CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 16, 2018

Commentary: The return of the courier

Delivering small orders via public transportation may make sense in Europe, where shippers are under pressure to reduce road congestion while making smaller, more frequent deliveries.

One of the most interesting comments at the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' CSCMP Europe 2010 Conference came from Deborah Lentz, vice president of customer service and logistics for Kraft Foods Europe. In her talk on the future of supply chains, she said that shippers might soon turn to public transportation for some product deliveries in Europe. It's a surprising idea, but lest you dismiss it as unrealistic, let me give you the context for her prediction.

In Europe, companies are confronting ever-increasing road congestion while simultaneously facing regulatory requirements to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Despite that pressure to reduce shipping activities, the number of truck deliveries in Europe continues to grow. One reason why is that smaller order sizes and demands for frequent replenishment mean that European companies can't easily bundle orders into truckloads, and therefore they must make more less-than-truckload shipments to satisfy their customers.

What options, then, are open to European shippers? Perhaps the "greenest" practice, Lentz suggested, would be for carriers to put their personnel on buses and trains to deliver small orders and carry packages to some customers.

To someone living in the United States, Canada, and other countries with wide-open spaces, that approach might seem far-fetched. But I can see that it might work in European cities, where trucks and vans compete with bicyclists and pedestrians on crowded, narrow streets. After all, it wasn't so long ago that couriers would travel aboard airplanes between countries to deliver important documents and parcels. So it would not surprise me to see couriers, with small commercial shipments in hand, riding the European rails someday soon.

James A. Cooke is a supply chain software analyst. He was previously the editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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