How the pressures of home delivery reorder the world can be understood best through the “last mile” – which is not strictly a mile but the final leg that a parcel travels from, say, Magna Park 3 to a bedsit in Birmingham. The last mile obsesses the delivery industry. No one in the day-to-day hustle of e-commerce talks very seriously about the kind of trial-balloon gimmicks that claim to revolutionise the last mile: deliveries by drones and parachutes and autonomous vehicles, zeppelin warehouses, robots on sidewalks. Instead, the most pressing last-mile problems feel basic, low-concept, old-school. How best to pack a box. How to beat traffic. What to do when a delivery driver rings the doorbell and no one is home. What to do with the forests of used cardboard. In home delivery, the last mile has become the most expensive and difficult mile of all.
Interesting article about online shopping and delivery. There are a lot of issues, notably those that affect the environment. And these issues vary according to where people live.
For me, living about three miles from a town of about 30,000 people, which is very poorly served by roads in and out of the town, it would be a drive of at least thirty minutes – fifteen minutes each way – to buy anything. Even going to the supermarket is about ten minutes each way; we are fortunate to have a supermarket on the edge of the town, on the side where we live. (And we shop there several times a week, and almost never order groceries online. Though we do buy cat food from Amazon, because we can get it in bulk, much cheaper than from the supermarket.)
So if I needed some small item – such as something I bought recently to hang some pictures in my office – that’s a minimum of thirty minutes drive time, plus the time it would take to find the item. So let’s say one hour to buy anything.
On the flip side, there is the packaging that comes from Amazon or other merchants. It all goes into the recycling bin, and I assume that the local authorities do recycle it rather than burn it or dump it in landfills.
So it’s hard to say that getting deliveries is worse for the environment in my context than going to local stores. In addition, we don’t have that many local stores. For example, we only have one book store, with limited choice, and for the small computer hardware I regularly need for my work, there’s just one consumer-oriented store that doesn’t have many of the things I need (and when they do, they are substantially more expensive than from online dealers).
To sum up, there is certainly a lot to say about our new commercial infrastructure. In some cases it’s not good for the environment, and in others it actually is better than individual shopping trips.