Ecommerce: night deliveries are the disruption!

Package delivery companies are facing a paradox: they are constantly having to deliver more and more parcels in cities that are, at the same time, increasingly concerned by the impact of their activities. Indeed, cities are no longer able to absorb the impact of ecommerce fueled parcel delivery volumes that register double-digit growth, year after year. Now cities, like Paris, which has already made some announcements after the explosion of the volume of deliveries during the last Black Friday (from 250,000 to 2.5 million parcels per day), are considering regulatory measures which include urban access restrictions and tolls.

This is not a new dilemma, neither for public authorities nor for professionals. Although discussions have been going on for a long time no “real” solution has been found. In my opinion, this is because the issue has been approached with a certain naivety. Indeed, even though necessary, converting fleets (from diesel vehicles to electrical vans for example) and deploying alternative delivery methods, especially ebikes and walkers, is not enough. Alone these measures will not prevent carriers from saturating public space and may even make things worse (multiplying EVs and alternative methods – ebikes and walkers – means multiplying urban hubs and “vehicles » in city centers), with obvious consequences regarding CO2 and pollutant emissions on the environment. 

Furthermore, these solutions do not solve other inconveniences such as the increase of the number of delivery people who, all day long, ring at the buzzers of buildings until someone (anyone) ends up opening the door for them. Then, they wander unguarded throughout the building to find a recipient for a package addressed to an absent consignee and, ultimately, leave it at the doorstep of the apartment.

I decided to focus on these real world issues whilst I was working at one of the world’s largest delivery companies. Quickly it seemed to me that using parcel boxes represented the solution. In this context I am not referring to the lockers that are deployed in public spaces and open to any consumers, rather I mean the more agile mailboxes of the ecommerce age. Bigger and smart, these are installed in buildings and are for residents only. Indeed, I was sure that being sustainable was also about being able to make home deliveries more efficient.

Moreover, home delivery remains the preferred delivery method in most parts of the world (this is demonstrated by various studies, see for example in graph 1 the situation in Europe), so it is also a great opportunity to improve customer experience at the same time.

Graph 1. Preferred delivery method in some European countries (Source: E-commerce in Europe, Postnort, 2018)

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Having parcel boxes or in a building means being sure that any parcel is delivered on first attempt and therefore more efficiently since all packages are dropped off at a single location through an optimized process. Parcel boxes also offer the possibility to synchronize deliveries with returns and shipments (for example sales between individuals as C2C and second-hand platforms). The consumer also wins, as reported by a study carried out by Capgemini (2019, p. 25) “73% of consumers said that receiving shipments in a convenient time slot is more important than receiving it quickly”. Consumers’ demand for more convenience is also visible in graph 1, as consumers claim to prefer delivery in « mailboxes » (at home) while those solutions are not, or rarely, deployed.

I first met with Citibox, the company I am now a key part of, while I was carrying out a pilot project in Spain. I quickly saw the potential of their solution as the one most likely to respond to the challenges of rapid ecommerce growth by improving both efficiency of the deliveries and consumer experience, and this at a very low cost.

Citibox is preparing to add another brick to its services which will undoubtedly disrupt last-mile logistics: a cheap but sophisticated system that allows the driver to safely enter a building autonomously thanks to a fully traceable, single-use code. The benefits of this solution are huge. Not only will it allow delivery vehicles (even better if electric and silent) to be on the road when they have less impact on traffic and parking, but also parcel delivery operations will become invisible to the consumer. 

Such transformation is also an opportunity for carriers to optimize the use of their assets, since the vehicles and warehouses/depots that are idle at night could be used 24 hours. The savings will be significant, allowing a reduction of logistics areas (facilities and parking) and of the fleets required to cover a specific area (for example, delivering to consumers at night – B2C – and businesses during the day). It will also allow to optimize routes since it will no longer be necessary to provide delivery slots to consumers to make sure that they are at home (and to adapt the routes accordingly), nor will it to be necessary for the driver to call the consignee to coordinate the delivery or to have the door of the building opened. In the end, the carrier will be able to deliver many more packages, faster, with the same vehicles while generating less nuisance in public and private spaces.

I am not alone in these ideas. Their value has been demonstrated by tests, for example, as reported by Smart.Citylab_lab:

« Shifting to night could speed up commercial deliveries by half and cut costs by up to 50%… Tests in several cities have found that local traffic gets better and speeds go up while shipment times go down. In New York, the off-hour delivery pilot program was a huge success. The economic benefits were estimated to be $193 million a year »

Those positive results may be the reason why authorities are now starting to consider such possibilities. The German Federal Minister of Transport also recently mentioned night deliveries to be a possible solution. In Spain, 52 cities have implemented administrative processes to enable night deliveries. 

So, are night deliveries the next big thing? I think so! The good news is that Citibox is here to support public authorities, carriers and businesses to do it in a convenient and efficient way thanks to its smart parcel boxes and the new [buildings] access system.

This paper is an improved translation of the article published in French in Les Echoes :

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