The future of e-commerce in the post-Covid world

11 Jan 2024

OOHPod Founder and CEO John Tuohy.

John Tuohy discusses the impact of Covid-19 on e-commerce, his predictions for the future of the sector and what he looks for in a sales pitch.

E-commerce veteran John Tuohy is currently focused on expanding OOHPod, his smart parcel locker service, after his previous successes in the delivery sector.

Tuohy was the co-founder and CEO of the Nightline Logistics Group, which grew into one of the biggest express delivery and logistics companies in Ireland before it was acquired by UPS in 2017.

This group also included the Parcel Motel service, which offered virtual addresses where customers could have their deliveries accepted and then routed to convenient locker locations. Tuohy also founded and led this division until the 2017 UPS deal.

In 2021, Tuohy founded OOHPod, a company that is developing a smart parcel locker service across the island of Ireland and recently raised more than €5m to expand its operations.

Tuohy said his idea behind OOHPod was to take the core concept of Parcel Motel and give it some “modern ideas”.

“Parcel Motel was a closed network only accessible by Nightline couriers whereas OOHPod is a completely open-access infrastructure for all couriers to use,” Tuohy said. “It can also be used by individual users for swapping and exchanging items and practical uses like leaving keys to an AirBnB for example.

“I’m 55 now and starting a business at my age as a second time founder has been an interesting experience and learning curve.  I was inspired by Ray Kroc who was the same age as me when he founded McDonalds.  I recommend the book and the film based on it called The Founder.  His story of resilience and perseverance is amazing.”

Changes in e-commerce

Tuohy has seen the e-commerce sector evolve from the early days of Nightline in the 1990s to his latest business venture. In his view, the biggest game changer for this sector occurred in the year prior to OOHPod’s launch, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that led to a surge in online shopping.

“People who had never embraced online shopping previously were converted in huge numbers,” Tuohy said. “While there’s been a post-Covid correction in volumes, online shopping activity is still higher than it was immediately before the pandemic.

“We’ve seen huge investment by Amazon in the local market in Ireland with their own fulfilment and delivery infrastructure and An Post reported record volumes of online shopping parcels during the Christmas period.  A lot of the increased activity is driven by growth in popular online stores like Shein and Temu.”

Despite the recent surge, Tuohy believes that e-commerce and online shopping is facing a challenge from cost-of-living issues, which may force people to make hard choices and reduce their spending. But he believes OOHPod still has a place in the event of a market downturn.

“The flip side of this is that swapping, exchanging and selling of secondhand items is increasing exponentially in Europe, as hard-pressed consumers seek out better value and try to cash in on items in their wardrobe that they no longer want,” Tuohy said.

“OOHPod provides additional capacity for carriers when the market is buoyant and provides ways to save cost and facilitate the secondhand goods market when there is a downturn. We benefit regardless of the prevailing market conditions.”

The eyes of an investor

Tuohy also worked as a business consultant and investor in the years between the sale of Nightline and his focus on OOHPod. He said the key thing he looks for in a pitch is that the promoter has “assessed the addressable market for their product or service”.

“Sometimes the idea might be so cutting edge that it’s difficult to define the addressable market, but nevertheless for a business venture to succeed it’s important to know who the potential customers are, how much or how often are they likely to buy and how much are they prepared to pay,” Tuohy said.

“The reason for the failure of most early-stage businesses is that there is simply no market need or demand or that the price being sought to resolve the problem envisaged is too high.”

Looking to the future

Tuohy is back to a smaller endeavour after the peak of Nightline, where he employed more than 1,200 people over 25 years. His latest venture currently employs 12 people and is looking to create 10 new jobs following its recent fundraise.

To get the most out of his staff, Tuohy said he believes in empowering people to make decisions and learn from their errors.

“We always try not to engage in blame and try to learn and grow. Communication of the business objectives to everyone in the organisation is very important,” Tuohy said. “I like the story about the janitor at the space centre meeting JFK while on a visit and when asked what did he do there replied: ‘I’m helping send a man to the moon Mr President’”.

Looking ahead, Tuohy predicts that e-commerce will become more local in the future, with more small and micro businesses selling online in the form of “social commerce in the local community”. He also claimed that there are already tens of thousands of these micro sellers in Ireland alone. “I see that growing as reselling becomes more popular and more artisan sellers bring their products online,” Tuohy said.

In terms of his own start-up, Tuohy said OOHPod is focused on expanding its Irish parcel network before it looks to the UK market.

“As a start-up entrepreneur we never lose the thrill of seeing customers engaging with our service and benefiting from it,” Tuohy said. “I love to see customers using our OOHPod lockers and I try to talk to as many as possible to get their feedback without being too nosey or intrusive. Being in a service business is very satisfying and every day is as exciting as the last.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic