Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), e-commerce has taken a prominent role in the retail landscape, fueled by the surge in internet usage, smartphone penetration, and social media engagement. According to a recent study conducted by Renub Research, the count of internet users in Saudi Arabia exceeds 36 million within its population, with over 42.5 million individuals actively using mobile phones.
With the surge in e-commerce parcels, driven by factors such as tailored customer experiences and a youthful population, the last mile delivery segment is encountering heightened activity and is poised to confront further challenges due to the rising tide of e-commerce shipments.
Last Mile Delivery Challenges
The increasing volume of parcels in Saudi Arabia has naturally given rise to a range of pressures on last mile deliveries, including the need to meet customer expectations and efficiently manage large quantities of packages. Complexities arise from multiple delivery points, doorstep drop-offs, and the proliferation of smaller packages, making the optimization of delivery routes both intricate and demanding.
Moreover, the integration of technology in the Saudi market has been slower, leading to inefficiencies and delays in last mile deliveries. Local delivery networks in the country often lag behind in digital and technological advancements, which in turn hampers package tracking and visibility. Preferences for cash-on-delivery transactions, instances of empty return trips, and unexpected surges in demand further strain the budgets allocated for last mile deliveries.
Future E-commerce Delivery
These challenges are compelling the e-commerce industry to revamp last mile deliveries for improved seamlessness and efficiency. The introduction of new products and the expansion of cross-border commerce are driving innovations, including same-day delivery options. The establishment of micro fulfillment centers strategically located in high-demand regions is facilitating quicker and more straightforward deliveries to their intended destinations. Additionally, startups in the e-commerce delivery sector, such as Saee, are revolutionizing the landscape by connecting freelance drivers with e-commerce enterprises to facilitate parcel delivery. The introduction of flexible delivery alternatives in the Saudi last mile ecosystem is also gaining traction, providing customers with the ability to choose delivery dates and times.
Considering these emerging trends and developments within Saudi Arabia’s e-commerce industry, it is projected that the future of e-commerce delivery will be shaped by the following factors:
- Autonomous vehicles and drones: Contactless deliveries are anticipated to gain prominence in the mid-term outlook. Collaborations between international autonomous vehicle manufacturers such as Teksbotics and Alshrouq Express, along with institutions like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and The National Digital Transformation Unit (NDU), are in progress to develop and test autonomous vehicles, aiming to enhance efficiency and reduce costs. This not only promotes sustainability but also enhances the fluidity of last mile deliveries.
- Digitalized operations: The integration of technologies such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and 5G is set to revolutionize logistics operations. Data analytics will play a pivotal role in predicting obstacles and providing solutions to ensure smooth package delivery.
- Smart lockers: Long-term projections suggest the expansion of smart locker systems across the country. This approach contributes to reduced carbon emissions and simplifies product returns, minimizing the distance traveled by last mile coordinators and eliminating time constraints.
- Sustainability: The adoption of electric vehicles powered by renewable sources of energy, including solar power, is expected to gain prominence. National and international companies in Saudi Arabia are anticipated to be early adopters of green last mile solutions, incorporating Artificial Intelligence for route planning and optimization. The Saudi Green initiative, launched in 2021 with over 60 projects and investments exceeding USD 180 billion, will further drive a more eco-friendly economy.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognizes e-commerce as a pivotal industry for bolstering its national economy. The growth of the e-commerce sector aligns with the objectives of the National Transformation Program, an initiative designed to establish the necessary infrastructure and create an environment conducive to achieving Vision 2030. To support entrepreneurs transitioning from conventional trade to e-commerce, various entities and organizations offer assistance in electronic payment, digital marketing, and technical solutions.
Furthermore, the Saudi E-Commerce Council, a part of the Ministry, aims to enhance the credibility of e-commerce, amplify its contributions to the national economy, and foster the growth of e-commerce activities within the country. Consequently, the potential for industry expansion is vast, providing ample opportunities for companies to embrace innovations that create a seamless shopping, transaction, and delivery experience for consumers.