Analysis

Editorial: Last (mile) but not least

To talk to Tim Robinson, CEO of Doddle, the last mile is going to remain a major challenge for retailers for many years to come. In an exclusive interview with eDelivery, he outlined both the physical (limited roadspace and vehicles) and management challenges (disorganised and demanding consumers) that retailers face in getting products from the DC to the customer.

Of course, Robinson would say that, considering that his firm is working with retailers such as ASOS to offer click and collect services. The firm has had to dramatically change its business model over the last few years, including not only shifting from a B2C to a B2B model but also re-examining its definition of convenience.

But he’s not the only voice in the industry sounding a warning tone on the last mile. eDelivery covered a study by DHL and Euromonitor which outlined the increasing challenge of delivering to the urban consumer, not only in terms of their rising expectations but their rising number (600 million more people by 2030). The report outlines a “triangle” of areas that carriers need to be focusing on to prepare for the challenges of the last mile, including flexibility, automation and data.

On the automation front, Estonian Cleveron unveiled its robotic courier – but it is at the prototype phase. In the here and now, Bloom & Wild unveiled a same-day delivery service in London while XPO introduced the ability to track parcels through Google Search.

We see, then, solutions tentatively emerging for some of the key last mile problems: technology can improve the efficiency of deliveries on the supply side, most notably on labour costs through automation, while applications such as Google can provide a portal to connect consumers more easily with carriers’ back end systems.

These technical advances may be moot, however, if lawmakers take action against the rise in urban deliveries for environmental reasons, as Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, signalled he could do in a recent Evening Standard interview.

All of which is to say that there are clear limits to what carriers can achieve on the last mile, no matter how innovative they are. Invest in technology to improve your existing delivery capabilities, yes, but be prepared to seek other models where you can.

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