Crowdsourcing for the last mile problem

Last-mile crowdsourcing consists in leaning on a group of citizens for completing the last-mile delivery of parcels in a city. This model answers the need to cope with the increased congestion in cities and the resultant problems of inefficiency and negative environmental impacts of local deliveries.

Crowdsourcing has some potential advantages that cannot be ignored. For the logistics services providers, it might lead to lower operational costs and a more environmentally responsible profile if unnecessary deliveries are avoided, or if there is evidence that more environmentally-friendly means are used (e.g. consumers using public transport, their bikes, or just walk). For the society as a whole, having the same delivery needs covered with fewer vehicles on the road would translate to a reduction of emissions and congestion in their daily lives.

Probably the most well known initiative of this kind is “Bring.BUDDY”, conceived out of a students’ project at the School of Design Thinking, Potsdam University, with DHL as the project partner. The basic idea of “Bring.BUDDY” is that people who already move across the city could carry parcels for a part of the parcels’ trip. This creates a city logistics social network composed by city dwellers transporting parcels and packages on their way to their daily destinations.

In the Bring.BUDDY initiative, each member of the network shares his itinerary through social media, an application identifies opportunities for collecting packages along his route and informs the potential transporter through his smartphone. The application also identifies transfer points, where the package is passed on to another member of the network. It is estimated that for a typical inner-city delivery, a maximum of 3 persons will be required for delivering the package. To avoid issues related to the payment of the city dwellers (i.e. creation of a micro-company with low-wage informal employees) the initiative is rewarding the participants with a number of achievement points that later one can reimburse through services (e.g. public transport tickets), purchases from local stores, or donations to charitable organisations or welfare campaigns.


Wal-Mart is another company thinking of last-mile crowdsourcing as a business model of potential use. In its case the concept could be realised by having customers delivering packages. Currently, deliveries from Wal-Mart stores are fulfilled either by third party courier companies or in some metropolitan areas by its own “Wal-Mart to Go” service for same day deliveries. In the crowdsourcing scenario, Wal-Mart customers sign-up to deliver packages from the Wal-Mart stores to other customers living along their way home. As a return, these customers get discounts on Wal-Mart products, effectively covering their cost of petrol. This is not seen as a solution for all company stores or products, but most probably for metropolitan areas and high-priced products.

Of course real-life implementation of last-mile crowdsourcing is not an easy task. Open issues that still remain to be resolved are the legal, insurance and security ones. Especially regarding security, everyone is comfortable with having a branded courier knocking at their door, but what about a strange supposedly neighbour? On the other hand, although it might sound a strange comparison, pizza delivery has for many years employed a mechanism with similar potential security issues due to the part-time employees used.

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