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Six challenges and changes taking place in last-mile delivery in 2019

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Many consumers don’t think about the processes that items go through before the items they have bought reach their doorsteps. But for logistics professionals, truckers and others involved with transporting goods, those procedures are top-of-mind concerns.

Last-mile delivery is a specific priority, and it’s going through some changes – some of which require overcoming obstacles.

Climate change threats require doing things differently.

Scientists warn that society must collectively figure out how to mitigate climate change. The companies offering last-mile deliveries know how hurricanes and flooding can make deliveries arrive late or not at all. Many researchers believe that climate change is at least partially to blame for the worsening weather.

The reality of climate change means that delivery specialists need to accommodate for it now before it’s too late. One of the options is to convert unused neighborhood buildings into small distribution hubs that feature eco-friendly features.

Also, a company in the United Kingdom called Gnewt has electric delivery vans. Moreover, it wants to investigate using a network of porters who walk deliveries the rest of the way from a drop-off point. If part of the last delivery phase happens on foot, that’s arguably one of the most eco-friendly choices available.

These are just some examples of people thinking ahead about what’s necessary. Doing that is essential since climate change requires immediate attention.

Speciality apps help avoid mistakes and delays

As a delivery gets closer to its destination, the number of things that could pose obstacles do not necessarily decrease. According to statistics, delivery professionals have to make as many as 150 trips for every 100 deliveries. The difference between the two numbers occurs due to things like addresses that are hard to read or customers that don’t respond once a driver gets nearby.

However, a company called Locus recently added to its services by launching the Locus on the Road app. It maps every delivery and provides address verification for each trip. It’s also possible for drivers to automatically send notifications to customers to say they’re en route. If necessary, drivers can use an in-app dialer to get in touch with people before arriving.

Thanks to apps like these, the people who handle the final stages of deliveries can take care of trips with more confidence. They’ll have the necessary resources to avoid potential pitfalls. It’s also important to keep in mind that last-mile delivery is one crucial part of a much larger delivery process – one that could include sales elements, too.

A company called Trailer Bridge rose to the challenge by implementing specialized customer relationship management (CRM) software. A sales executive at the company says it’s not uncommon for each member of his sales team to have 30 to 40 leads. Using software lets each sales professional interact with his/her leads or customers effectively without making some of them feel overlooked or that their questions aren’t getting answered.

Lightweight robots could supplement truckers

The American Transportation Research Institute recently published a study that highlighted some of the impacts of online shopping on truck drivers and the transportation industry.
For example, the research showed that since 2000, the average haul length for dry van truckloads decreased by 37 percent, resulting in a reduction of about 300 miles. It said short-haul and last-mile trips are on the rise, and the study attributes that to online shopping. A change could come relatively soon whereby robots help with some of those shorter trips.

A company called Refraction developed a lightweight robot called the REV-1 that’s up to the task. It’s small enough to use a bicycle lane and reaches a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. The contents stay locked inside the robot until the machine gets to its destination. Then, customers receive a key code that they can use to unlock the robot and take their goods.
These robots are still in the early stages, and it’s too soon to say if they’ll reliably carry out some of the trips that delivery drivers do now. If that does become a reality, delivery professionals could use that technology to stand out from their competitors.

Competition is getting fierce

Speaking of competitors, companies specializing in last-mile deliveries may find it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves in a marketplace that’s getting progressively more crowded. For example, Amazon is a leader now, but analysts say there is room for others at the top. They cite FedEx and UPS as some of the other well-known names to watch.

Numerous startups are also working to solve some of the known struggles associated with last-mile deliveries. Many of them are also not afraid to experiment with newer technologies, such as drones. As those entities start to gain momentum, industry professionals may begin to see a shift whereby some of the leading names become overshadowed by newer companies that push the envelope as they strive to make progress.

The ones that succeed will probably be those that discover the most cost-effective and efficient options first. But, for now, conquering the last-mile delivery market is anyone’s game.

Companies may begin using fulfillment centers built in unusual places

One of the problematic things about last-mile deliveries is that the origin of the products can’t be too far from their destination. Otherwise, the process becomes too time-consuming. Furthermore, with perishable items like groceries, it’s imperative to shorten the distances that the goods travel. In crowded, urban environments, finding the spaces for fulfillment centers isn’t easy.

An Israeli company called CommonSense Robotics hopes to change that by thinking outside of the box when choosing locations for its fulfillment centers. For example, the first one it is creating is an underground micro-fulfillment center, an 18,000-square-foot triangular space built underneath a Tel Aviv skyscraper. Autonomous robots will use the facility to help human workers prepare grocery orders that consumers buy.

CommonSense Robotics is the first company to choose such a location for grocery order fulfillment. But, if things go well, other companies may follow suit by looking below ground for location possibilities.

Brands could depend more on the crowd-sourcing model

Crowd-sourcing depends on using the power of the people to get things done. It initially gained ground as a popular way to fund business ideas and projects, but opportunities exist to use crowdsourcing for last-mile deliveries, too.

ShipperBee is one company taking that approach. It hopes to appeal to everyday individuals who are willing to use space in their cars to transport deliveries. The goal is that people pick up deliveries and take them to destinations that are on the way to wherever they are already going. The company’s CEO says that if he can change the current courier delivery model, it would contribute to a 77 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions per parcel.

Crowd-sourcing has taken off in other ways, such as with on-demand transportation. So, it’s not far-fetched to see it making changes for last-mile delivery, too.

An evolving sector

This list shows that last-mile deliveries are going through rapid, dramatic changes. Those will likely continue as companies determine the best ways to remain competitive.

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and writer interested in manufacturing and the supply chain. Her work has been published on Thomas Insights, Industrial Machinery Digest, American Machinist and