The trouble with new logistics technology is that while initially it can be a boon to its users it can also generate rising expectations from ever-more demanding customers that then puts pressures on profit margins. Perhaps no greater example of this is the boom in online shopping that has led to practices like “wardrobeing” that sees once-worn clothing items returned, with a refund requested, creating reverse logistics operations that estimates put at costing anywhere between £20 billion and £60 billion a year. Ways of dealing with this cost drain have been mooted and some put in place, like Amazon’s banning of serial returners, but these measure are unlikely to solve the problem soon and so logistics service providers in the meantime must look to other measures to streamline delivery costs, especially in relation to last-mile delivery.

Deliveries, however, are not just about squeezing costs; it is also about improving the quality of delivery because research shows that almost two thirds of European online shoppers have experienced a delivery problem over the last 12 months, including non-deliveries, ‘missed delivery’ cards being left, even when the customer was at home for the order. Obviously, deliveries by van-equipped POD terminals can verify deliveries but given that many customers are out at work, trying to find neighbours at home can lengthen item delivery time and add considerable costs. UPS, for example, cites an eye-opening delivery cost metric that shows if it could cut just one mile a day from a journey they would save $50 million a year. If a delivery driver has to go to four or five addresses to deliver one order, such wasted time could mean fewer deliveries within a set time, all adding to costs.

To counter this problem, recent on-the-road solutions have been developed. A good example is Locpin which gives pinpoint location information to delivery drivers. It tells them more than just where to go, and how to get there. It also says what to do on arrival, so consumers can set preferences which can be accessed by all drivers that tells them where to deliver if the customer is out. This is important because UK parcel carriers might have a drop time of only two or three minutes, so if only 30 seconds can be shaved off it allows them to raise their productivity. This personalising gives customers greater control and strengthens their loyalty.

A much underused and perhaps misunderstood cost-cutting technology on delivery vehicles is telematics. More than just a spy in the cab, through advanced navigations to vehicle security it can help both drivers and employers to improve their performance, but some employers seem to be neglecting the need to train their drivers adequately in telematics usage, which covers areas like vehicle status reporting, route planning, security systems, location reporting and fuel efficiency analysis and reporting. But it is important to maximise efficiency through a thorough training scheme to help drivers understand telematics.

All employers have a duty of care towards their staff which for knights of the road must include security. In a growing purloining age, attacks on lorries and their drivers are a serious problem, with potentially large consequential costs. One personal alarm for drivers, called Send For Help, is a key fob-sized GPS safety device in a UBS stick-sized format so that drivers can always carry it with them. It has direct links to police control rooms, bypassing the 999 systems to receive a faster emergency response. Once the alarm button is pressed, a user can speak via a two-way audio built into the device. Clients typically pay a £10 monthly charge for each device.