Online shopping is not so green after all

As the world places increasingly more demands on Earth’s finite resources, are there things that we, in the logistics industry, can do to lessen our impact while providing higher levels of customer satisfaction? One of the biggest offenders in the industry is “last mile delivery”, and taking steps to improve its efficiency requires “blue sky” thinking, working with inventive third parties that are exploring new delivery methods and a real desire to change entrenched processes (see our latest post “Disrupt or be Disrupted” for more information).

If you could take a time lapse video of your entire neighbourhood over the course of a day from a 500 foot perch and concentrate on the courier delivery vehicles coming and going, you’d be amazed at the level of activity – different courier companies delivering parcels to the same street multiple times in a day, stopping to drop off parcels, hitting the doorbell, running back to the truck with parcel in hand (because no one is home) or leaving it on the porch and increasing the risk of it being stolen (see our “Porch Pirate” post) and then motoring on to the next location. A massive web of different courier fleets trying to do their best to efficiently keep up with the rapid rise of residential parcel delivery driven by the growth in e-commerce.

As the day progresses from a higher vantage point you’d be sure to notice the amount of traffic and sheer congestion that envelopes neighbourhoods, more so in those areas with a high density of apartments and condos during peak hours when major routes are jammed. It’s even more apparent in the core of our cities where cars and trucks are curb to curb during rush hour. Imagine the sheer mount of energy required to deliver parcels to urban neighbourhoods and suburbs across Canada on a daily basis. Truly staggering and the overall costs are going nowhere but up given residential deliveries are expected to double over the next 5 years.

Contrary to perception, e-commerce has not alleviated the negative effect that consumer shopping has on the environment, it’s actually added to it. 20 years ago you’d hop into the car and shop in store, driving from mall to mall before your purchases were complete. Now you research online, decide on a product and have it delivered. On the surface it appears more efficient but the sheer number of deliveries being made to a vast number of individual addresses has produced a net negative effect.

This is the “Last mile delivery” challenge that accounts for as much as 50% of the total cost of making a residential parcel delivery. That’s not to mention the toll that’s afflicted on the environment and our air quality. There have been some novel potential solutions to this problem from some big players in the e-commerce world: drone parcel delivery, localized pickup hubs in convenience stores. Drone delivery?..a flock of loud airborne buzzards dropping your parcel off somehow just doesn’t seem plausible, way too many limitations and variables for disaster. Convenience stores?..not sure I’d want to trust my parcel storage to the part time worker at the corner store. While they deserve merit for their originality neither have seen any traction.

There is one solution, that has seen success over the last five years in Asia and Europe, that is changing how parcels are delivered and picked up. They’re called “Smart Parcel Lockers” and the idea is simple. Located in convenient urban centres and in the lobbies of multi-unit tenant buildings these lockers provide a centralized drop off point for couriers while enabling the consumer to pick up their parcels whenever it’s convenient for them. It saves time and energy for the couriers who no longer need to navigate to each individual home or unit and provides a sure way of being able to successfully deliver parcels into tenant buildings that have a high rate of missed delivers since parcels cannot be left in the lobby when no one answers their buzzer.  Further, significant energy savings are evident with online returns which are running at around 30% of all online orders. Those shoes you ordered aren’t the right colour?..pack them back up and drop them off at a Smart Parcel Locker. The proverbial “killing two birds with one stone” scenario.

These lockers can also be installed at a central location in large commercial buildings giving consumers the option to direct their on-line order to their place of work eliminating the need to leave early to make sure they’re home for the courier delivery (a request that is more frequent than imagined).  Looking from the outside this option makes a ton of sense given couriers are delivering their parcels when most consumers are at work and employers eliminate the growing traffic and interruptions from couriers running through their buildings while providing a valuable employee service.

There will be an estimated 18 billion parcels delivered in Canada and the US by couriers in 2018 and by 2023 a number close to 36 billion. If just 10% of today’s parcel deliveries were into a parcel locker network, the annualized savings on courier resources (personnel) would be 75 million hours in addition to the tremendous fuel savings. Further parcel lockers are open 24/7 and allow for the possibility of courier deliveries being made outside of normal business hours when traffic is minimal resulting in fuel savings of up to 30%. Green thinking is not only good for the planet but will save a ton money. A win – win solution.

Like every courier you’re facing rising last mile delivery costs and consumers that are looking for less expensive shipping alternatives that are convenient, private and secure. You also operate in a world that needs to lower the environmental impact of e-commerce. So how can you embrace Smart Parcel Lockers as a last mile alternative that meets these objectives?

· Collaborate with emerging companies that are building an open network of standardized Smart Parcel Lockers located in community locations, multi-unit residential dwellings and commercial buildings that can be used by you in a transactional manner (pay for what you use).

· Experiment and pilot solutions that directly target your last mile delivery costs. Smart Parcel Lockers are the one size fits all solution for retail partners as well. Reaching out to your retail partners will lead to greater adoption and ultimately lower costs for your company.

· Integrate your services with other last mile offerings, that are being developed by innovative companies, to create hybrid solutions and offer them as a single, cost effective and superior alternative to better serve your on-line retail customers and their consumers.

· Focus your brand marketing on these new technologies and green thinking as a way of speaking to your dedication to driving change for the better. Offer incentives to help drive the adoption of green alternatives. The greater the adoption, the more savings you should realize.

Here at Parcel Port we’re passionate about a future that includes a network of Smart Parcel Lockers given their potential to positively impact couriers, consumers and businesses and our environment. It’s a cleaner alternative that checks all the boxes. If you’re looking for more information on how our Smart Parcel Lockers can help you or would just like to chat, give us a call at 1-800-818-0870 or e-mail us at

Thanks for reading.