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Microhubs: The salvation of e-commerce?

And suddenly they were there: the quick-commerces Gorillas, Flink and Co. The companies that deliver within minutes (!). And all thanks to microhubs. What was unthinkable for a long time is now becoming the new standard. And sets new standards. 

But it's not just quick-commerces that make us feel the need for action in the shipping industry - the needs of our customers do too. Things like express shipping and flexible delivery times are becoming increasingly important. Sustainability is also playing an increasingly important role, as the adesso study clearly shows. 

So what do we, as decision-makers in e-commerce, do? We have already summarized some possible actions for increasing customer satisfaction here. What do microhubs have to do with this? How exactly these "parcel hubs" can lead to optimized deliveries? And why, despite this, so far very few people are using microhubs for the last mile - so you should seize your chance and choose your service providers accordingly? Find out now. 

What are microhubs?

Microhubs, micro-depots, inner-city interim storage facilities... the innovation has many names - and just as many advantages. Microhubs are interfaces designed to make the last mile even more pleasant, sustainable and simply better. 

These are, as the name suggests, small "stations" within the city where parcels are temporarily stored. While the larger multi-hubs tend to be located outside the city center, microhubs are deliberately located in the city center, in residential areas and close to the city. There, the parcels are briefly stored before being delivered to the end customers with low emissions. 

Instead of delivering directly to customers from multihubs outside the city, deliveries are first made to the micro-depots before the really last mile to the customers. The advantage is that the shipments are picked up by smaller, low-emission vehicles. Cargobikes or small electric vehicles produce no CO2 emissions, and the larger delivery trucks do not have to squeeze through narrow alleys to reach their destination.

Mobile depots, stationary hubs, parcel stations... What is what? 

We admit: In the midst of all the new terms on the CEP market, it's easy to lose track of what's going on. Time to create clarity, right? 

Stationary hubs are located in the city centre at a fixed location. These can be vacant properties or shops, for example. Derelict sites are also developed and used as new city hubs. One example of this is the logistics park at the Westfalenhütte in Dortmund. 

In contrast, mobile micro-depots are containers, for example. These are dropped off in city centres in the evening (including the pre-sorted parcels) so that delivery can begin the next day. After all products have reached their destination, the empty container is collected again in the evening or morning. Mobile depots ensure even greater flexibility than stationary hubs.

Parcel stations are also gaining ground: these are buildings where customers can/must pick up their parcels themselves. The shipping service provider drops off the parcels there, locks the locker, which is personalized with a code for the customer, and can then move on to the next parcel station. Unlike microhubs, however, customers have to pick up their parcels themselves. As the pwc study showed, this is not desirable for the majority of customers, who prefer home delivery. 

Interim conclusion: There is no way around microhubs. Regardless of whether they are stationary or mobile, microhubs are part of the (greener) future. Thanks in part to them, e-commerces are achieving what customers want: More sustainable deliveries. But that's not all...

What are microhubs good for?

The inner-city depots also ensure faster deliveries. The distance between the warehouse and the end consumer is shorter - and so is the time it takes to deliver. Transport costs can also be reduced because the microhubs are close to their destination and the tours are intelligently managed. The decentralized depots are particularly suitable for urgent shipments.

Another advantage of microhubs on the last mile: The cities are relieved. Thanks to microhubs, products can be delivered not only by e-vehicles and cargo bikes, but also on foot. In this way, there is no need to use large delivery trucks that spoil the cityscape and traffic jams can become less frequent. 

In any case, it is advantageous to switch to lower-emission means of transport for deliveries. Although many of the big players rely on CO2 compensation (e.g. DHL GoGreen), this is not enough. After all, each package that is shipped generates about 500g of CO2 - if it is delivered on the first attempt... The CO2 that is released into the atmosphere on multiple delivery attempts must therefore be compensated for twice and three times over. Possible? Yes. But sustainable? No. Because offsetting should be the last step in a company's sustainability strategy. Why? We explain here

Microhubs + Cargobikes = perfect match! 

Fortunately, microhubs are the solution: Because they are closer to the people to be delivered than the multi-hubs, the distance to the destination is shorter - and therefore causes less CO2. 

In addition, cargo bikes are generally used in combination with microhubs. These cargo bikes do not emit any emissions and are environmentally and traffic friendly: Unlike the large delivery trucks, they neither block roads nor emit emissions that we have to laboriously compensate... We have already summarized here what else cargo bikes can do. 

So if microhubs and cargo bikes go hand in hand, pollutant emissions can be minimised. No more bulky delivery vans are needed in the city centre, and the delivery time is shortened. If the parcel cannot be delivered on the first delivery attempt, that is not a problem either: because thanks to microhubs and cargo bikes, several delivery attempts do not mean more CO2 - three times 0g CO2 is still 0g CO2. 

And, if you want to optimize the entire delivery process to the maximum: In combination with selectable time windows and live tracking, there should be no more failed attempts. This way, customers receive their parcels the first time - and your efficiency increases enormously. 

City and logistics must pull together

The big goal that we are also pursuing with Delivery Green: Making the last mile as sustainable as possible. To do this, we need low-emission means of transport. For example, we rely on a combination of cargo bikes and electric vehicles. The challenge here is one that many cities and delivery service providers are currently facing: Cities are usually oriented towards cars. Cargobikes and microhubs have to fight hard for their place - especially because microhubs need both money and free spaces. 

However, the city can strongly accommodate the shipping service providers by, for example, making areas available for joint use as multi-hubs. Another option is to bind logistics providers to environmental regulations that they must comply with in order to use these hubs. In return, they would be lured or rewarded with "incentives". For example, they are only allowed to make deliveries with zero-emission vehicles, such as cargo bikes. In return, they receive free delivery and loading zones in streets that are free for electric vehicles only. 

This kills two birds with one stone: the city develops and becomes more sustainable. On the one hand, it can improve its reputation, and on the other, it leads the way as a pioneer in sustainability. It should be clear that cities play a key role in reducing emissions, if not the key role. 

Shipping service providers can also finally switch step by step to what their customers want: A more sustainable last mile. This puts customer needs at the center, makes shipping more environmentally friendly, and eliminates the problem of time-critical deliveries. 

We at Liefergrün are also aware of this problem - and are getting to grips with it. Despite infrastructures that are not (yet) optimal, we make our customers' last miles sustainable: For example, we rely on a mix of e-vans and cargo bikes, live tracking, time window deliveries, and convenient returns. We know the challenges. At the same time, we know the answers: and offer all-encompassing solutions. 

Conclusion

Several factors indicate that microhubs are an indispensable part of a sustainable future: Customers already want environmentally friendly solutions - which are easy to implement thanks to micro depots. The new shipping service providers on the market (Dropp, Instabox, and of course us) are also making use of the innovation. The most obvious factor, however, is and remains the climate crisis. 

If we continue as we are and emit more than half a kilogram of CO2 with every parcel, soon there won't be much left of our beautiful earth (that may sound hackneyed, but it's truer today than ever). That's exactly why we at Liefergrün knew from the start that we too would use microhubs. In this way, we are part of the change and ensure that customers not only get food quickly thanks to Flink and Co. - but also everything else they order online.

They are not only the epitome of sustainability. They relieve the burden on cities, support cargo bikes, meet the expectations of your customers and enable quick commerce. Want to learn more about how we work with microhubs? Feel free to contact us!

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