Package lockers are popping up everywhere these days. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Rent the Runway are lining grocery stores, apartment buildings, and co-working spaces with them, offering an easy way to pick up and drop off online orders. And as e-commerce continues to grow, these structures are only going to become more ubiquitous. But unlike iconic metal mailboxes, which were carefully designed by the U.S. Post Office over several decades, little thought has gone into the design of these lockers and how they fit into our cities.
The payments platform Klarna wants to change that. The Swedish company–which partners with 200,000 merchants across 17 countries including H&M, Ikea, Nike, and Asos—has been thinking up new solutions that make shopping more convenient and enjoyable for its customers. At its Future Shopping Lab, Klarna’s designers have developed a new concept called the Modular Mailbox. It’s a place for customers to pick up packages and groceries purchased using Klarna, while doubling as a community hub. It’s also designed to add color and beauty to the urban landscape.
Lockers for picking up online purchases first emerged as a concept a decade ago. They’re useful to e-commerce companies because they simplify logistics, cutting down on the number of stops a delivery vehicle needs to make, while also reducing carbon emissions. For the customer, these lockers allow for quicker deliveries and are also safer than delivery drivers leaving packages on a doorstep. Amazon was an early champion of the concept, setting up pilots in cities like New York and London. Other e-commerce companies with large logistical operations, like Walmart, have invested in the concept, too.
Smaller brands, however, don’t have access to these expansive networks and since Klarna works with so many brands, it can offer them a way to compete with the logistics of larger competitors. Rasmus Fahlander, Klarna’s product director of purchase experience, says Klarna has been toying with the idea of redesigning the locker for years. In Europe, it is common for people to order products online, then pick them up in boxes located in apartment buildings, stores, and shopping centers. But right now, this process is largely decentralized, with each brand building its own logistics network. Fahlander and his team wanted to find a way to streamline the process for consumers, so they can pick up any items purchased using Klarna in one centralized location and, as a bonus, they could also use some of the other handy features in the structure.
Klarna’s version of the locker would be a large, colorful structure, made up of several compartments. One would be for picking up packages and groceries purchased using Klarna. But the idea would be to incorporate other useful modules. A sharing box, for instance, could be a place for neighbors to share books, clothes, or food with one another. “There could be an app for your neighborhood where you could request a screwdriver, and a neighbor would drop one off in the box,” says Fahlander, who spearheaded this project. “This would be part of the sharing economy, and reduce the need to buy as much.”
Sharing boxes have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 crisis, when many people are struggling. Take, for instance, the Little Free Library, which sets up boxes for people to donate books, for anybody else to take. With so many schools and traditional libraries shuttered, more than 1,000 free libraries have popped up since the pandemic began (some have even become food pantries). In the Bay Area, a wholesale grocery startup called Cheetah has set up community fridges that allow people to share food with others in their community.
Klarna believes that some modules could also be devoted to helping people live more sustainably. A communal 3D printer, for instance, could allows residents to print items they might need to repair something in their home, like a missing screw or a doorknob. A recycling module could allow people to drop off hard-to-recycle materials, like fabric or particular forms of plastic, which could be immediately atomized and compressed. After a delivery truck makes a drop-off, it could collect some of this recyclable material and bring it to the right facility, creating a more energy efficient system.
Klarna hasn’t yet built prototypes of these lockers and currently describes them as a “research project.” But it points to Klarna’s broader goal of becoming more embedded in the consumer’s shopping experience. The 15-year-old company, which enables customers to pay for products over time–in some cases, even interest free. The company generates money from merchant fees. It is now worth $10.65 billion. It recently launched an app that allows consumers to track purchases, start return, and even see when an item on their wish list drops in price. Its Future Shopping Lab is tasked with coming up with other solutions that will make Klarna more indispensable to consumers and brands. The lockers would also be an extension of Klarna’s marketing. The hope would be that a consumer might stop by the locker to borrow a neighbor’s screwdriver, then see how easy it is to buy a product through Klarna, which might spur them to start using the service.
For right now the Modular Mailbox concept is largely theoretical and there would be many challenges along the path to turning it into a reality. One obstacle would be getting the right permits and licenses to set up these structures. Fahlander says the most straightforward solution would be to partner with private real estate companies to set them up in apartment buildings or shopping centers. Setting them up on public streets would be more complex, but if the mailboxes are seen as a public good, cities may be interested in introducing them to neighborhoods. Klarna also says it could work with third party companies to develop branded modules. It might work with a local farm to create a locker for fresh produce or a fashion boutique to display items from the latest collection.
But Fahlander says the most important thing is to focus on meeting the needs of each particular community. “It’s a flexible system,” says Fahlander. “It is designed to change depending on the needs of a neighborhood, but it can also evolve over time, as our behavior and needs change. You might come back to the mailbox in a few weeks and find that an entirely new module has sprung up.”