Online retailers can go even greener, engineers suggest


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As online shopping continues to proliferate, an engineering organization is warning that delivery logistics ought to smarten up.

An Ipsos Mori survey conducted for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that of the 2011 adults surveyed, 1518 were online shoppers. Furthermore, of these, 968 (63 percent) had bought a minimum of three gifts online this Christmas.

While on the surface, the findings more or less echo empirical and anecdotal evidence from across the retail spectrum, IET’s Professor Phil Blythe said the changing shopping habits need to be considered—both as part of an integrated transport policy and as well as an opportunity for technology chiefs at retailers to improve their logistics platform.

”Traditionally, consumers would travel to the local high street or retail park to buy gifts. We are now seeing an explosion of online shopping, often where gifts are bought and delivered in many batches," Blythe said. "This then results in more deliveries being made and a huge increase in emissions and congestion on our roads. We’ve heard a lot about delivery by drones, but this is at least a decade away.”

Saving delivery costs

Blythe said usage of smart logistics in delivery practices help minimize the carbon footprint but also lower shipping costs.

”For instance, they could reuse a transport mode for these deliveries (such as a ‘post bus’) or utilize unused capacity in other non-retail delivery fleets a company holds, or encourage shoppers to ‘pool’ all their orders into one delivery thereby reducing the number of individual deliveries to the same address,” Blythe suggests.


While the engineers in IET did not promote or endorse any particular model, both Amazon and Tesco are attempting a pooling of deliveries with enticements ranging from free to lower delivery and shipping costs.

However, in the absence of wholesale adoption of such techniques, the IET remains skeptical that consumer interest in online shopping will be good for the environment.

”Evidence suggests where people substitute a shopping or work car journey by an online one, activity does not necessarily reduce their car travel as they then make extra leisure journeys to maintain their social networks,” Blythe said.

This story, "Online retailers can go even greener, engineers suggest" was originally published by CIO (UK).

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