As you open gifts this year, consider the box they came in may be the most interesting thing you get this Christmas. As you drift into a much-needed nap after spending half the night assembling a child’s toy using instructions that claim to be in English, consider the global journey that box took. As you wake from your post sugar-high comatose state, consider Utah’s connection to the global supply chain.
Utah has long been known as the Crossroads of the West. It was true in the pioneer westward expansion. It was true in the gold rush of the Forty-Niners. It was true with the building of the transcontinental railroad. It was true with the construction of the interstate freeway system. And it remains true today as thousands of companies surrounding the Salt Lake City airport make Utah a hub for international commerce.
That is Christmas past and present, but what is Utah’s future as the Crossroads of the West? Of course, it is tied to the future of the logistics industry at large. And every retailer, e-commerce company and logistics provider is trying to figure it out. One thing is certain, the logistics industry will soon see more disruptive innovation than since the time to cross the country went from three months to three days with the driving of the Golden Spike. This is not incremental change. This is a future that looks more like the Jetsons than the Flintstones.
Driving that disruption are two powerful forces: time and money. Twenty years ago, I started to get anxious when my 10 CDs for a penny didn’t arrive after a few weeks. Ten years ago, I started to get anxious when my Netfix DVD didn’t arrive after a few days. Today, I start to get anxious when my classic Led Zeppelin IV album doesn’t arrive after a few hours. And as long as I don’t need vintage vinyl, I can get any song I want in the few seconds it takes to stream to my phone.
Leviathans of logistics are relentlessly trying to solve the riddle of high-cost, last-mile delivery. Drones delivering packages to your doorstep will be part of the answer. Added to driverless trucks and robots in warehouses, the vision of the Jetsons starts to take shape. It is also why Amazon has just launched free two-hour delivery in limited markets. Desperate, last-minute Christmas shoppers rejoice.1 comment on this story
Some online retailers are also taking a step back in time with brick and mortar storefronts where residents in cities like New York and San Francisco pick up packages at central locations. These businesses seek to provide more choice in how, when and where consumers get their stuff. Other futuristic solutions like 3D printing envision a world where you place an order online and your new shoes magically appear by being printed right at your home. Hermey the Elf, eat your heart out.
Whether your Christmas gift took two weeks, two days or two hours to arrive; whether you got it halfway down the block, halfway across town or halfway around the world; that package is a reminder that the economy is global. This is not a recent phenomenon. The history of the world was built on trade. What improves over time are speed, cost, variety and access. Based on that continued rush to the future, Santa and his reindeer better start looking for a new line of work.