Becoming sustainable the new challenge for e-commerce logistics | NTT DATA

Tue, 16 November 2021

Becoming sustainable the new challenge for e-commerce logistics

With the pandemic currently changing people’s daily habits, it is no surprise that consumption patterns have shifted as well. The way customers interact with the brands has evolved into a better, more efficient system, which guarantees almost 100% of the purchases to be delivered correctly. As a matter of fact, during the pre-COVID period, as much as 30% to 40% of all online purchases didn’t arrive in good conditions. Additionally, the periods of time available for receiving the packages used to be the same for almost the entire audience. This was causing massive bottlenecks which delayed the deliveries dramatically, while also producing a counterproductive environmental impact.

Nowadays, given that the possibility of a new lockdown is still present and remote-life has become the new normal, the need to receive a package in good conditions and at the designated time and place, is more important than ever. In addition, new features such as contactless deliveries are increasing productivity by giving drivers the possibility to mark a shipment as complete, even if the buyer hasn't been physically present to receive it. However, as society is beginning to return to old pre-pandemic routines, the question now is: is it possible that the pandemic has completely changed some customer habits forever? Will new consumption practices, such as massive online shopping, and the new highly productive delivery systems continue developing, even after lockdown or will things go back to normal?

How can the new normal help e-commerce become more sustainable?

Although the environment benefited from the newly imposed remote living, the increased volume of goods bought online has continued to overwhelm already saturated roads with increasing volumes of transportation. Despite the fact that delivery companies have begun incorporating sustainable practices to their services, there are still some shipping aspects that need serious reconsideration if sustainability is what companies are aiming to achieve. Microhubs, for example, are logistic facilities that gather together purchases from a same area range in order to create less environmental damage by reducing the utilization of long-haul transportation. More and more cities are developing microhub plans that will alleviate urban traffic jams.

One of the reasons that traffic is busier than ever is that with the boost in online purchases, came an increase in the volume of returns, converting the shipping processes into a highly wasteful source of resources such as transportation and packaging. Prolongating return periods or giving the client the option to return the product in different logistic points have supported return policies, making consumption habits much less environmentally friendly. While incrementing the costs for almost every industry sector, these new interaction patterns between brands and their customers seem to be heading even more towards a less sustainable retail industry. So, how can companies cooperate in order to create a circular economy that not only keeps the online sales going, but also reduces the carbon emission footprint that is being generated in dangerously high quantities?

Part of the solution comes from new advances in technology that are being implemented in the retail sector. Today, more than ever, infusing technological devices into the transportation’s logistics is what is helping companies become more sustainable in a way that benefits both the planet and their business. For example, geolocalizationdevices are the solution that can drastically reduce the customers’ complaints about where, when and how the shipment was done. Additionally, implementing such GPS-based technologies creates better and more efficient shipping routes that help save unnecessary, expensive trips while lowering traffic pollution. By implementing such alternatives into traditional shipping procedures, companies could minimize their impact on traffic congestion and even traffic accidents. Geolocalization therefore saves time and money while promoting a more eco-friendly approach and offering both a better experience for the client and easy-to-use traceability solutions that improve the customer-brand relationship.

Technology as a part of the solution

Just a few years ago, 285 big private corporations were generating more annual emissions than France and Spain combined together. As unrealistic as it might sound, the private sector plays a huge role among the carbon emission footprint that is causing the damage. Therefore, investing in transportation based on renewable energy, such as electric or hydrogen powered cars, ends up being a highly beneficial alternative for creating sustainable, long-lasting futures. However, electric transportation and geolocalization aren’t the only possible solutions in order to contribute to a more affordable future. Companies are beginning to invest in educating the drivers who are in charge of delivering the packages, on what technologies are available to them, as well as providing them with more data on the customers, which can save both time and avoid inconveniences. Another aspect is creating environmentally friendly packaging that remains in line with the sustainability goals, rather than being part of the problem. Although the best waste is the one that is not generated, applying technology into solutions that create recyclable packaging or even giving the option of package-free purchases can act as potential solutions: every package is an opportunity either to contribute or to go against sustainability.

The change of habits that took place during lockdown has become a great opportunity for companies to introduce new and more efficient sustainability methods in their selling and shipping procedures. Enabling technology for route planification, for saving carbon emission through renewable energy-fed vehicles, or for creating microhubs to reduce shipping distances are some of the potential alternatives to become more sustainable. Coping with the planet then happens to be an investment in one’s own business, rather than a waste of money, time or resources, and technology has become the greatest ally.

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