Toronto-based BufferBox announced today that it has secured a contract with MetroLinx, the agency that oversees public transit service GO Transit in Ontario, to launch its first five parcel pick-up stations. The company, a recent graduate of the Y Combinator startup accelerator, wants to make sure online shoppers never miss an ecommerce delivery by providing automated self-serve delivery kiosks, which are big green sets of lockers. Through this partnership shoppers can choose one of BufferBox’s kiosks as the shipping address when they buy something online, and after it’s delivered pick up the package when they commute to and from work.
BufferBox was founded by three engineering grads from the University of Waterloo who were avid online shoppers for robotics parts and hated missing deliveries, and came up with the idea for the service as a final year design project. “We turned it into a company after graduating, and things have been going strong,” co-founder Mike McCauley said in an interview. The team launched a pilot project at the University of Waterloo with over 800 signups, is working with Google on internal deliveries and Walmart to send online deliveries to BufferBoxes, and this is their first official partnership to make BufferBoxes available in physical locations.
“We’re working on really building out the network in Toronto and we’re really excited about our partnership with MetroLinx and being able to over the next year be in every GO station to serve GO Transit commuters.” GO Transit serves over 62 million passengers every year in the Toronto and Hamilton areas, so this partnership opens up a significant base of potential customers.
To use BufferBox, consumers sign up for a free account and select the BufferBox location closest to them, then they receive a shipping address to which they can direct all of their online purchases. When their package arrives, they receive an email notification, as well as a pin code they can use to access their package from the pick-up station. The company’s backend technology enables it to to assess the quantity of packages moving in and out of its locations, and has the capacity to add extra columns of lockers if needed. The packages are all shipped to the company’s clearing house in Toronto, and it has partnered with a logistics and shipping company to then distribute the packages to their respective pickup location. McCauley noted that the packages are delivered to the pick-up station the same day or at the latest, the morning after. It plans on charging users on a per-delivery basis ranging from $4-5, however, to gain initial traction will be offering its services for free for the rest of 2012.
“Rather than having people miss their parcels at home, we thought why can’t we provide a service where parcels can be waiting for consumers, and that’s what BufferBox is exactly designed to do. So we’ve restored that convenience and effectiveness of online shopping,” McCauley added.
BufferBox competes with Amazon’s locker delivery service, which lets consumers pick up their deliveries at stores across the U.S. including 7-Eleven and Staples, though it’s only valid for purchases made on Amazon.com, and is only available in the U.S. McCauley said there are also over 10,000 transit pick-up stations in 10 European countries, though it’s not as popular in North America yet. There has also been developments in significantly cutting local delivery time with companies like UK-based startup Shutl, which recently secured funding to grow its operations in major cities in the U.S. and partners with local couriers to give online shoppers the ability to have their ordered delivered within minutes or a one-hour time slot.
BufferBox said their transit pick-up stations are a first in North America, and it will be quickly looking to scale with 21 BufferBoxes installed in the GO Transit system covering Toronto and Hamilton by the end of the year, with 100 planned by the end of 2013. The launch coincides with the upcoming holiday shopping season and will have the company’s backend logistics put to the test given the fact that online shopping is predicted to account for a quarter of all holiday purchases.
The solution won’t appeal to anyone who works at home, has a condo or apartment concierge who can receive packages for them, or who doesn’t mind going to the local post office to pick up their package. But for commuters who would rather know the package is not only safe, but accessible to them on their way home from work, it could be a good solution.
Update: The BufferBox team updated us to say that the University of Waterloo pilot has over 1,500 signups to date.