unizeit Schriftzug

When the parcel service keeps ringing

Germany relies on deliveries. The consequences are congested roads and dissatisfied people. A research project is investigating how companies can better plan and manage their delivery trips, and thus ensure happy customers.

Parking delivery cars
© Paketda

What’s very convenient for some is a nuisance to others, because the consequence of many deliveries is congested roads.

The postal and parcel services, the supermarket delivery service, the crate of organic products delivered from the farm, and the pizza delivery in the evening: Germany relies on deliveries. A consequence of the increase in delivery vehicles in the cities is congested roads, noise and exhaust fumes. There can be no talk of relaxation thanks to delivery services any more, if you are repeatedly stuck in traffic due to delivery vehicles blocking the roads, or repeatedly disturbed on the sofa or at your desk by the doorbell ringing to accept parcels for the entire neighbourhood. “If people's quality of life decreases due to the delivery service, then companies will lose customers in the long term,” knows Dr Catherine Cleophas. The professor of service analytics at the Institute of Business at Kiel University is investigating how companies can prevent this, together with Professor Jan Fabian Ehmke from the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. “We want to know how companies can better plan and manage their home deliveries in urban areas, in order to deliver parcels quickly and easily, satisfy the population, and also make a profit at the same time."

From 2014, the first research project was conducted on the topic of how to make the delivery service more profitable for businesses, explained Cleophas. For example, it is not worthwhile for a company to drive right across the city just for a litre of milk. It is also hardly profitable if a delivery service must return to addresses numerous times in order to deliver parcels in different time slots. “The cost-benefit calculation must add up.” Based on the data of a German online food retailer, the research group developed a computer simulation which shows how efficient and customer-oriented deliveries can be executed with the help of a planning algorithm. “One solution was that the households can only choose certain time slots in which the delivery takes place," explained Cleophas.

We want to know how companies can better plan and manage their home deliveries in urban areas, in order to deliver parcels quickly and easily.

Catherine Cleophas

“This worked perfectly in the simulation, but showed weaknesses in real life.” One of these is the lack of information provided: there is great frustration if a traffic jam or the breakdown of a delivery vehicle makes the delivery arrive late, or not at all - if the recipient is not kept informed. In addition, in real life there are increasingly politically-desired restrictions on delivery traffic: “In some inner cities, there is a ban on diesel-powered vehicles in certain streets, while in others, delivery vehicles are not permitted to enter the city at all during certain times.” Furthermore, sustainability and environmental compatibility of delivery traffic are increasingly demanded by policy-makers. “We want to take account of all of these factors and their effects in our follow-up project,” said Cleophas. Research funding for this purpose has already been applied for.

Catherine Cleophas
© Jürgen Haacks

Catherine Cleophas

One first step will be to extend the computer simulation which the variables can be run through. “There are many ideas for this,” said Cleophas. For example, parcel deliveries via the existing infrastructure such as buses or trams, or even by semi-autonomous vehicles. The unloading could be carried out at collection stations, at which the customers collect the packages themselves. “But maybe we'll find other solution approaches for transporting deliveries the last few meters.”

How often packages could be delivered in this way, and how many collection stations would be required, forms part of the planned research, along with the possibilities for increasing customer satisfaction. “This is important to bind people to a company in the long term.” Here, the delivery drivers play a role. “The point of delivery is often the only physical contact between the company and its customers. The delivery drivers therefore have the important task of representing the company well, through their good service.”

How to structure personnel planning and organisation of the deliveries as efficiently as possible, and achieve success in spite of uncertain demand and uncertain traffic conditions, are further points to be addressed in the research project over the next three years. “The idea is to ultimately deliver results which could be interesting both for business as well as for urban planning.” Until then, however, the parcel service will probably still ring the doorbell a couple of times.

Author: Jennifer Ruske