Shopping revolution delivers a hidden toll

Linda J. Dodson

Financial carrots and sticks may soon hit consumers directly. Government advisers have recommended ministers consider introducing a standard minimum delivery charge to “encourage more sustainable online shopping behaviours”.

In their advice to the Department for Transport, the professors who make up the Scientific Advisory Council said such a charge, applied also to returns, could “encourage consumers to recognise their true business, societal and environmental cost, and hence encourage more sustainable behaviour”.

They suggest customers could also be incentivised to wait slightly longer for their deliveries, where this means that more packages could be delivered together, cutting the number of vehicles on the road. And they suggest home body scanners, as mentioned earlier, could be linked to online clothes retailers, to support “improved customer purchasing decisions.”

The professors see a role for doglike robots, being developed by various manufacturers, to take goods the last few yards from van to door, but are not keen on drones due to security concerns and regulations.

They envisage 3D printing could be deployed to make some goods closer to their destination, reducing the miles they travel, while goods could be moved in “cargo pods” travelling through new tunnels and train tracks, possibly integrated into new projects such as HS2.

“No single solution suits all scenarios and some combination of these is likely to be required,” they say, in their advice published in mid-June.

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