The future of deliveries

The ability to get purchases delivered within 15 minutes through an app may seem like the ultimate in service that drives demand, but is that sustainable? Especially given the increasing pressure on delivery businesses and retailers to move to net zero.

For companies already struggling to meet current customer demands due to driver deficits and escalating costs, more sustainable operations may seem impossible. How can they investigate new initiatives such as the potential of drones, self-driving robots or electric vehicles when business as usual is a challenge?

Andrew Tavener, Head of Marketing, Descartes discusses how to future-proof delivery operations in a world where the future is uncertain.

Delivery essentials & innovation challenges

Consumers transitioned to home delivery extremely quickly through the pandemic. Whilst a lifeline for many retailers, it also created logistical, financial and environmental challenges. The roads are now filled with home delivery vehicles and emissions are rising. With a lack of customer communication and poor scheduling, expensive redelivery is a frequent occurrence. Empty miles are a financial and environmental problem for anyone involved in home delivery. Consumer demand and expectations for home delivery will remain high. So how do retailers meet the challenge from an economic and environmental perspective?

Businesses are trialling new vehicle options in an attempt to cut emissions and increase efficiency. Many are transitioning to Electric Vehicle (EV) fleets whilst others turn towards drones, autonomous delivery robots or peddle power. These innovative options are exciting, but there are concerns such as rising electricity costs, making the decision more complicated. How do you find the right approach that meets current demands and prepares businesses for an uncertain future?

Companies cannot afford to wait for the future to become more defined: they need to meet customer expectations today with the capacity available within their existing fleets. Effective real-time scheduling and routing to optimise available delivery capacity in line with demand is vital. A solution should maximise the performance of the existing fleet but also be adaptable for a future fleets however it is powered.

Immediate change

Companies should take action now, for example, automatically routing EVs into Clean Air Zones or including shorter cycle specific routes for cargo bikes. This maximises the investment and utilisation of the current fleet and any new vehicles being trialled due to the ability to factor in relevant parameters such as electric charging times, range and locations into the routing and scheduling software.

Telematics can provide insight into the performance of vehicle types and will help inform future fleet strategy, and Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning tools will highlight trends in delivery operations. With insight on where deliveries struggle, vehicles are being damaged, or underperforming, fleet managers can gain knowledge of underlying factors impacting performance and emissions to improve contingency planning and inform the mix of vehicles in the future fleet.

Inspiring Action

Customers look for timeliness and certainty from deliveries and by meeting these expectations, companies can minimise redelivery – a huge financial and environmental overhead. By providing a choice of dates and times, a customer may opt for a preferable slot, increasing delivery success. Moreover, a solution that can automatically provide an optimised delivery timeslot and/or an option to reschedule can eliminate wasted journeys. Companies can also add greener options with enticing pricing to drive delivery density

Finally, there is a growing need for delivery companies to collaborate and use local hubs. It is unnecessary for multiple delivery vehicles to be driving on the same street at the same time. By collaborating, companies can batch deliveries and gain a significant reduction in carbon emissions and improved operational costs.


Businesses are being paralysed thinking about the future and few can predict how this will look. Consumer demand for home delivery is likely to increase, presenting more challenges for retailers and logistics providers. Many companies are trying to plan for situations that they are unsure of, while doing nothing to act against existing headaches, adding to today’s instability.

The answer is getting a future-proof solution that will be immediately effective, as well as grow and change as the market does. Implementing advanced scheduling and routing software for home delivery operations will maximise efficiency and manage the complexity from having mixed capabilities within a fleet in real-time – crucially, providing benefits that are helpful in the present as well as the future. Businesses must stop letting uncertainty about the future prevent them from doing something relevant now.

For further information, visit the Descartes website, call 01249 477099 or email