961 million parcels: this is the figure released by AGCOM, the Communications Authority, regarding the delivery of parcels on Italian territory in 2021.

The figure, up 3.5 percent when compared with the previous year, testifies to Italians’ growing familiarity with online shopping, an increasingly ingrained habit that grew significantly during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, with about 1.8 million more Italians visiting e-commerce sites in 2022 than in 2021.

Italians are buying online and having more and more products shipped to their homes, from consumer goods to groceries and more, in some cases thanks to “all-inclusive” formulas that allow, for an annual fee, shipping costs to be always free (with rare exceptions).

Formulas such as this incentivize online shopping, although there are several negative externalities that are not always adequately noticed: let’s look at some of them.

Increased traffic congestion

The increase in online orders results in increased vehicular traffic of dedicated delivery vehicles, often of significant size, which must move during the times when people can receive packages, typically morning and afternoon.

These vehicles, which have to stop frequently for deliveries, perhaps in less than ideal conditions, especially in large urban centers and areas with higher population density exacerbate traffic conditions, resulting in a non-negligible collective cost.

Higher fuel consumption and environmental impact

Although a modernization process is underway, the fleet of vehicles in use for deliveries consists of vehicles with many years on their shoulders, often diesel-powered. Each additional kilometer driven, perhaps to reach a home far from the population center, results in consumption whose environmental impact, if we consider them as a whole, becomes significant.

It is also important to consider that these vehicles often do not travel fully loaded (indeed!), resulting in a very significant environmental impact per single package transported.

Then, if the person who is to receive the package is unavailable and new delivery attempts are scheduled, it is clear that the environmental cost of delivery increases considerably, as does the cost incurred by the logistics operator, which in turn will spill over to the seller with a higher delivery cost.

To mitigate this impact, provision is made in some platforms for buyers to aggregate multiple purchases into a single shipment, a fair caution that is not yet as widespread, however.

Traffic, environmental impact, empty deliveries: with nearly a billion packages delivered in a year, those listed are costs to the community that is worth considering, looking for better alternatives for business operators, individuals, the community, and the planet.

Among these, the use of Smart Lockers as delivery and pick-up points aka PUDO (Pick-Up and Drop-Off), remains one of the most interesting, let’s see why.

Smart Lockers serving the last mile

The benefits of using smart lockers as drop-off and pick-up points have already been highlighted in the context of a European project, SPROUT, which saw the installation of a number of smart lockers near metro stations in the city of Valencia, Spain.

People in the areas covered by this project were able to pick up their orders during their home-office commute (and vice versa), allowing deliverers to have a single, certain point where they could take their packages, with multiple benefits:

  1. The ability to deliver packages without placing them in the hands of recipients allowed couriers to travel at times when traffic was low, reducing both consumption and impact on the traffic itself.
  2. Costs associated with empty deliveries were essentially reduced to zero.
  3. The fewer miles traveled translated into substantial savings in time, money, and resources.

Delivery recipients, faced with the need to reach the smart locker for pickup, have also experienced important benefits, including:

  1. The ability to pick up their packages conveniently, according to their schedule and commitments, from a place where they are safely stored.
  2. The possibility of not having to stay at home waiting for deliveries, perhaps having to take leave from work
  3. The possibility of not having to suffer interruptions to pick up deliveries during one’s workday in case of working from home.

The excellent results of the trial carried out in Valencia and other experiences throughout Europe make smart lockers increasingly an essential part of the smart cities of the present and future.