Last mile delivery (r)evolution

4 min read
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Customers have come to expect faster deliveries at lower prices. From small e-commerce outfits to logistics giants, companies need to adapt to the rapidly changing world of global shipping.

The most tangible changes in the industry are often visible with last-mile deliveries. Here are three innovations that are already, or soon will be, revolutionizing the trade:

1. The mobile warehouse

Upselling is one of the oldest strategies in sales, and when it comes to e-commerce, last-mile deliveries are the latest area for innovation.

Cartoon plan of mobile warehouse

Companies like Amazon already have the data and know-how to predict what customers might want to purchase next, based on previous order histories – they even offer incentives like free or faster delivery to grease the wheels. What if that data could be used to upsell to customers directly by keeping an inventory of likely sought-after products onboard their delivery vehicle? Amazon already offers 'Dash Button' features that allow users to quickly add common household items to their order, for instance. As the data get better and shipping gets more efficient, customers can expect a whole slew of additional purchase options when a package arrives at their door. Companies can even take the idea a step further, by basing 'mobile warehouses' in high-density areas, where purchasing data allow them to predict likely last-minute items to be ordered on that day.

2. On-demand drivers

From Uber to Airbnb, crowdsourced workforces are a crucial aspect of 21st-century business innovation.

For the world of logistics, turning to on-demand drivers is an efficient way of expediting the last-mile delivery process. In fact, it is already being done for services like UberEATS and Amazon Flex, which allow drivers to make money through deliveries on their own time, with their own vehicles. While such methods can often lack the efficiently planned out and perfected delivery routes developed by many major logistics firms, it offers customers a speedy last-minute, door-to-door option that is simply unmatched. For the moment ...

Deutsche Post delivery robot

... and that is where the robots come in. Experts widely agree that the age of automated delivery is nearly upon us, and most of the talk is about how driverless trucks will be dominating shipping around the world. But in some urban areas, a smaller form of robot is likely to have a bigger impact. Last-mile, door-to-door deliveries often need to navigate crowded sidewalks and multi-story office buildings, and that is where small autonomous vehicles have the potential to offer unrivaled efficiency. Modern, self-driving delivery robots, which often operate more like small lockers with smart navigation capabilities, are already being tested in cities like Hamburg, London and Washington, DC. In just a few years’ time, there is a good chance that late night takeout will arrive at your door with no deliveryman in sight. Discover the latest last mile delivery solutions in your industry here.

Drone delivering a parcel

The idea of a drone landing at our home with a delivery is no longer a futuristic fantasy – the technology behind delivery drones exists, we were the first parcel service to trial it with the DHL parcelcopter. While a drone could theoretically be used anywhere to make deliveries, the most promising use of the emerging technology is in tackling one of the oldest challenges in the logistics industry: geography. It is an area where drones have a unique opportunity to corner the market. For customers in rural areas, speedy delivery options remained limited. Chinese retail giant JD.com recently announced it was launching a five-year trial phase for last-mile drone deliveries, driven by the Jetson intelligent navigation platform developed by US graphics guru Nvidea. Drones directly address geographic challenges and have been tested to make medical deliveries to the island of Juist in the North Sea and autonomous deliveries in the Alps. Same-day, speedy deliveries will soon no longer be hampered by vast distances or difficult terrain. 

3. Artificial intelligence

Robot in thinking pose

For many industry insiders, the ultimate breakthrough in last-mile delivery (and the wider world of logistics) boils down to one thing: AI. Shipping companies are constantly looking at more ways to use big data to drive innovation and boost efficiency. The advancement of AI has already revolutionized many businesses, particularly logistics - smart systems can now comb through supply chain information and coordinate every aspect of the delivery process. AI’s potential is endless: using data-driven autonomous supply chains could bring previously unimaginable levels of optimization. Whether it is getting packages to distribution centers, storing inventory or optimizing delivery routes for driverless trucks, robots and drones, AI is the future of shipping.