We caught up with what3words, the company that invented a global addressing system by dividing the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address. After kicking off our partnership at the beginning of 2017 by integrating 3 word addresses for all of our nationwide Parcelly locations, we just launched our first ever Parcelly Pick'n' Pack video Special last week, with special guest Pierre Francois, what3words Senior Partnerships Director for logistics.
After discussing the environmental, financial and operational impact of failed parcel deliveries in length, we thought it was about time to dig a little deeper on what what3words is all about...
1. Many people might be wondering, 'Well, what's wrong with my current address?' Can you explain how the concept of what3words came to life and when Chris first realised there was a problem with the traditional addressing system?
It is very simple! When Chris Sheldrick, our CEO, ran a business organising music events, he repeatedly came across the same problem: getting equipment to the right place at the right time. In London, this meant the drivers could end up at one of the 17 other entrances to Wembley stadium rather than the one they were supposed to be at, while in Dubai, they could get lost by turning at the wrong landmark. After trying and failing with GPS coordinates, Sheldrick sought to find a simpler mapping system. The answer came by using three random words strung together to divide the entire globe, oceans included, in three-metre-by-three-metre squares.
Even in the countries in the world where addressing works okay, it’s far from perfect: for example, there are eight different Lonsdale Roads around London, a lot of houses don’t have numbers, a traditional address can’t tell you the correct entrance to a large building, and in unfamiliar countries, the addressing can be difficult to understand. what3words is perfect for all these situations.
2. The possibilities really are endless for using the what3words address system, from eCommerce orders to helping those without access to a proper address. Can you run us through some of your use cases?
Indeed, what3words can be applied in a literally infinite number of ways and we constantly receive the most creative integration ideas – some of which we would have never thought of! However, the wide majority of these are solving very simple, yet painful issues. Logistics is a very straightforward use case: Quiqup has integrated us in their system to make sure that deliveries can arrive on time, every time – and DB Schenker did the same for their global ePortal, where you can specify a pick up/drop off with a 3 word address.
What3words also has a strong social impact: Gateway Health has used us to give an address to thousands of families, to facilitate the work of emergency services in South Africa. We are also used in the world of travel, for example, Lonely Planet has given a 3 word address to all their listings in their latest Mongolia guide. Quite a game changer when you need to know where things are in such a large unaddressed space!
3. What are some of your favourite ways to use w3w that a traditional address could not fulfil?
By far the emergency service at music festivals. Have you ever tried explaining to someone where you are in a music festival? “You see the stage and the red flag… Not the big one, the smaller one, well I am 100m-ish behind this.” Good luck with this. Find me at “exits.starters.cloud” is so much easier.
4. Earlier this year your system was built into all the new Mercedes, meaning any driver can navigate somewhere just by saying three words. What has the feedback from drivers been so far and do you think the whole automobile market is going to adopt the concept?
The feedback has been extraordinary and this is heart-warming for all the teams here. Being finally able to say an address to your navigation system is not only practical, but it also changes the way you drive because you are certain that your 3 word address is unique, so you will always arrive at your destination.
I have no doubt that it is simply a matter of time before all the car makers follow. Watch this space, as we say!
5. Parcelly already added 3 word addresses for the entire location network at the beginning of 2017. With the widespread adoption of a more reliable addressing system, the number of failed deliveries would dramatically decrease, saving the industry a lot of money and reducing white van traffic congestion. Are there any other benefits you see for the industry using the #ThreeWordAddress?
And we love that you did so! I think the core of the battle is around customer experience and this is what what3words ultimately provides. Customers are not ready to accept a failed delivery because 'you could not find their house', or worse, you delivered to the wrong one. If you have the precise location of the customer, this cannot happen. Also, with the volume spiking and the scarcity of drivers, logistics companies will be forced to define the best delivery routes, and to do this you need the exact locations of your delivery points - which is exactly what a 3 word address provides.
We are already working with a number of route optimisers, such as RouteXL, Smartroutes, OpTrak or Locus, who saw the benefits of what3words immediately: if you have the correct building entrance, the correct house, the correct back entrance, then you can optimise your routes better. This means you can deliver more orders and faster, and in the end, this makes the company much more competitive.
6. Your team is jetting off to the most remote areas in the world to bring better addressing, business efficiency and support social and economic development. Are there any plans to add a third dimension to the grid?
Indeed it is rare to find all the team members in the office at the same time! This week we were in Germany, Dubai, Japan, South Africa, Mongolia and of course in California, where we just opened our new office.
Regarding the third dimension: most postal or address systems are designed to work in 2D (the ZIP codes or postal codes in the UK, or indeed latitude/longitude coordinates on which what3words is based). These always need additional information to specify height: e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, 12 Lonsdale Road. With a 3 word address, this is the same approach, e.g. Flat 6, 5th floor, table.lamp.chair – simple as that!
7. Last but not least, please tell us one random fact about what3words!
One thing we are often asked about: in English, the shortest words are four letters long. In some other languages, we use words of only two characters. The longest words are 17-18 letters, for example "environmentalists" and "unenthusiastically". The longest word in any language so far is in Portuguese: 'caracteristicamente'!
A big THANK YOU to what3words from the team at Parcelly for answering our questions and we can't wait to further shape the future of logistics innovation together...! #parcellove