I recently attended the Last Mile Logistics Conference, held at BAFTA in London, with the aim of those working in the Logistics & Manufacturing industry to discuss and debate some of the challenges, and solutions to how we keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape of last mile fulfilment.
There is no doubt that the demand for convenience is here to stay. In the UK alone, ecommerce retail sales reached £162bn with predictions that by 2027 this figure will be £189.95bn or nearly 33% of all sales. We know that if you look at the national picture, cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham are serviced by roadways and transportation systems that allow for this growth in the sector, but other cities such as London struggle to accommodate the increased demand with the GLA recent Industrial Land Supply Study showing an 18% reduction in industrial land stock since 2001 in London.
Working with stakeholders across the logistics ecosystem – whether developers, investors, or occupiers – what is becoming apparent is that we need, as an industry, to reset our mindset around how we plan, design, build and occupy our last mile logistics space, particularly in urban centres like London.
We have seen how multi-occupancy in last mile logistics works in other countries – where those who need similar facilities – whether that is chilled space for food, lab like facilities for healthcare products or just storage for bulky goods – share spaces and fulfilment systems. Through our global offices, we have seen how retailers co-exist in their distribution hubs in their space poor-city centres in Far East countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong. The attitude that prevails in the UK of ‘one tenant/one space’ needs to change with a more holistic view adopted that puts market need and delivery first.
We know there are a variety of different approaches to Urban Last Mile in London along with the City of London Plan, Policy VT2 encouraging developers to identify locations for last mile hubs and Policy VT3 highlighting underutilised spaces such as
car parks as priority sites for such facilities. Collaboration is needed across local boroughs and a central approach, aligned with the London Mayor’s Transport strategy. With local authorities being cash poor, private-public partnerships could be a win-win for all, with private logistics developers driving social value within communities and in turn local authority planning departments rethinking flexibility around planning regulations and timeframes for planning approval of developments.
Changing perception and adding incentive
We also know that the ‘beds and sheds’ of mixed developments currently don’t work with protest movements such as Nocado, in Islington or Stop3000 Trucks in Milton Keynes prominent in the news. The only way we can really incorporate last mile into communities is by bringing value to that community. How great would it be to see those living close to a logistics hub benefiting from the renewable energy that the building could provide through solar panels on their roof? Or a community-based garden or green space that is developed, maintained, and funded as part of the development deal.
The developments we are proposing in communities need to look and feel community based – so they blend in aesthetically, are conscious of their environmental footprint – for example, sites with 100% electric vehicles would make hubs of the future more appealing with less noise pollution and air pollution. And of course, they are designed and built or repurposed in collaboration with those communities, with neighbours bought on board early to agree potential incentives and restrictions.
Reuse of existing space
Then there is the challenge of the high street. According to the British Retail Consortium Local Data Company Vacancy Monitor the number of store front vacancies has increased to 13.9% (July 23) and the last quarter saw high street stalwart, Wilko, going into administration with 400 of its stores closing. Surely, it’s time to talk and allow these spaces to be part of the solution rather than the problem?
We are already seeing new ways of distribution with the utilisation of locker type drop off and collection facilities of all types of goods. For example, InPost has shown an incredible growth in its network and already partnered with companies such as Tesco, WHSmith, Westfield and Transport for London. The lockers increase user satisfaction with not having to wait in for a parcel delivery and offer sustainability savings by consolidating the ‘lazy’ last mile deliveries. Interestingly, a study carried out with InPost lockers at Lidl stores found that 54% of customers who used APMs (Automated Parcel Machines) next to the supermarket also made purchases in the shop so there is a real incentive for the retailer too. Ikea has partnered with parcel locker service Shift, Tesco and DPD pick up points to allow customers to pick up goods closer to home than travelling to a store, with a £10 collect charge versus delivery starting at £40, another real incentive to customers. With the size of lockers often being limited, empty shop units could provide an answer to this problem.
Finding some level of agreement for landlords and tenants that works for all rather than the stalemate of empty façades could help both the last mile logistics challenge, bring revenue for landlords across the country as well as solve the dilemma of how we reinvigorate our high streets, and possibly even help level up the agenda within urban conurbations.
With this we need to change consumer behaviour by encouraging and incentivising customers to choose greener options such as collection from central locations, or consolidated deliveries, this could be with perks such as extra rewards points or perks or free delivery. Data and use of algorithms are also critical to reducing last mile deliveries, after all the most environmentally friendly last mile is that which is not driven.
And finally, we need to embrace innovation. Whilst there has already been a big move towards e-bikes and electric cargo bikes (supported by London’s cargo bike action plan March 2023) the advance of technology means robots and drones will be part of the future of how we fulfil, freeing up our city’s roads and pavements and perhaps redefining last mile altogether. Yet we are still slow to embrace alternative ways of working like the river light freight operating on the Thames, whose uptake has been modest rather than mainstream. Passing through Richmond on the West and as far as Dartford on the East, transportation through the Thames needs to become the norm rather than the exception. The UK start up Magway has proposals to build and operate a network of underground tunnels for delivery of goods across cities, potential using existing transport corridors with terminal entry and exit points for goods – an innovative idea providing a zero emissions approach to delivering goods and the benefit of being off the roads and out of sight.
To move forward we need to embrace change and evolve to our market with staying still no longer an option. Yet it is the mental shift that needs to come first, to change attitudes so that the logistics shift can happen to solve the puzzle of last mile logistics in our land poor urban centres.