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Alternative delivery methods - how delivery services can modernize shipping


Published on: February 16, 2019

Updated: August 29, 2023

Bicycle instead of car and electric instead of diesel. We already know this advice. Transport is responsible for around 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. That’s why some shipping companies are now going the extra mile and creating alternative delivery methods. They want to make parcel delivery better and more environmentally friendly, while also finding a good solution for last-mile delivery. In addition to the flying deliveries some are now relying on electric mobility, various depot solutions and artificial intelligence in e-commerce.

1. City hub and e-bike

DHL shows itself innovative. With its “City Hubs” project, the supplier is creating an environmentally friendly alternative to delivery cars. In Frankfurt, Deutsche Post is testing the so-called “Cubicycles.” The carrier rides on a four-wheeled vehicle with pedals. In the back is a box in which the parcels are transported. This takes up less space from delivery trucks and reduces CO2 emissions. GSL is also getting involved. The logistics company first made deliveries with e-bikes in Constance. Now the smart bikes can also be seen whizzing along the streets of Nuremberg, Düsseldorf and Dortmund.

Thanks to their trailers, the cargo bikes can adjust their transport volume. Depending on the workload, the right trailer can be selected. In this way, the logistics company manages to save diesel vehicles and operate parcel logistics in a more resource-friendly way. Although the electric bike does not fit as much as a delivery truck, the suppliers save time searching for a parking space. The “Cubicycles” and the “GSL E-Bike” can be a good solution, especially in crowded city centers.

GLS is on the road with e-bikes to ease the burden on roads and the environment (Source: GLS)

2. Container

The American shipping company UPS is currently testing container concepts and alternative delivery vehicles in Hamburg. According to this, truck containers in the center are to serve as interim storage. From there, parcel carriers will deliver the goods on foot, with handcarts or bicycles. In the morning, UPS fills the containers with the parcels from the central warehouses. Each package is taken to the nearest depot of the destination. From there, the messengers pick up the goods and bring them to the customer.

But what is the point? Parcel carriers often have to park their delivery trucks in the second row. That disrupts traffic. In addition, the container variant offers the possibility of better planning the arrival of the goods. This is because delays caused by accidents and traffic jams can be bypassed more easily. This means retailers can communicate better with their customers and keep them constantly informed about the status of their order. Through personalized shipping messages and on-time arrival of the goods, a good merchant-customer relationship can be built.

3. Starship delivery robot


The small autonomous robots are designed to assist delivery services, similar to the delivery drone, in the last mile. They hit the roads at around 6.4 km/h, which is about as fast as a pedestrian. The little helpers can carry up to 10 kilograms over a distance of 5 kilometers. The goods are stored inside the robot. Especially for deliveries from local stores, this solution could bring some advantages. They can drive independently, avoid obstacles and stop at red lights.

The startup Starship has developed a delivery robot (Source: Starship)

Hermes is already conducting test runs with the small robot. In Hamburg, it has been used by the Domino’s delivery service for some time for delivery – albeit still accompanied by an employee. In the future, however, the robots will be fully automated. Only one employee will monitor up to 100 vehicles via the Internet and intervene if necessary. Whether we will see them on German roads in the future, however, is questionable. In Hamburg, one robot has already experienced violence. There, it was kicked by passers-by. In 2016, a flag belonging to a robot was even reportedly stolen. Starship robots are also unable to ring doorbells. That could make it difficult to deliver goods if the customer doesn’t have a smartphone. So far, he gets a message on his smartphone when the robot is at its destination. Via an app, the consumer can open the lid of the vehicle and take out his order.

4. Trunk delivery

Some automotive companies are currently working with delivery services to implement the trunk delivery project. DHL and VW are currently in the testing phase. Starting this year, VW owners will be able to have their DHL packages delivered to their trunks. The prerequisite for this project is a vehicle with a networked control unit. Before placing an order, vehicle owners must generate a TAN via an app and enter it together with the delivery address.

To ensure that the parcel carrier can drop off the package, the VW owner must specify a time window for delivery and park the car in a location accessible to the parcel carrier. This location should not be further than 300 meters from the delivery address. The car is located by DHL via GPS and the trunk is opened using a tan key. There should be no additional costs for the trunk delivery. However, this project also poses some problems. For example, parking within a radius of 300 meters in crowded city centers could be difficult, making delivery to the trunk impossible.

VW and DHL launched the trunk delivery project together (Source: DPDHL)

5. Electric Delivery Truck


VW and Mercedes have already led the way. Electric delivery trucks are supposed to relieve the cities by avoiding noise and dirt. Of course, such an acquisition comes with advantages and disadvantages. The VW e-Crafter, for example, has a range of 173 kilometers and can travel at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour. It costs 69,500 euros, which is 15,000 euros more expensive than a similar diesel model. However, VW has calculated that the e-Crafer costs less than half the energy of a diesel Crafter. If the diesel driving ban were enforced in cities, the e-transporters could be a real alternative.

The number of packages delivered each year, 3 billion, will increase in the coming years. The purchase of an electric vehicle also holds some gifts. When purchasing such a vehicle, the buyer gets a 4,000 euro subsidy. However, this does not apply to all models. In the list of eligible vehicles of the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control, one can find out about the models concerned. In addition, those who register a new electric vehicle by December 31, 2020 at the latest will have their vehicle tax waived for 10 years.

###Performance of the 100 largest German online stores

6. Parcel stations for multi-family houses

Some are familiar with the embarrassed walk to the neighbor’s house because a parcel has been left there for you for the umpteenth time. Even a walk to the nearest parcel station is not an option for many. And if consumers do have their parcel delivered to the parcel store, they often still pick it up by car. This generates additional CO2. However, if the parcel box is located directly in front of the house, there is no need to walk to the parcel station or to the neighbor’s house. That’s why DHL now wants to set up parcel boxes in front of apartment buildings.

In Berlin, the logistics company has already started a trial with such stations. Here’s how it works: The customer orders as usual on the Internet. The service provider places the parcel in the compartment of the parcel station. The customer is then informed of the parcel’s arrival by email or app and can collect it from the parcel station. Even when returning parcels, residents can simply place their return in the parcel box. The parcel carrier then takes the shipment back with him on his next visit.

DHL’s parcel boxes for apartment buildings are designed to make delivery easier (Source: DHL)


Alternative delivery methods show, it goes also differently! Meanwhile, there are many ways to modernize your own shipping and delivery process. Whether delivery services are switching from traditional delivery trucks to electric vehicles or finding alternative depot options. You can avoid traffic congestion from delivery trucks, improve the last mile problem, and do something good for the environment at the same time. The market for alternative delivery methods will continue to evolve. Companies will come up with even more ideas to further optimize shipping and delivery. After all, online retail will not disappear from the scene anytime soon.

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