Going The Extra Mile

The last-mile delivery landscape is changing fast. Technology is at its centre stage, reshaping it to become more agile, lean, and better able to meet growing customer demands

By Kushmita Bose

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Wed 31 May 2023, 12:27 PM

With such demanding schedules, we often find it difficult to spend hours in the mall or the supermarket looking for an item. I can vouch for that myself. As humans evolve and their needs and wants change over time, advanced and modern technology come to the rescue to fulfill these needs. Thanks to the e-commerce boom, buyers are no longer required to visit a brick-and-mortar store for a purchase to happen. Today, shoppers can skip through hundreds of available products, compare prices, place an order, and have their purchases delivered to their doorstep from the comfort of their homes. Moreover, in 15 to 20 minutes. That speaks a lot.

Though ‘delivery’ is not a new concept, buyers are increasingly becoming pro-delivery, assisting in the growth of a whole new eco-system – in which home deliveries of everything – from online and traditional retail purchases are no more a luxury, but a part of our everyday lifestyle.

The last leg of the delivery chain

Once a consumer clicks ‘purchase’, say for groceries, a meal, or a new pair of sneakers, the action sets in motion what is called the last mile delivery process. This is usually the shortest distance in a product’s journey, but is considered the most expensive, and time-consuming aspect, often accounting for 53 per cent of the total cost of delivery. Companies that view delivery as an important channel are now looking for technology to make the last mile more efficient, cut costs, and improve profitability.

The unprecedented growth of e-commerce in recent years has resulted in a parallel shift in the way we trade and run businesses, particularly as companies continued to adapt their offering and adjust their operations to meet the rapidly evolving market requirements and elevated customer expectations. Furthermore, the advent of new shop formats and delivery alternatives ranging from same-day delivery to 15-minute express delivery, click-and-collect, subscription-based services, and others necessitated the development of quicker, more efficient, and cost-effective delivery solutions. "Last mile delivery has long been a challenge in the region, but with the introduction of noon Minutes quick commerce, the game has changed. noon Minutes offers customers delivery in as little as 10 to 15 minutes, is available throughout Dubai, and is rapidly expanding across Abu Dhabi and other emirates. We’re committed to fast, efficient, and reliable delivery that is revolutionising the region's e-commerce industry and bringing convenience to customers’ doorsteps in record time,” says Ali Kafil-Hussain, Chief of Staff at noon.

Leveraging Technology

As one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world, the Middle East has been at the forefront of technological innovation in both the last-mile delivery segment and the broader supply chain sector. Some of the major players in the last-mile domain proactively conducted trials of delivery robots, especially in the UAE, in line with the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy objectives to automate 25 per cent of all trips in Dubai by 2030.

According to Statista, an online research portal specialising in industry and consumer data, the worldwide e-commerce market is expected to reach $6.35 trillion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.51 per cent between 2023 and 2027.

Logistics company Aramex recently announced the successful testing of its drone and roadside bot deliveries in Dubai. This is part of the Company’s ‘Future Delivery Programme’ aimed at enhancing last-mile logistics using smart shipping solutions to enable quicker, more sustainable, and cost-effective deliveries. The initial tests were conducted at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in partnership with BARQ EV, a leading commercial drone delivery service provider in the UAE, and Kiwibot, a Colombia-based company specialising in delivery robotics. Aramex utilised the drone delivery technology provided by BARQ EV, which is capable of operating multiple and continuous flights at long-range distances and different environments. Angad Singh, Global Director — Innovation of Aramex, said: “The initial introduction of robotic and drone deliveries in the UAE coincides with a time of growing customer demand for fast and reliable delivery services. With this testing, we wanted to enable an integrated ecosystem of innovative products which shall ultimately offer more convenience for our customers. Therefore, in addition to the autonomous delivery vehicles, we have also rolled out mobile outlet trucks that allow us to operate drones and bots, as well as offer pickup and drop-off points at any location close to our customers.”

In February, The Roads Transport Authority (RTA) in partnership with Dubai Integrated Economic Zones Authority (DIEZ) and talabat UAE announced the pilot launch of autonomous food delivery robots, also known as ‘talabots’, in Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO), revolutionising sustainable last-mile delivery in the UAE. The launch of autonomous delivery robots is part of ambitions to support riders in the next generation of sustainable delivery by having robots cover short-distance deliveries to increase efficiency, fleet optimisation and reduce carbon emissions.

Transforming delivery methods

The push to improve last-mile delivery accelerated post pandemic with more and more people shopping online due to quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and health concerns over in-person shopping. With the UAE accelerating towards the future of advanced technologies, what can we expect to see in the last mile delivery space? Here are some of the top technology trends that are likely to take over the last-mile delivery market.

Utilising Robots and Drones: Businesses want to optimise mobile operations using the most sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective method for each delivery. For example, an enterprise can employ a traditional delivery truck for larger and heavier products and utilise drones, autonomous robots, or electric or semi-electric vehicles. These options enable the delivery of smaller packages to hard-to-reach locations or provide same-day delivery in high-density urban areas.

Utilising robots and drones can also allow customers to personalise the delivery process to their preferences. In simple terms, this means that customers can receive their orders directly to their doorstep or even inside their homes, without having to leave their houses or interact with a delivery person, offering increased convenience, especially for those with busy schedules or limited mobility. Furthermore, delivery bots and drones can be equipped with advanced mapping systems, allowing for greater accuracy than human drivers.

Delivery drones, in particular, can help businesses vastly extend their outreach and reach rural areas.

AI: Nowadays, logistics companies have started exploring machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimise their delivery routes, while reducing transportation costs. An AI/ML-enabled route optimisation solution can provide information about the optimal number of vehicles required and the shortest route to be taken to deliver the packages within the delivery time window. At the same time, the system can continue to learn from previous deliveries and refine itself to fulfil maximum delivery windows while optimising the transportation costs.

A route optimisation solution, powered by artificial intelligence, can make logistics operations more efficient, resulting in cost reduction, improved customer experience, and better resource management. It can help reduce the manual efforts and offer a better visibility of the shipment to the planning managers as well as the customers.

Use of Data Analytics: With last-mile delivery trends constantly evolving, it’s no surprise that one of the growing trends is the use of big data. As businesses improve their delivery efficiency and customer experience, they use data analytics to gain insights. These insights look at customer behaviour, predict demand, and anticipate future trends. As a result, they reduce delivery times and provide a more personalised purchase experience. Data-driven decisions heavily influence the future of last-mile delivery, and businesses can capitalise on this trend to drive more sales.

More news from Business Technology Review