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  June 16, 2016
Last-Mile Delivery of Food e-Commerce; Safety Delivery Tools Needed for Uber, Lyft, and Deliv Drivers
by Thomas R. Cutler

E-commerce fulfillment has proven to be more challenging than most people in the food industry realized. Meeting this challenge will drive a lot of innovation in supply chain technology according to Elliot Maras, the well-respected managing editor for Food Logistics.

Maras shared that Wal-Mart will test last-mile delivery using Uber, Lyft and Deliv services for online grocery orders. Michael Bender, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wal-Mart Global e-commerce, noted in a blog on the company website that Wal-Mart will start with tests of grocery delivery through Uber in Phoenix, AZ, and Lyft in Denver, CO, which it expects to start within the next two weeks. This is in addition to a Sam's Club pilot that started in March with Deliv involving delivery of general merchandise and grocery for business members in Miami, FL.

Maras explained that a customer in one of the test locations will place their grocery order online and select a delivery window. Wal-Mart associates will select and prepare the order. Then, the team may request a driver from one of these services to come to the store, pick up the customer's order, and take it directly to the customer's location. The customer pays the normal $7-10 delivery charge online and makes no payment to the driver. The customer will be advised their order is being delivered by a driver from Uber or Lyft. At Sam's Club, the process is similar, with personal shoppers preparing the orders for business members and having their order delivered right to their door with Deliv.

While the challenges of these last-mile, quasi-route delivery supply chain modalities take shape it is ironic that during June, National Safety Month, the very tools used to protect beverage route delivery from injury are nowhere on the scene of last-mile grocery delivery. Lyft and Uber drivers are using antiquated and inefficient carts, hand trucks, and no one is talking about the impending workers' comp claims that will ensue. If treated as independent contractors, just wait for the class action lawsuits; injuries that could have been predicted and avoided with proper equipment.

The definition of what constitutes the 'last mile' has undergone a rapid change because business-to-consumer deliveries have expanded far beyond what was traditionally limited to heavy goods and high-value items. Today, the 'last mile' is populated by a huge variety of providers, with 51% of all purchases now occurring on-line. The perception of the 'last mile' has been extended because what happens upstream of the delivery is also a part of the 'last mile' process.

This is murky territory and still few are talking about safety. Material Handling & Logistics staff reported that 'last mile' delivery generated significant work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD); claims related to overexertion and repetitive motion injuries serious enough to result in time off work or disability benefits. These costs account for 21% of total state-funded claims from 2009-2013, according to Ninica Howard, an occupational health and safety researcher with the SHARP research group.

The 'last-mile' delivery injuries were documented and quite specific:
  • Injuries to the back, neck, and shoulders account for about 2/3 of manual material handling claims
  • The most commonly cited cause of injury was handling a container (25%)
  • Among WMSD claims where the injury type was specified,
    • 55% were attributed to lifting
    • 17% were attributed to holding, carrying, turning and wielding
    • 14% were attributed to pushing and pulling
"Lifting is by far the biggest issue when it comes to WMSDs or 'sprains and strains' in the workplace. There are two lifting problem areas. Heavy lifting is the obvious risk and awkward lifts - bending over, reaching out, or reaching up to lift objects - are the second biggest problem, even if this is less obvious," noted Rick Goggins, an ergonomist with Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (DOSH).

Maras commented that 'last-mile' delivery is the big unanswered question for food e-commerce. Wal-Mart is trying to compete with Amazon's AmazonFresh delivery which offers delivery within one day and is available in a limited number of big cities. According to Fortune, Amazon, which charges $299 per year for its grocery delivery service, has learned that it cannot manage grocery delivery from its headquarters since each market has to be managed as an individual business unit.

These business considerations and fast-changing paradigms are all worthy of examination; safety must come first. There is no need to start from scratch. The leading route delivery solutions providers have tools that have vetted, tested, and designed for precisely the kind of physical exertion required by a new workforce of Uber, Lyft, and Deliv drivers.

Next week during the 14th Annual North American 3PL Summit & Chief Supply Chain Officer Forum (June 20-22, 2016 at the Radisson Blu Aqua, Chicago, IL), some of the best innovations in 'last-mile' delivery will be profiled. Some of the most interesting tools which will quickly become part of these new fleets of ad hoc route delivery drivers are being demonstrated at booth 204.

For ecommerce delivery, personnel will require more compact and lightweight folding hand truck options (, or other innovative special designs depending on how deliveries will be made (by totes, boxes, or bags).

Safety is critical to 'last mile,' even the world's most sophisticated logistics operators are constrained by outdated delivery methods. The next generation technology for supply chain management starts with innovation and a close watch on safety. The safety tools needed by the new delivery workforce cannot be ignored.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and is now the host of Kanbanversation, a weekly episodic video discussion. Cutler can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler. See More Details.

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