The "last mile" is the very last piece of the supply chain, just before the goods or services reach the end users. It’s a well-known term in the delivery of electricity, gas and telecommunication industries and - since the privatization of state monopolies - has been a constant source of dispute. For example, do the owners of the infrastructure around this ‘last mile’ have to allow others to use it, and if so, under what conditions?
In the last few years, however, the fight for the last mile has also broken out in e-commerce. Whoever delivers the goods to the customer's front door can become a bottleneck and control costs. Thus, trade giants are trying to replace traditional logistics service providers, freight forwarders and courier services with new technologies and partners. New delivery technologies are being tested worldwide.
Amazon introduced the first direct delivery via drone in March 2017, and other retailers, such as Walmart, followed suit. In Germany the pizza chain Domino's is testing delivery by robots - even if an employee still has to walk alongside. The technical infrastructure to overcome the last mile is still extremely complex. Many problems, such as air traffic licensing, vandalism or hacking attacks must be solved, to name just a few.
But what about all the miles before the most discussed ‘last mile’? There are big efficiency gains to be had - in terms of cost and overall environmental impact - here too. This particularly applies to materials that can be ‘transported’ across vast distances digitally before being produced late in the supply chain. Nowhere is this truer right now than in the production of printed materials, but with the rise of 3D printing, who knows where it may lead?
Right now, most of us have likely downloaded the manual for a technical device online – and printed at least part of it. But companies are doing this on a huge scale; marketing materials such as brochures, flyers and business cards are being shared in the cloud and only printed (on short notice) when and where they’re needed.
Transportation is one of the main contributors to CO2 emissions globally. Printing platforms – like Gelato Globe - make thousands of miles of international shipping superfluous. Materials are printed where they are needed: in Shanghai, São Paulo, St. Petersburg, Boston, Berlin or Oslo. Those who do not send their prints by air or ship around the world can save up to 90 percent of the shipping distances and thus also cut enormous amounts of CO2 emissions.
Looking at the grand scheme, the ‘last mile’ from the print house to the customer may end up being the ‘only physical mile’ for any marketing materials.