Electronic commerce continues unstoppable. To the already conventional channels of this category (mobile and computers), which registered growth of 27.2% year-on-year, according to data from the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), new formulas were added, such as the purchase by voice (voice commerce) thanks to the search engines and shopping platforms. But this boom has an urban price. The needs of logistics centers and distribution centers are growing at the same pace as Internet purchases increase. Last year alone 935,000 square meters were hired in Madrid for this activity. In Seville, Amazon works have already begun on a plot of 35,324 square meters next to another large center of Decathlon. The distribution in the last mile (the last 1,500 meters) is altering the traffic in the cities. Experts warn that in the near future will be necessary measures and regulation to avoid collapse.
The acquisition of storage and distribution spaces in the big cities beat a new record last year after registering a growth of 2% in relation to the previous year. Space is sought for a business of 21,800 million and that it investigates new ways to maintain the rise. "If the growth of online shopping keeps pace with the last few years, we will reach a point where there will not be enough urban space and a collapse will occur," warns UOC Economics and Business Studies professor Josep Maria Català.
"The main problem is the last section. We want our shopping experience to be immediate and that means having the material as close as possible to the main population centers and their customers that, in addition, every day they use more devices, they also claim perishable products (such as food) and reject deliveries late or after a third attempt, "explains the economist.
"Speed is a key factor in current supply chains," adds his colleague Xavier Budet, who warns of the limited availability of industrial buildings in places where demand is highest, such as Barcelona and Madrid. The result of the equation is, in addition to more storage places, more traffic, with greater congestion of the loading and unloading places as well as the streets of the city, and an increase in environmental impact.
The solution is technological and urban. Català points out that the concentration and specialization of the smaller distribution points is necessary and, with the help of artificial intelligence, allow the high rotation of products. "Big data (big data) could be a solution to the lack of logistical space by allowing to know in advance the needs of the users and the specialization of the stores according to the neighborhood where they are and factors such as per capita income, the volume purchased, the replacement time or the most popular products by area, hours and type of buyer. "" Discounts could be offered on products with less turnover or they could be moved to out-of-town warehouses to prioritize the storage of the best-selling products, "explains Català.
To the complication of the distribution are added the restrictions that cities begin to impose on access in polluting vehicles. However, the two economists agree that the limitations in urban centers and traffic congestion require increasing collection points. «We will have to look alternatives more respectful with the environment", Say economists who point out the possibility of using less polluting vehicles, such as electric vehicles, or that do not occupy the roads, such as drones.
Amazon already tested in the vicinity of Seattle a small electric robot called Scout the size of a "small refrigerator". It runs from Monday to Friday, for now accompanied by a person, uses the sidewalks and moves at the speed of a man walking and "dodging animals, pedestrians or whatever is in their way," as explained in the blog of the company Sean Scott, project manager. The giant also works with drones.
There are also formulas to share spaces. "Every time we will see more collaborations between different companies to consolidate and share infrastructures and vehicles to formalize deliveries," says Budet. Many companies will start using the dark stores -Local in urban centers not open to the public to prepare and issue orders-, temporary centers (pop-up) or collaborative deliveries, in which the individuals will end up delivering the product to the client.
The collection ticket offices are also consolidated as an alternative. "It is the solution that suits everyone, because while companies optimize costs and routes and users do not have to be aware of the moment when the product will be delivered, they can pick it up when it's best for them" explains Catalá.
While the solutions are found, the marketing companies continue their career to reach the customer and facilitate their purchase initiative. The platforms of the sector already have chatbots compatible with natural language and voice recognition. Other companies are already incorporating shopping assistants who use emotional intelligence to carry out conversations between robots and consumers in physical stores to offer detailed information on the products, recommendations, consultations and even after-sales service to the customer, as highlighted by the ICEMD, the Institute of the digital economy of ESIC.