The urban distribution of goods is one of the most important challenges that the cities are facing nowadays. The new social habits have made the e-commerce boom unstoppable and it has countless advantages for the consumer. But at the same time, it generates a great environmental impact and important challenges for mobility in large cities.
The logistic and delivery centers’ needs and the last-mile challenge (the last 1,500 meters) are currently two of the main concerns of the sector. Consumers want an immediate shopping experience and that means having the material as close as possible to the main population centers and their customers. The result is more traffic in the cities’ streets, with greater traffic jams in the loading and unloading areas and an increase on the environmental impact. All the experts agree on that adopting measures and a regulation to avoid that a collapse situation is reached cannot be postponed. The acquisition of storage and distribution spaces in large cities is growing at a very high rate. The warehouses’ rental reached 935,000 m2 in Madrid, setting a new record for the second consecutive year, with a rise of a 2% compared to 2017. If the growth of online shopping keeps in pace with the last few years, we will reach a point where there will not be enough urban space.
The solution to these challenges has a technological as well as an urban-planning aspect. Big data could be a solution to the lack of logistical space by allowing users to know in advance the needs of the users and the specialization of the stores according to the neighborhood where they are, and factors such as per capita income, volume purchased, replacement time or what are the most demanded products by area, hours and types of buyers. Technological development has also enabled the emergence of solutions for the most efficient use of last mile delivery capacity, such as route optimization, fleet management and order management.
The distribution points must be gathered together, they should be smaller and, with the help of artificial intelligence, should boost a high rotation of products. On the other hand, the limitations in the urban centers and traffic congestion make it essential to increase the collection points. In this sense, another option could be to offer discounts on products with less turnover or they could be moved to out-of-town warehouses to prioritize the storage of the best-selling products.
One of the great e-commerce challenges is the environmental impact, and the main European cities are beginning to restrict the entry of polluting vehicles. It will be necessary to look for alternatives that are more respectful with the environment and the possibility of using less polluting vehicles, such as electric ones, or those that do not occupy the roads, such as drones, although current legislation does not allow it.
According to the teacher of Economics and Business Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) Xavier Budet, there will be increasing cooperation between different companies to consolidate and share infrastructures and vehicles to formalize deliveries. Many companies will start using dark stores -premises in urban centers that are not open to the public to prepare and issue orders-, temporary centers (pop-up) or collaborative deliveries, where the individuals will be the ones who will end up delivering the product to the client. The collection ticket offices are also consolidating themselves as an alternative. They are ticket offices located in supermarkets and establishments in the city center, in shopping malls or even at gas stations where customers can pick up their packages whenever and wherever it suits them. The customer receives a notification with a unique code, as well as the address and opening hours of the box office that he/she has selected to pick up the order.