How Data Science Brings Efficiency and Consciousness to Urban Logistics

January 16, 2024

Second of a two-part series

By Melanie Stern

Data monitoring and analysis can provide a company operational truth and instigate change management. When applied to setting consumer sustainability goals, data can also drive human behavior and subsequently dictate buyer response.

The strategic partnership between DeliverZero and Gently aligns data workability and agility, generating sustainable urban logistics solutions for the food service industry.

Dirty Logistics

A bird’s eye view of a big city’s logistical footprint shows that it is wrought with packaging waste, says DeliverZero founder Lauren Sweeney. Her New York-based reusable packaging solutions company brings innovation to the forefront of food consumption through recycled reusable packaging.

She suggests the industry pivot to maximizing the use of resources by making reusable packaging both easily accessible and easy to return through empty courier legs, which occur every time a courier drops an order off at a customer’s home and leaves with capacity for returned packaging.

From an environmental and social perspective, “we can’t afford not to,” she says.

Giving Consumers A Voice

Data from the DeliverZero system provides invaluable insights detailing food service areas requiring greater efficiencies. Nano-fulfillment logistics company Gently’s COO Michelle Saks says it was “time to reassess reality and learn what the ideal customer experience would look like.” Data mining opened the door toward greater understanding of customer expectations and their reactions to delivery experiences.

Sweeney says that real-time data gathering measures emissions reduction, water use and waste avoided through DeliverZero’s business model. In addition, the company uses current return rates within their system algorithm to track their environmental impact, driven by consumers across the multiple touchpoints of their sales funnel.

“Any user of our system, whether a restaurant, an office that regularly orders employee meals in our packaging, or a customer at home, has access to data on their own usage,” Sweeney says. With it, customers can track their order and see how their choice of reuse and return is a conscientious option supporting the greater good through a more efficient use of resources.

The end goal, according to Sweeney, is to scale their business “across the board so that their proprietary system becomes the standard” for business and customer consumption, though she acknowledges the existence of a transitional phase in migrating from old ways to active enablement.

The Benefits of a Closed Loop Economy

The popularity of social media provides evidence of an innate human need for greater community through connectivity — the DeliverZero and Gently partnership finds useful parallels.

People want more positivity in their lives and to be part of something bigger than themselves, Sweeney adds. Her company’s data shows that “customer spending increases 30 percent or more when they order in DeliverZero packaging.”

Saks says Gently’s transparent flat rate system is seamless from order-click-to-return, improving the transaction experience, part of its larger closed loop system designed to enhance driver efficiency. Each pickup and drop off route are comprised of stops, scheduled and rescheduled in real time, through transportation management system (TMS) routing and dispatch. Saks notes that when there are changes to the route, drivers are alerted and redirected in a way that continues to optimize their carbon footprint.

DeliverZero’s tracking mechanism not only follows the package, but the company tethers the package to each customer’s phone number allowing a gateway into their human behavior. Sweeney says it assists in creating personalized return options for each customer. “Other businesses are able to use the same software that tracks our packaging to track their own reusable packaging,” she says.    

Gently’s day-to-day operations include dropping off DeliverZero starter kits to food service companies using sustainable takeout container packaging. Restaurants’ customers leave containers at their doorstep when ready for pickup. A Gently electric vehicle (EV) driver is dispatched to the pickup site, bringing the containers to designated cleaning facilities supporting safe and healthy reuse.

Breaking the Return Habit

Still, consumer adaptability has been a challenge.

Some retailers have revamped their return policies as many consumers purchase, for example, 10 items and return nine, which is costly to a brand. Accounting for this behavior, Sweeney’s company tested various buyer thresholds, weighing product purchase volume and associated reverse logistics fees, should a customer be late on a return or never return the reusable containers.

Most consumers, however, follow the system as it was designed through succinct user-experience (UX)-focused information campaigns via text and email, Sweeney says: “We have ongoing communication with our customers. After they order, we send text notifications for: how many containers they will receive, the return due date (which is flexible), a link with return options, a return drop off location map, and other pathways for container use and returns.”

Even though DeliverZero packaging arrives with embossed “return me’ messaging, enabling a return is ultimately a customer choice. Sweeney says the stickers do increase their return metrics, but for those who don’t comply, a US$5 fee is charged to the customer per unreturned item.

Moving Gently, Delivering Efficiently

A decentralized logistics platform allows Gently to move through urban neighborhoods in smaller vehicles including e-bikes, three-wheeled Arcimotos and BrightDrop EVs. The company services businesses through its subscription-based model, applying data science and predictive analytics to forecast monthly item needs per partner, per neighborhood and per specific days of the week. The system is “extremely cost efficient, amenable to dense routes and smaller package sizes,” Saks says.

Gently plans to reach 80 percent of consumers by touching only 20 percent of metro area landscapes through nano fulfillment. “We need less than 1,000 square feet to operate,” Saks says, whether in a trailer or the back of a partner’s store. “By placing inventory as close as possible to high penetration customer zones, our click-to-door speed meets customers’ quick turn expectations.” 

For local small businesses, Gently provides a more community-centric logistics experience “that Amazon can’t touch,” Saks says. “Because our drivers place each package with care and wait until the customer opens the door, it helps build a better relationship.”

Product returns cater to the retailer and the customer, Saks states. “For example, if I bought a dress and it doesn’t fit, we bring you the right size and pick up the wrong size in the same delivery stop with only a single charge to the retailer.”

DeliverZero and Gently work individually and collectively to enhance business and customer experiences aligning environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices enabling healthier community ecosystems.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Aerogondo)

About the Author

Melanie Stern

About the Author

Melanie Stern is Manager, Communications at Institute for Supply Management®.