Could what3words revolutionize shipping and logistics?


Have you ever seen three words written like this?


If not, you probably will soon. These words represent a very specific 3x3m somewhere in the world. This is the handiwork of what3words, who have divided the whole planet into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and given each a unique combination of three words. This combination, for example, refers to a square just outside of Wembley Stadium in London.

Imagine you're attending the final of the Euros in 2021. You're meeting a friend there for the game and you need to pick up your ticket from them. You've agreed to meet outside the ground, but that's easier said than done - Wembley is huge and has lots of entrances, and the attendance on the day was 67,173. This is before counting stewards and staff, food and drink vendors around the venue, fans just in the area to soak up the atmosphere...

Basically, it's going to be a nightmare to find them. However, if your friend sends you the three words ///ready.lock.flame, you have a precise 3x3m location for them.

This is one of many potential applications for what3words - other than personal use, people may flag the potential live-saving aspect. There are plenty of stories, such as this one about firefighters finding missing girls in Tennessee, highlighting what3words' ability to assist those in compromising situations, potentially saving lives.

what3words was co-founded by Chris Sheldrick, who used to work in the music industry, organizing live events around the world. He quickly discovered that in the music world, people struggle with poor addressing every day. Getting lost trying to find events was pretty common. On one occasion, in Italy, a driver unloaded all the equipment an hour north of Rome, instead of an hour south of Rome. And on a slightly worse day, a keyboard player called him up and said, ‘Chris, don’t panic, but we may have just sound-checked at the wrong wedding’.

To get people and equipment to the right places, and on time, he tried sharing GPS coordinates instead. But entering 16 numbers into a device, or even sharing them over a phone call, was really unreliable. So he decided to find a solution. He discussed the idea of using words to create a more usable and less error-prone version of the latitude and longitude coordinate system with a mathematician friend, who subsequently wrote an early version of the what3words algorithm on the back of an envelope.

Now, what3words is gathering speed for both personal and commercial use, by individuals, businesses, and organisations across the globe. One potential application for what3words - and one that might be of most interest to people in Shiptheory' orbit - is in shipping and logistics. We're going to investigate how what3words could transform logistics and deliveries, for both carriers and recipients.

what3words and logistics

We've all been there - you receive a push notification to tell us that that parcel we've been eagerly awaiting has been successfully delivered. 'That's odd,' you think to yourself, 'I didn't hear the door go.' You open the app to see if there is a picture of where your package has been left, and see a photograph of it sitting in a shed. You frown - not only do you not own a shed, but you live in an 8th floor apartment. That package isn't coming home anytime soon.

what3words has the potential to make this irritating experience a thing of the past by defining an incredibly specific place for your delivery drop off. This makes it easier for the carrier to find where they need to drop the parcel, meaning their rounds are quicker, meaning that customers are satisfied by an overall more direct, quick and efficient delivery.

A what3words study with OnePoll concluded that 70% of addresses globally don’t lead directly to the front of a property, which can cause confusion and delays. Likewise, new builds can take some time to be noted down on maps, and constantly need updating as new developments occur.

what3words solution means that squares' designation is independent of the buildings it surrounds - you can easily designate a pickup spot that doesn't line up with your exact postcode (we're looking at you, Apartment 44A, access at rear), or requesting a drop-off at your new build home that isn't on all the maps yet. It's a feature that can work perfectly in conjunction with existing satnav technologies to conquer the last mile.

So if what3words is such an opportunity for carriers, who is currently wired into the what3words partner ecosystem? There are a good number of carriers who what3words already boast as partners on their website, including Evri (formerly Hermes) and DPD. However, don't be surprised if you see plenty more carriers sporting these few words on their delivery vans soon...

Looking to the future

So what’s next for what3words?

Chris Sheldrick, Co-founder and CEO of what3words comments: “Our long term goal is to be an addressing system that is globally recognised so that everyone in the world – in cities, on remote islands and even in ger tents on the Mongolian plains – has a simple and reliable address they can use whenever they need it. what3words is proving beneficial in so many ways, from making last-mile deliveries more efficient to helping emergency services locate those in trouble. Our hope for the future is that everywhere you’re able to use a traditional address – check-out pages, online maps, sat navs and more – you’ll be able to add a what3words address too."

Here at Shiptheory, we're pretty excited about what3words are doing. That's why we've built what3words functionality into the Shiptheory, so no matter your carrier, three words can be added to your printed labels to assist with deliveries.

Chris sees a lot of potential in integrating Shiptheory and what3words: "Our partnership with Shiptheory is just another example of how our technology can streamline processes for both businesses and customers. With a what3words address, deliveries can be made precisely to any 3m x 3m square across the globe. This enables Shiptheory’s retailer partners to drive important efficiency savings across their supply chain - drivers are spending less time on the road, and less time searching for an exact delivery point.”

Shiptheory's what3words integration goes live today - 25th March 2022 - so keep an eye out for a breakdown of the working integration!

Sam Paternoster

Marketing Communications Executive at Shiptheory