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Back in 2018, the industry was just coming to terms with the growth of e-commerce and its transformative effect on freight transportation, with particular emphasis on the final logistical leg in the journey of an online purchase to the customer’s door.
Now, given the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on online retail, this topic clearly merits another look. Overall, the impact of the pandemic could be described as neutral. On the one hand, consumer e-commerce has experienced an enormous surge in activity, as communities across the country and around the world adapt to social distancing and stay-at-home instructions from health officials. With local brick-and-mortar retail stores forced to close for an extended time, the mix of products that consumers and businesses are buying online has expanded to virtually all categories.
A survey by Consumer Pulse notes that South Africa's lockdown measures have spurred consumers towards the e-commerce sector; with 30% of consumers claiming to have made use of online shopping options during the country’s Level 3 lockdown in June - a sharp increase from 19% prior to May, when Level 5 lockdown was in full swing. Many experts believe that this is not just a temporary spike in e-commerce activity, but the beginnings of a permanent shift in consumer buying behaviour. Consumers in record numbers have experienced the ease and convenience of online shopping and home delivery, for everything from big-ticket appliances to daily necessities. E-commerce may well be yet another example of the “new normal.”
Conversely, some areas of last mile activity have suffered, notably those delivering to the urban business community, such as food catering, office supplies and furniture, and wholesale delivery to stores. Additional long-term changes brought about by the pandemic should become clearer over time. Social distancing and hygiene practices, for example, are likely to have an impact on handling procedures in warehouses and fulfilment centres, which could mean slower delivery times. It may be a while before people return to public transit and ride-hailing, meaning more private cars on city streets, potentially worse traffic and more pressure on delivery windows.
With this growth in e-commerce, freight distribution and transportation companies have recorded a sharp increase in their activities and in urban freight traffic.
In any last-mile scenario, vehicle reliability becomes of the utmost importance. Fleet operators riding the e-commerce boom need to know they have the capacity to meet the growing demand, while those in sectors facing pressure must ensure they can remain competitive. All of this simply amplifies the need for truck and van fleet operators to update their maintenance programmes. The last mile presents more stressful operating conditions, more stop-and-go traffic, more braking and turning, higher fuel consumption per kilometre and more idling. With many fleets delaying new equipment purchases and truck OEMs suspending production, fleet operators will be under pressure to get optimal performance and service life from their existing assets.
To meet its obligations fleet operators are targeting data infrastructure and information management to help optimise routes, speed up deliveries, improve energy efficiency, and increase the operational capacity of distribution and make the entire system more environmentally friendly. Added to this, fleet operators are working to attract and retain good drivers. Fleet data is also being used to identify usage patterns, so you can plan for regular maintenance and identify opportunities to reduce downtime.