manner at the time the order is entered on the Internet.
  • [0040]
    After an order is processed, the filled tote 200 is loaded onto racks 230 which are mounted on rack holders 235 in the warehouse 150 (FIG. 4). Rack holders 235 may have rollers 237 on their legs to allow them to be rolled from place to place. The racks 230 have a mounting means, which may be any conventional means of mounting racks such as one or more brackets 250, to mount the racks 230 so they can be loaded with heavy totes of groceries and be removed with the totes on them, such as manually or by forklift. As with the totes 200, racks 230 may be any appropriate size on which the totes 200 may be placed. An appropriate size for each of racks 230 will depend on the van or other delivery vehicle configuration but two useful sizes of racks 230 may be approximately 6 cubic feet (6′6′6′) and 4′8′8′.
  • [0041]
    After the cutoff time for ordering (which in the present example is 7 p.m.), racks 230 are transferred within a desired time frame, e.g., between 7 and 9 p.m., from the warehouse 150 and are loaded onto trailers 160 where racks 230 are mounted on rack holders (not shown), similar to rack holders 235, for transport (or rack holders 235 that have rollers may be rolled from a loading dock at the warehouse 150 onto trailer 160). Trailers 160 may be equipped with a high/low, as on masonry trucks, to load and off load. The racks are slightly pitched downward over an angle θ so that after removal of a tote 200 from the front of rack 230, the next tote 200 behind the removed tote would fall into the space previously occupied by the first tote by gravity and/or the agitation of the truck's normal movement and/or by use of a pushing mechanism or biasing means such as a spring (not shown). A lip 240 along the front edge or rack 230 prevents the totes 200 from falling off the racks 230. When a pitch is used, the pitch should not be so large so that the tote behind the removed tote falls into place immediately.
  • [0042]
    After loading, the trailers 160 are dispatched (step 50), which in our example would be by 9 p.m. Trailers 160 which have the farthest distance to travel would be loaded first and would leave the warehouse first. Trailers 160 drive to appropriate transfer points 170. Transfer points 170 need not be facilities devoted exclusively to this purpose; transfer points 170 may be, for example, locations that are otherwise unused in the evenings, such as supermarket parking lots or other locations that are not used in the late night/early morning hours, such as between approximately 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Racks 230 are off loaded by transferring entire racks 230 or entire rack holders 235, either manually or by an automatic mechanism, to awaiting vans 180 (having appropriate rack holders, if the rack holders themselves are not transferred) for delivery to the various customers' homes (step 60). To simplify the off-loading of racks 230 from trailers 160, the floor of each trailer 160 may be at the loading height of van 180 such that van 180 may pull up to the rear or side of trailer 160, depending on where the lift gate of the trailer 160 is located, the lift gate is raised, and the racks 230 moved through the opening directly onto the van 180. Where rack holders 235 have rollers and are transferred with racks 230, a rack holder 235 may be rolled easily from trailer 160 to van 180. As each van 180 generally has a route that requires it to deliver less than all of the totes 200 on a single trailer 160 and a rack 230 is to be transferred with totes 200 already on the rack 230, it is preferable to load onto a rack 230 only totes 200 that are to be delivered by a single van so that totes 200 do not have to be shifted between racks 230 at a transfer point 170. A bill of lading and a previously-determined route sheet are also delivered to the van driver.
  • [0043]
    For increased efficiency, totes 200 are loaded onto the vans 180 in reverse of the order that the totes 200 are to be delivered so that the first tote 200 to be delivered is accessible to the van driver first, the second tote is accessible second, etc. The trailers 160 may also be loaded at warehouse 150 to enable the offloading of totes 200 onto the various vans 180 at transfer point 170 in the desired “reverse” order for more efficient delivery by vans 180.
