Addressing the World: Overcoming Last-mile Delivery Challenges in Every Corner of the Planet


Delivering to every person in the world is a huge challenge. Similar to the way in which telecommunications companies evolved over the last few years to provide internet access to even the most remote locations, retailers and logistics companies will have to overcome the challenges to serve every customer – wherever they may be. In emerging economies such as India or many African countries, more people own a mobile phone with internet access than a computer – using the devices for multiple purposes, from paying bills to banking to shopping. However, in many parts of the developing world, getting packages to the delivery location remains a big problem as many people still don’t have a street address.

Mapping company What3words estimates that 75% of countries lack a reliable address system, or suffer from no addressing at all. What’s more, street addresses are often not precise enough – and simply don’t exist in parks, rural areas or developing places. This means that businesses often fail to reach customers. The UN estimates that nearly four billion people reside in locations without street names or numbers. The United Arab Emirates, for instance, does not use postcodes. Such logistics drawbacks regularly contribute to delivery issues in the MENA region, where up to 40 percent of packages are returned to senders as “recipient location not found”.

Technology companies in this market are on a mission to solve this huge problem. For example, Fetchr is an app-based logistics service that uses GPS to deliver packages to smartphone-equipped consumers wherever they happen to be. Also, what3words created an app that divides the world into three-meter squares and labels each with just three words, giving every place an address. They have worked with the Nigerian Postal Service since almost 80 percent of Nigerian homes and businesses cannot receive deliveries for want of an address. But this isn’t just an issue in developing countries. Even in the UK, which has one of the best address systems in the world, research suggests that a 1% improvement in the government’s own address data would reduce costs by EUR 25bn. In the United States, undelivered mail costs USPS $1.6bn a year.

Technology will undoubtedly play a major role. The concept of geocoding has exploded in recent years as products like Google Maps and satellite navigation tools have taken root in modern society. The collaboration between what3words and Nigeria’s mail service is a great example of the kind of work that will be needed to make last-mile delivery a global success. Today’s customers demand speed and convenience, and the race is on for transportation companies and retailers to meet their customers wherever they happen to reside.

Lior Sion

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