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Future trends in logistics and e-commerce



Borgholzhausen, January 5th, 2023 – Socially and economically, 2022 was one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in post-war history. What will 2023 bring? What does the logistics sector in particular have to expect in the near and distant future? Is it still possible to credibly identify trends under the current conditions?

Especially in uncertain times, logistics must dare to make forecasts, set goals and identify trends. This is where the sixth edition of the DHL Logistics Trend Radar, which has just been published, comes in at just the right time: this trend study of the logistics industry, which has now become firmly established, is published every two years and links insights into technology trends with social developments. It is precisely this approach that offers an immense advantage over the usual representations of technology trends: does the technical solution fit the social situation at all? Because not everything that is technically feasible makes economic sense or is socially desirable. In order to be able to form promising matches between future technologies and social trends, the Logistics Trend Radar weights each individual trend according to its expected degree of impact. The Trend Radar also allows for a rough chronological classification: When could a future trend become a technical and social reality? The Logistics Trend Radar is therefore a very well prepared and usable source of information to identify real megatrends in logistics and to prepare for challenges of the near future or to expose pseudo trends as such despite a lot of PR fanfare.

What are the upcoming megatrends in logistics?

The Logistics Trend Radar places decarbonization at the top of the list as megatrends and, on the technological side, the development of alternative energy solutions. According to Trend Radar, decarbonization will be the main challenge for the next ten years (and beyond), for which alternative energies are already being researched feverishly to find an adequate technical answer. “Especially in e-commerce, the desired decarbonization must also result in a social rethinking of consumers, because the constant increase in returns runs counter to efforts to save CO2,” says Thomas Finke, head of the e-commerce division at B+S. “We can’t manage the energy transition exclusively technologically, ultimately we all have to change our behavior, e-commerce is just a part of our lives that we have to make more CO2-conscious,” Finke continues.

A socially less existential, but all the more urgent logistics challenge will be the diversification of supply chains. This trend is fueled by the logistical disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing global trouble spots. An appropriate response is to expand the supplier, manufacturer and sales network in order to increase the resilience and agility of your own network. Big data analyzes – as another technological megatrend – will be helpful tools to find suitable new network partners. Clever location planning of warehouses at transport hubs close to the customer can also make delivery routes short, which increases resilience and agility, especially in contract logistics.

Trends on the future horizon

Two other social megatrends should be kept on the radar: Circularity, i.e. the recycling economy, and the physical internet, a new logistical paradigm and counterpart to the industrial IoT. The worldwide transport logistics should be structured and networked like the conventional Internet. In this physical internet, the goods to be transported autonomously search for the optimal route through the worldwide intermodal transport network. In addition to a number of technical innovations, this fundamentally new transport approach requires, above all, new ways of thinking and working together in the entire logistics industry. However, both the circular economy and the physical internet are still incomplete in terms of their degree of realization and still require a great deal of technical effort and lead time before they can be implemented. The technological trend of ‘NextGen packaging’ will help logisticians in realizing the circular economy. Both warehouse logistics and the value-added service are currently and will be dealing intensively with the topics of sustainable, recyclable and reusable packaging as well as new materials in the coming years.

Which trends are already well developed?

The DHL Logistics Trend Radar identifies mobile indoor robots and autonomous outdoor vehicles as particularly influential technology trends for the near future. The mobile indoor robots primarily relieve e-commerce fulfillment and general warehouse logistics. Well-developed solutions are already available. But Thomas Finke points out: “At B+S we also rely on a wide range of automations in the warehouse. What must not be forgotten, however, is that automation streamlines processes and relieves the work force, but it also consumes a great deal of energy. If you take decarbonization seriously, at least this additional energy must be obtained alternatively in a first step. At B+S, for example, we use the storage roofs to generate electricity there with photovoltaic systems and are constantly working on new solutions to save energy elsewhere or to generate additional energy alternatively.” According to the Logistics Trend Radar, autonomous delivery vehicles for outdoor use are still in the research stage and there one expects a realization at the earliest in five to ten years. Cybersecurity 2.0, i.e. the further development of data and network security using AI support, is another trend that is highly relevant, but which is already urgently explosive today and has a high degree of realization. Similar to the decarbonization or diversification of the supply chain, this trend is due to current social developments to which the logistics sector must react quickly and decisively.

Which trends can be neglected?

Even if Messrs Musk and Zuckerberg don’t like to hear it: Both the space economy and the metaverse are seen as socially rather unimportant developments, and both are still a long way off in terms of their realization. On the technical side, tube systems, similar to the Hyperloop, are classified as of little importance, mainly because of their immense investment and installation costs. Such systems do not even offer a solution for the logistics of the first and last mile, the most pressing delivery problem in urban areas. Exoskeletons are also classified as of little importance by the Logistics Trend Radar, although they can already show a significantly higher degree of realization. They support lifting and handling with intelligent servomotors and, above all, facilitate recurring activities in industry and warehouse logistics.”


What remains important in all of this is that the evaluations of the DHL Logistics Trend Radar are snapshots and reflect the developments of the last few months. The year 2022 has shown us how quickly social realities are changing. Thomas Finke can also confirm the impression of a particularly turbulent year: “I have never experienced such volatility, with such fluctuations in e-commerce, in my professional career. 2022 was all ups and downs. It is important that we adapt to this and remain flexible. At B+S, we see a good way of compensating for fluctuations in trading volumes in creating basic work relief through partial automation in the warehouses and flexibly absorbing order peaks with additional workers. This allows us to scale up and down much faster than we could in a fully automated warehouse.” The year 2023 will also be exciting, and flexibility will prove to be a fundamental virtue.