  • [0044]
    The van drivers start their delivery routes at approximately 1 a.m. and finish by approximately 5 a.m. (step 70). They make deliveries to customers' homes 190 in a sequence that may be determined at the time the order is placed in the computer on a route sheet. Upon reaching a customer's home, the van driver removes the tote 200 from his van and brings it near a grocery box 260 which may be made of stainless steel and is bolted or chained to some place 270 outside a customer's home, such as to a post, a door, a wall, or a floor. FIG. 5A shows one such box 260 mounted to a wall 270 away from floor 271. An expandable, secure bag 280, like a thick nylon or metal mesh net, or an insulated bag 280 which may be pleated and have a Mylar exterior, is stored in the grocery box 260 that is conceptually similar to, but generally smaller than, a milk box (step 80) and large enough to hold the bag 280. When empty, bag 280 is collapsed and folded within grocery box 260. Bag 280 is secured to the grocery box 260 with a chain or cable 275 (FIG. 5B). The driver removes bag 280 from the grocery box 260, unfolds and expands bag 280, and places the tote 200 for that customer in bag 280. The expandable bag 280, when expanded, has first and second sides 281, 282. Tote 200 wrapped in bag 280 is placed on the ground adjacent to grocery box 260 while still attached to grocery box 260 with chain and cable 275 (FIG. 6). Bag 280 should be animal-proof and should be odor-proof so as not to attract animals. Alternatively, the tote 200 wrapped in bag 280 may be placed within grocery box 260 if grocery box 260 is large enough.
  • [0045]
    Bag 280 is cinched and locked (step 90) with a locking means to hold tote 200 securely in bag 280. One contemplated locking means is a respective two-way zipper 283 having two sliding pieces 284, 285 to open and close zipper 283 from either end of the zipper. (FIG. 7) Adjacent each end of zipper 283 is a respective hook or O-ring 286, 287 attached to mesh 280. A first padlock 288 may be looped through a hole in the first sliding piece 284 when it is moved to its fully closed position at side 281 and through hook 286 to lock zipper 283 on this first end. This padlock 288 may be opened by the van driver to open the mesh, insert the tote 200 therein, and then relock the mesh 280. A second padlock 289 may be looped through a hole in the second sliding piece 285 when that piece is in its fully closed position at side 282 and through hook 287 to lock zipper 283 on this second end. The customer can unlock this second padlock 289 to remove the tote 200.
  • [0046]
    Alternatively, instead of having a zipper 283, bag 280 may be made of a mesh net 281 (FIGS. 8A-C) that has an opening 290, 291 on each of respective sides 292, 293. A plurality of O-rings 294 are attached to each of respective sides 292, 293. O-rings 294 on each side may be linked together with other O-rings on that side by hooking a padlock through them. FIG. 8C shows padlock 295 closing side 292 with O-rings 294. A similar padlock is used to close side 293. With padlock 295 removed, side 292 of the mesh net 281 may be spread open and the van driver is able to insert tote 200 within mesh 280′. The van driver then gathers together O-rings 294 on side 292, hooks padlock 293 though these O-rings 294, and locks padlock 295. The customer can remove tote 200 by removing the customer's padlock (not shown) from o-rings 292 on the opposite side 293 of the mesh net 281.
  • [0047]
    Tote 200 remains locked in bag 280 until the customer retrieves the tote and returns the bag into the grocery box 260 (step 100). The customer thereafter removes the groceries from the tote 200, removes bag 280 from grocery box 260, unlocks the customer padlock on bag 280, places the used tote 200 and any frozen inserts 210, which are nestable, back inside the bag 280 secured to the grocery box 260, and relocks the padlock before the next expected delivery to that customer, for pickup by the van during the next delivery (step 110).
  • [0048]
    After picking up the used totes 200, the van driver returns the emptied totes 200 to the trailer 160 later that evening, at the transfer point 170 to which he travels to pick up filled totes 200 from the warehouse 150 for delivery. The emptied totes are returned to the warehouse 150 for cleaning and reuse. Customers may be required to put down a deposit to insure against loss or damage to the tote 200 and freezing insert 210. The van driver may also pick up used totes 200 from homes where no deliveries are made. While described with reference to a method of delivering groceries, bag 280 of FIGS. 7 and 8A-8C may be used to secure things other than totes 200 of groceries, either in combination with a grocery box 260 of the type described or independently thereof.
