The Last Shall Be First: South American e-commerce’s last-mile boom

How it works…

Azul’s cargo planning manager, Enio Rabelo Frota

Previously considered a limited service for high-end B2C goods, last-mile delivery is now demanding first-priority status for many e-commerce deliveries across South America, in spite of the difficulties of the continent’s terrain.

“The majority of the last-mile is done for domestic shipments in Brazil,” said Enio Rabelo Frota, cargo planning manager for Azul Cargo Express, the cargo division of carrier Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras. Currently, Azul serves more than 4,000 cities in Brazil and 90 airports, which covers 90% to 95% of the retail activity in Brazil, he said.

In places where last-mile is more difficult due to poor roads, Azul operates 240 exclusive franchise stores throughout the country, where customers can either drop off or pick up express packages. Azul’s advantage, according to Frota, is that, in most cases, the carrier uses one company to provide all third-party logistics for last-mile, which is usually more efficient for the customer than having multiple companies handle the process.

“Most of what we do [domestically] is small package, door-to-door e-commerce,” he said. “Almost 100% of the domestic flights are bulk loaded. We use A320s, Embraers and ATRs. None of those aircraft are palletized. We do bulk loading, and we have procedures to do mailbag consolidations for parcels.”

Brazilian all-cargo startup carrier, Connect Cargo, began to deliver small-parcel B2C e-commerce goods this year that are distributed to the Brazilian post offices, covering 5,570 cities. Connect Cargo CEO Rodrigo Pacheco, said the carrier and its forwarding arm handles up to 190,000 pieces per month. “Shipments are custom cleared in a single point and then our logistics branch organizes the distribution according to service performance requirements to our business partners,” he said.

Of course, Brazil is not the only South American nation that sees demand for last-mile delivery. One of the continent’s largest carriers, Avianca, which has provided courier services since 1919, has been making last-mile deliveries through its Deprisa domestic service, created in 1996. Via Deprisa, Avianca Cargo covers more than 679 destinations in Colombia, with 350 of them being served through cross-border e-commerce. Most of the cross-border e-commerce packages the carrier delivers weigh around 0.5 to 1.5 kilograms, said an Avianca Cargo spokeswoman.

Currently, Avianca Cargo operates in Colombia and Peru, and is considering expanding its services in other countries, the carrier said. In 2018, Deprisa delivered 9.9 million pieces of last-mile parcels, averaging about 831,000 packages per month.

At DHL, “the majority of our pickups and deliveries are done in branded DHL vehicles, or the usage of a crowd-sourcing third party, like an Uber delivery,” Parra said. With DHL’s global size, it can also afford to use several types of transport, such as bicycle deliveries in cities where road congestion can cause significant delays, or, for larger deliveries, the “Cubicycle,” a four-wheeled, human-powered vehicle with a secured box that carries larger packages.

“Some customers prefer to go to a retail point to pick up their shipment on the way home versus having their shipment delivered,” Parra added.

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