Start-Ups Try to Link Sellers to Customers Who Have No Address

Erica E. Phillips reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A handful of startups are trying to solve one of the more vexing problems in e-commerce: how to deliver a package to a home or office that doesn’t have an address.

“That is a constant challenge for online retailers and delivery companies in many of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets, including India, and parts of the Middle East and Africa.

“Rather than having a conventional street address, an office in one these regions might give its location as ‘200 meters south of the Pizza Hut.’ A home might have no identifier beyond a street name, or even just a part of town.”

Ms. Phillips explained that, “In dense urban neighborhoods, drivers may find themselves wandering up and down streets, phoning the recipient multiple times to confirm and reconfirm directions. Many consumers who have enough disposable income to shop online still shop in stores to avoid the hassle of arranging a delivery.

“Now, companies are competing to solve that problem with technologies ranging from mobile apps to new global maps that create a unique address for every spot on the planet, using designations that are shorter and simpler than multidigit geographical coordinates like latitude and longitude.

Some of them have attracted investments from venture-capital funds, which expect that retailers, governments and other groups will pay to be able to reach a broader swath of the population. While it isn’t clear how many people world-wide lack a street address, the fledgling companies say the number is in the billions.”

The Journal article noted that, “Late last month, Dubai-based logistics company Aramex International announced a $3 million investment in what3words, which assigns a unique series of three words to every 10-foot by 10-foot square of the Earth’s surface. Aramex said it plans to use what3words for e-commerce deliveries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The investment was part of an $8.5 million round of funding, in which Intel Capital and two British firms also took part…[and]…Dubai-based Fetchr uses the GPS location of a package recipient’s mobile device as an address. The delivery company, which operates in Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has raised $12.5 million in funding from investors including venture-capital firm New Enterprise Associates.”

Ms. Phillips also indicated that, “Emerging economies are the fastest-growing markets for e-commerce, as internet connections improve and more people gain enough disposable income to buy items online, said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research. Upper-class and upper-middle-class consumers, who are more likely to have internet connections, are driving that growth, Ms. Mulpuru said.

“‘If there’s a way to crack open those other classes, it could have huge potential,’ she said.”

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