  • [0049]
    The above-described method offers many advantages over the prior art. Because there is no more than approximately a 5 to 6 hour travel radius from warehouse 150 to customer 190, this method of distribution will require fewer supervisors and physical facilities to serve a given population. It will also require less total inventory than systems with shorter travel radii, and will increase inventory turnover and the variety of goods that may be stocked. Other advantages include:
      • 1. Van drivers may serve as auxiliary eyes and ears of the local police as a community service.
      • 2. By delivering to customers' homes between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., deliveries can be made without worrying about traffic congestion and can use the most fuel efficient routing. This method is also environmentally responsible as early morning deliveries do not slow other vehicles or cause more congestion during business hours and the number of trips required to the supermarkets or grocery stores is reduced. A customer also need not be concerned with finding a parking spot for his car while shopping.
      • 3. This business method may use electric vans for local deliveries, particularly those with batteries acting as flywheels which absorb mechanical energy on breaking and release on acceleration while supplying stored electrical power to motors.
      • 4. A single sales/service representative can cover a broad area and does not have to be concerned with deliveries, which are made by the van drivers. This may improve customer relations because it may prove difficult to find friendly, competent sales staff. It is therefore helpful to have a single competent person to promote the business to a greater number of potential customers. The sales representative can provide and install the grocery box, provide an introductory coupon, send a personal note on significant occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, and guarantee satisfaction by quickly replacing any unsatisfactory products (either by a van dispatched from the warehouse 150 or by purchasing a replacement product at a local source and personally delivering it).
      • 5. This method requires less capital then other grocery delivery methods that promise quick delivery during the daylight hours. As explained above, those other methods require more distribution warehouses because of their necessarily smaller travel radius between their warehouse and their customers' homes. Moreover, to deliver groceries within a short time, such as one half hour, after an order is placed, the delivery trucks may be routed to the customer in an environmentally irresponsible manner.
      • 6. This method eliminates the need for refrigerated vans, which waste an enormous amount of energy as the van door is opened at every delivery point. (Refrigerated trailers must be kept at 35 F.)
  • [0056]
    Despite the advantages offered by the described method of distributing groceries, some customers may not wish to have their groceries delivered in a secure bag outside their home. These customers can be accommodated by giving them the option of shipping a tote 200 of groceries through another delivery method, such as regular next day delivery by an overnight delivery service such as the United Parcel Service. Using next day delivery, groceries in tote 200 can also be kept at the desired chilled temperature using a similar refrigeration method, such as frozen inserts 210 or chilled gas.
  • [0057]
    Thus, while there have shown and described and pointed out fundamental novel features of the invention as applied to a preferred embodiment thereof, it will be understood that various omissions and substitutions and changes in the form and details of the methods and devices illustrated, and in their operation, may be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the invention. For example, it is expressly intended that all combinations of those elements and/or method steps which perform substantially the same function in substantially the same way to achieve the same results are within the scope of the invention. Moreover, it should be recognized that structures and/or elements and/or method steps shown and/or described in connection with any disclosed form or embodiment of the invention may be incorporated in any other disclosed or described or suggested form or embodiment as a general matter of design choice.
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Referenced by
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US8156013Jun 28, 2010Apr 10, 2012Amazon Technologies, Inc.Methods and apparatus for fulfilling tote deliveries
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Classifications
U.S. Classification705/28
International ClassificationA47G29/14, G07F7/00, A47G29/20, F25D3/10, G07F17/10, F25D3/08
Cooperative ClassificationA47G29/141, A47G29/20, G07F17/10, A47G2029/145, A47G2029/142, G06Q50/12, F25D2331/804, A47G2029/147, G06Q10/087, F25D3/08, G07F7/00, G06Q10/08, F25D3/107
European ClassificationG06Q10/08, G06Q50/12, G06Q10/087, F25D3/08, A47G29/14E, G07F17/10, F25D3/10C, G07F7/00, A47G29/20