Last Mile Innovation?

e-commerce has caused a lot of disruption over the last decade, and it’s easy to overlook the massive changes e-commerce has brought about in the final mile of the supply chain. With online shopping allowing us to shop on our own terms, it seems we (or I, at least) have also come to expect delivery on our terms own too. This presents a lot of challenges for the express companies that have to deliver all the things we buy, especially as our collective willingness to wait at home for a delivery wanes.

A few days ago, we posted this blog following news that, on the occasions when Tube stations in London are open, Transport for London planned to allow a few of the UK’s major supermarkets to leave commuters’ shopping in specially designed lockers for collection. Lockers for this purpose aren’t all that new of an innovation, and lockers located in tube stations would fit with the pattern that’s been established for their operation – public areas of high footfall, like train stations, supermarkets and shopping centres, have all been used in the past. Indeed, parcel lockers are just one of a few ways express companies are trying to overcome the final mile challenges they face in getting goods out of their hands and into ours. Amongst the alternative options for final mile delivery are:

Collection and delivery at local convenience stores

A good number of express providers will deliver your internet-bought goods to a local corner store. It’s good for you because you arrive at either end of the day, or during your lunch hour, to find your products waiting. It’s good for the express provider, too, because it takes away the need for multiple delivery attempts to multiple addresses, and that helps keep costs down.

City networks

Designed to improve final mile solutions across a metropolitan area, city networks take a few different forms, including TNT’s use of a mobile depot in Brussels. The depot, a modified trailer split into four areas – sorting, loading, unloading and office – is driven into the city, parks and opens up, allowing a fleet of electric cycles to undertake the last stage of delivery. Another version of a city network comes with e-Bay Now – a smartphone app that allows customers to purchase products and have them in their hands within an hour. The service is currently limited to San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and parts of New York, with participating retailers including Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, Home Depot and Best Buy. It appears likely that eBay skips a distribution network by collecting directly from a retailer’s store and delivering the goods directly to the purchaser. Whether this version of sameday delivery turns out to be the best option or not, plenty of other retailers are also pushing in that direction.

3D Printing

A lot has been written about the impact of 3D printing on supply chains, including how the ability of anyone to print engineering parts, functional prototypes, acting props, architectural models and fixtures for cameras, lights and cables, for example, will change demand for final mile solutions. Rather than re-tread these waters, however, I’ll simply leave you with the news that you can now buy a 3D printer for less than $1,000, or if your needs are more sporadic, you can just pop along to your local supermarket.

But what about Amazon’s drones? Well, while it may appear remiss to write a blog about final mile delivery and not mention Amazon’s foray into the world of unmanned aircraft, it is for good reason. Next week we will be welcoming Alex Le Roy, a Researcher here at Ti, to the Ti Blog Team, and his first post will be on that very subject.

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2 thoughts on “Last Mile Innovation?

  1. A very interesting read! Like you say, there are a number of alternative options for last-mile delivery.

    I’d like to suggest ‘Click and Collect’ as another varient of last-mile ‘delivery’ as it is the same principle of collecting goods at the consumers’ convenience but all within the retailer’s existing supply chain. As a thrifty shopper this is appealing as in many cases it is a ‘free service’ (if you disregard fuel, parking charges and impulse buys when in the shop itself!!) So, two of the main influences on selecting the method of last-mile delivery for internet shoppers must be cost as well as convenience?

    Now, I’m not an inner-city dweller so am all too familiar with convenience simply not being an option for deliveries – geography must be a significant factor too in these choices. All very interesting, food for thought!

  2. Pingback: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s that book I ordered from Amazon this morning | the Ti blog

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