By 2021, estimates indicate that e-commerce will make up 18 percent of total sales in the U.S., 20 percent of sales in the UK, and 30 percent of sales in China. This growth doesn’t show any sign of letting up but the ‘last-mile delivery’ problems of ecommerce supply chains, often the largest cost for e-retailers, are only just starting to make it into widespread public consciousness.
In the US, delivery trucks already account for 7% of urban traffic and between 17% and 28% of congestion costs from wasted hours and gas, according to a recent reports from WEF & Deloitte and Texas A&M University Transportation Institute. Additionally, the concentration of logistics facilities and warehouses in the suburbs can result in toxic pollution hot spots.
Delivery/logistics companies such as UPS are responding to the challenge, testing out programs to improve sustainability. UPS’ programs focus on alternative fuels and driving algorithms, as well as piloting alternative ways to make fewer stops, especially in congested urban areas. DHL, Amazon and CollectPlus have established the use of neighbourhood smart lockers, allowing delivery drivers to pool packages. Further solutions being trialled include ‘truck platooning’ (where one human-driven vehicle leads a convoy of autonomous ones) in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Commercial vehicle manufacturer Scania are currently involved in a multi-year project in Singapore to trial platooning as part of a sustainable transport system for the future using autonomous vehicle technology.
The bigger picture of ‘last mile delivery’ is rethinking how consumer items are pooled, instant gratification expectations (think next day/same day) and how online retailers take responsibility for their own last mile logistics.