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The future of the final mile is bright

What’s in store for last mile in 2022?

Last mile delivery will really get a chance to shine in 2022 (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

As the final cog in the massive supply chain machine, the last mile has been a hub of innovation and turmoil amid pandemic-driven disruptions. The final leg of logistics has been regarded for years as a cost base rather than a revenue driver, but it’s finally getting its time in the limelight as retailers and carriers increasingly place the last mile under the microscope.

What’s in store for the last leg of logistics in 2022? We’ll be exploring that and a range of other industry questions at The Future of Supply Chain, a FreightWaves in-person experience. To join us on May 9-10, 2022 at the Rogers Convention Center in Northwest Arkansas, register here.

Read: 5 reasons to attend FreightWaves’ Future of Supply Chain event

The last mile will be fast –– within minutes fast. Products have been moving at the speed of Prime ever since Amazon unveiled the superfast delivery option in 2005, but they’re only getting faster.

Retailers large and small are leveraging distribution and fulfillment centers to map their inventories directly onto their customers’ locations, enabling carriers like UPS and the Postal Service to offer deliveries in hours rather than days.

Some companies are thinking even faster. A bevy of startups including Jokr, Gorillas and Getir are getting down to the minute, delivering food and groceries in less than a half hour. Even bigger players like DoorDash and Instacart are getting involved, rolling out deliveries in under 15 minutes.

The last mile will be flexible. Fulfillment is no longer a monolith: Retailers are offering a slew of options allowing consumers to receive their products the way they want to, services like same-day curbside pickup, buy online pick up in store, home delivery and more. Some retailers are even allowing customers to fly their orders in by drone.

White-label delivery services like Walmart Go Local and Fulfillment by Amazon are allowing retailers to leverage added delivery capacity, injecting their fleets with additional vans and drivers to meet the flexible expectations of consumers. That flexibility is also a two-way street, with more brands placing an emphasis on product returns and reverse logistics.

Watch: Success in last mile delivery happens in the final 100 feet

The last mile will be automated. Gone are the days of fleet operators mapping out routes by hand. Today, all of that manual work is done by software that generates optimal delivery routes based upon mountains of tracking and inventory data.

And it won’t just be routing and tracking that gets automated. Trucks and delivery vans are already beginning to drive themselves as more retailers and carriers partner with autonomous fleet providers like Gatik and Nuro.

The last mile will be sustainable. The transportation industry accounted for a staggering 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That may not be the case for very long as retailers with sustainability and ESG initiatives look to overhaul their supply chains.

Countless fleet manufacturers have embraced sustainable features like zero-emissions trips, carbon-negative deliveries and electric-powered motors as logistics seeks to lessen its carbon footprint, while drone delivery promises an environmentally friendly alternative to ground-based last mile supply lines.

The last mile will be a lot of things. But it will not be going away in the minds of retailers, carriers and consumers.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.