Sunday, 28 april 2019 | Redacción CEU
Buying has never been easier than now. One cellphone, several clicks and, of course, some money in the wallet are enough elements to have access to millions of products which are distributed in countries as far away as China, India or Canada. E-commerce is testing the logistic models of half the world. Thousands of companies compete to improve their supply chain, develop optimized systems and speed up deliveries and, in this way, try to win consumers over. In this race based on immediacy, free-charges and convenience, businesses have found a complex problem: the closer the product to its destination is, the more obstacles it finds. This is the paradox of the last mile.
The final stretch of the journey that a product makes to reach its destination is known as the last mile. If we let ourselves to be guided by the tracking of an Internet purchase, this would be the last phase: the one corresponding to "out for delivery". Therefore, it is the step that goes from the last point of distribution (warehouses, stores, logistics centers, etc.) to the doors of the clients' houses. It is also the most complex, the critical point of e-commerce logistics and, lately, the most common cause of headaches among the professionals in the sector.
When cities become a hurdle race
Where this type of shipments comes across more obstacles is in cities. It could be said that big cities are the new hurdle of logistics processes: scenarios where skill and creativity are key to successfully finishing the race. While in rural areas the number of orders is small and the delivery points are separated by relatively large distances, in big cities the deliveries are atomized and numerous, and the orders are placed more frequently. All this adds up to an urgent need from the sector to meet demanding deadlines, as well as the characteristic problems of mobility: traffic jams, lack of unloading areas, access to pedestrian areas, etc.
Deliveries are often inefficient and unsustainable: they mainly consist of many trips to deliver small-sized packages. The environmental impact and high costs are added to the list of unresolved problems in logistics. In turn, Amazon's boom has made the competition among companies fiercer. Timings are getting shorter, customers' expectations higher and the promises more difficult to meet. In fact, this fight for immediacy has led some players to offer deliveries on the same day, even in two hours after the purchase.
In addition to being the last link in the logistic chain, the last mile is the stage where the meeting with customers takes place. This moment is key, since the final experience of clients will depend to a large extent on it. In this phase, the most frequent problems of the customers are the failure to comply with deadlines (mainly on key dates such as Blackfriday, Christmas, Cybermonday, ...) and those derived from the incompatibility with schedules. Deliveries are usually made during working hours, so many buyers are not at home when their orders arrive. It is essential for online stores and e-commerce companies to solve these problems. If users do not get a satisfactory service, they will probably choose another company in their next purchase.