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What is Last Mile Delivery and Why Does it Matter?

August 10, 2021
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Krissie | MindfulCommerce
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Last-mile delivery. It’s a phrase retailers have been familiar with for some time now, but increasingly, it’s starting to give the more conscious consumers pause for thought, too. Referring to the final leg of the fulfilment journey, as goods move from warehouse shelf to their final destination, last-mile delivery is typified by movement through an urban environment, usually ending at the residential address of the customer.

From depot to doorstep, last-mile delivery is an essential element of the ecommerce supply chain. However, from increased congestion on city roads to rising emissions, last-mile delivery can also represent a cause for concern.

Ecommerce brands need to start considering (and, where appropriate, revising) their last-mile delivery strategies. Not only do better practices here have the potential to make a difference to your environmental impact, it’s also an increasingly important public relations play. As more businesses start to clean up their act here, the expectation for others to follow in their footsteps will become well established.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the questions to be asking when it comes to your own approach to last-mile delivery. We will look at the potential pitfalls to avoid and some of the practical steps you can take to ensure you’re putting best practices into play.

The Increasing Scale & Impact of Last-Mile Delivery

Ecommerce was booming even before the pandemic hit. With the arrival of Covid (and international lockdowns seeing shutters come crashing down on shopping streets the world over) this growth went into overdrive. With reports suggesting up to five years of growth compressed into a single year of industry advancement, many verticals skyrocketed.

The health and success of the ecommerce sector is, of course, something to be celebrated. But scaling our industry also means scaling its negative impact. And when it comes to emissions, the huge increase in the number of packages being sent out to customers cannot be ignored.

Delivery has a carbon cost at all stages of the fulfilment cycle, so why is there such a significant focus on these last-mile journeys? Last-mile delivery is especially problematic when it comes to impact because it forces more traffic into already congested and polluted urban environments – compounding issues that already exist.

Demand for urban last-mile delivery is expected to grow by 78% by 2030, leading to 36% more delivery vehicles across the world’s top 100 cities. As a result, traffic congestion is expected to rise by over 21% (the equivalent of adding 11 minutes to each passenger’s daily commute). That’s before we even start to count the carbon cost of these additional vehicles taking longer, slower urban journeys.

So, not only does last-mile delivery increase inner-city pollution, contributing to poor air quality in residential zones, but by adding more traffic to urban roads, it also has the snowball effect of making other urban journeys less efficient and emission-heavy.

The Rise of the Conscious Consumer

The modern consumer is starting to take a more mindful approach to the way that they shop –both on and offline. The actions and values of the brands that they choose to spend money with matter to them. This uptick in “conscious consumerism” means that better informed, values-led consumers are more likely to make purchases based on alignment with beliefs and reduced impact.

Last-mile delivery (and the way your brand approaches this problematic but ultimately unavoidable subject) will increasingly become a point of differentiation. Given the choice between a brand that has adopted a considered approach to their last-mile delivery, and one which has paid less attention to mitigating the impact, conscious consumers will choose to support the brand that makes them feel better about their choices.

Ultimately, sustainability sells - and this trend is reflected most strongly in younger markets, which sends a strong signal to invest in this strategy. Tomorrow’s customer is looking for ways to be greener and will support the brands that empower them to make more sustainable choices, and which clearly demonstrate their commitment to better environmental practice.

The Future of Last-Mile Delivery

Although last-mile delivery brings sustainability challenges, as with so many areas of ecommerce, advancements in technology are riding to the rescue. Improvements to last-mile delivery are being made all the time, thanks to developments within AI and fulfilment and better communications with customers.

Delivery routes are getting ever-more efficient thanks to the power of AI-informed route planning and scheduling. This is being observed at all levels of commerce. From the largest warehouses wielding the most advanced tech through to local retailers stepping up to handle more local deliveries (after the increased pandemic demand) and leaning upon the additional functionality rolled out by platforms such as Shopify. More efficient routes lead to fewer emissions and congestion on our urban roads.

Another advancement comes in the form of education. Customers have become accustomed to automatically selecting “next day delivery” options, whether or not this speed of fulfilment is truly required. Few know about the increased environmental impact that accompanies their choice, as the result of more delivery runs or less efficiently consolidated orders. By simply highlighting the issue (for example, by deploying icons to denote greener delivery slots in the checkout process, or adding messaging to communicate the additional carbon cost of their choice, coupled with an invitation to offset or reconsider), retailers can help their customers to make better future choices.

Research is also being done into the best choices that retailers can make with regard to the vehicles that they leverage for their last-mile delivery. From emission levels to speed of delivery, there are a lot of factors to weigh up and balance out here, but at Bezos, we’ve weighed up several options and landed on cargo bikes as the best choice for our customers receiving goods in central London. Bezos's free Shopify integration makes it easy for retailers to add green delivery options at checkout – see how they could help your brand today.

Last-Mile Delivery: Start Making Plans...

As we edge further into the climate crisis, last-mile delivery is an area of ecommerce set to receive an increasing amount of air time and attention. As a result, it’s an important consideration for all brands to factor into their future planning and represents a significant opportunity to differentiate their ongoing evolution of service.

Show that your brand is paying attention to the finer detail of your environmental impact and taking steps to improve the options that you offer your customers. By empowering your customers – giving them choice and the chance to do the right thing – you can help the planet and your profit concurrently.

With all statistics suggesting growing demand for a more sustainable shopping experience, get ahead of the curve today with MindfulCommerce partners, Bezos.

Looking for more ways to boost your bottom line through more sustainable ecommerce choices? Join the MindfulCommerce community today.

As Cofounder of MindfulCommerce, Krissie strives to help ecommerce businesses to successfully grow and reduce their environmental impact. Krissie is originally from Cheshire, in the UK and now lives in North Devon on the coast with her Cofounder and partner Rich and Portuguese Water Dog Murphy.

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