The first and last miles are something of the Olsen twins of the logistics world.
On a good day, you can tell them apart. The first mile describes the trek a product takes from its manufacturer to the distributor or fulfillment center, while the last refers to its final schlep to the customer’s doorstep. You may also be forgiven for confusing one for the other, however, because “free and easy” customer returns sometimes turn the end of one journey into the beginning of the next.
It’s the last mile, however, that raises the biggest concerns for Miguel Jaller Martelo, co-director of the Sustainable Freight Research Center at the Institution of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. Most neighborhoods, for one, were never designed for freight traffic. Considering that global e-commerce sales are expected to hit $3.5 trillion this year, per research from Statista, that’s a lot of brakes to pump and doorbells to ring.
Exacerbating the situation, Jaller Martelo noted, is the retailer arms race to offer increasingly faster modes of door-to-door delivery, resulting in more pollution-emitting trucks making multiple trips at less-than-maximum capacity.
“The faster your deliveries or the shorter your delivery window, the less ability you have to consolidate cargo,” Jaller Martelo said. “Therefore, you’re using more resources to transport the same amount of goods.” And since e-commerce incentivizes consumption by taking away the friction of physically traveling to a store, “we’re just putting more and more into the system,” he added.