Online retail: the need to go green


Denise Beedell, Logistics UK’s Policy Manager for Vans and Urban, discusses online retail and the need to go green

Online retail sales have been growing steadily in recent years; in fact, it is predicted that in ten years, the internet will account for 53% of all retail sales. And, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation has relied on internet shopping more than ever before, with Logistics UK’s Logistics Report 2021 revealing that online retail averaged 28.1% of total retail sales in 2020, a significant increase from 19.2% in 2019.

It is also becoming increasingly common for consumers to expect fast, flexible ‘just in time deliveries’ for very small fees or, in some cases, no cost at all, wherever the delivery destination is located. With many retailers adapting to accommodate these expectations, it is important to consider the environmental impact these deliveries have.

With decarbonisation a key priority for the whole logistics sector, many operators have already made the switch to electric light commercial vehicles (eLCVs). Electrifying fleets is more straightforward in an urban environment, where deliveries are often clustered together in a small geographical area, resulting in less distance travelled. However, there are more significant challenges for achieving net zero emissions if using battery electric vans within rural areas.

The rise in ‘just in time deliveries’ has reduced the number of orders operators are able to consolidate in more spaced-out or rural areas, resulting in more vehicle miles between these locations. There are significant challenges for electric vehicle (EV) operators owing to more limited availability of suitable charging infrastructure when compared with urban environments. With lower numbers of charging points, longer journeys require more careful route planning and the driver may still experience issues, if the one chargepoint in a village is being used or is out of order.

It is also crucial to encourage ‘green delivery’ choices among consumers. For example, Amazon’s ‘Amazon Day Delivery’ enables shoppers to select a particular day for all parcels ordered throughout that week to be grouped and delivered. And Sainsbury’s greener delivery option shows when a delivery is already being made to someone in the area, allowing the consumer to book a corresponding eco-friendly time slot. For consumers to understand the implications of their delivery choices – and adapt them accordingly – it is vital that they are first provided with clear advice and information as to the implications of their selections. Logistics UK is encouraging businesses to make this information clearer at the point of delivery selection and is calling for more online retailers to offer these ‘green delivery’ choices.

With the shift to online shopping likely to continue, it is just as important that government works with industry to provide more charging infrastructure in rural areas so that fleet operators have the confidence to electrify their whole fleets and are consequently able to operate in all locations. The logistics industry is keen to support decarbonisation, however the correct support and infrastructure must be in place for it to do so.

A resilient, nationwide EV charging infrastructure and full transparency over the impact of delivery choices are both vital if customers are to make conscientious, environmentally friendly decisions regarding their deliveries. Online retail is becoming the way forward for many, and the industry is working hard to meet the increasing demand, however in order to continue doing so, and also meet decarbonisation targets, it needs further government and consumer support.

Image by Free stock photos from from Pixabay