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Driverless HGVs hit the M6, the sharing economy hits Italy, shoppers hit C&C overload


Do you drive along the M6 motorway? If you do, get ready to see the future in your rear view mirror, that’s if rumours concerning the Chancellor of the Exchequer are to be believed.
Next week, when he announces the Budget, George Obsborne is expected to give the go-ahead for a trial of driverless lorries on the M6 motorway near Carlisle. That’s right, one of the busiest motorways in one of Europe’s most traffic-congested countries could be the first place where you’ll get to see autonomous vehicles in the wild.

For some this is bound to be a cause for concern; the sight of a convoy of driverless HGVs ploughing along the motorway network at speed is naturally going to take some getting used to.

While it’s impossible to predict how all of this might play out, there are a few things you can look forward to. Road safety campaigners will sound the alarm saying that autonomous vehicles are an accident waiting to happen – and rightly so, that’s what we expect from them and it’s important that all concerns are addressed properly, and all safety criteria met. I think we can also expect bodies that represent haulage companies and HGV drivers to express everything from scepticism to fear – short cut … remind yourself of the Uber vs black cab shenanigans, that should cover the basics.

But the pressure will be on to start using autonomous vehicles commercially. The appeal of lower costs and increased productivity is going to be significant, after all. Plus, if there really is a ticking timebomb of HGV driver shortages that will be felt in the next 10 years, maybe this is one of the answers.

Not so fast, you may be thinking. Autonomous they may be, but these things aren’t unmanned or driverless in the strictest sense. In the anticipated M6 trial, all the vehicles will have a fully qualified driver on board … just in case. And that’s likely to be the way autonomous vehicles have to operate in the foreseeable future.

Which does seem to sort of detract from one of the benefits of autonomous vehicles. The future is going to take a lot of getting used to, especially if it turns out to be a world in which there’s a dire shortage of HGV drivers who are needed to not actually drive any HGVs.

Another the-future-is-now moment comes to us courtesy of Italy, where we get an overview of what impact the sharing economy is having in the Italian delivery sector, courtesy of Adamo Dagradi, head of communications at Milkman Deliveries. It sounds very much like a clash of old vs new, from the point of view of working practices as much as regulation, or as Adamo describes it a nightmare in waiting.

Keeping up with the pace of change is not new in retail. We’ve written on the risks of click-and-collect services becoming over-subscribed before – just after Christmas, in fact when it was clear that many shoppers were starting to view click-and-collect as their default preferred delivery option. New research from Cybertill bears out those concerns and finds that around a third of UK shoppers that have used click-and-collect feel they’ve been kept waiting too long in-store.

A case of careful what you wish for? Maybe. Certainly the desire among retailers was that enough people would start to use click-and-collect to alleviate some of the pressure from home delivery networks. But how much good does it do you in the long run if you just frustrate people when they turn up to collect the things they’ve already paid for?

Elsewhere on eDelivery, we have news about next month’s eDelivery Expo (EDX16). Last year was the first ever EDX, and it was great to see so many exhibitors taking different approaches to publicising what they do. This year, Antalis Packaging will be demonstrating some of the packing machines it uses – this kind of live demo proved pretty popular last year.

EDX16 takes place on 27 & 28 April. Last year more than 5,000 people attended the two day event, which is co-located with InternetRetailing Expo, and I’m hoping to meet as many eDelivery readers there as possible next month. You can find details on the event, including how to register here. You can also find an overview of Day One here.

And finally, we recently asked for readers’ opinions on the 23 June EU/UK referendum. One of the themes that emerged was how a departure from the EU might affect the availability of labour in the retail sector. But closer to home, there’s also the issue of the increased National Minumum Wage and what that might do to employment levels too. In the second of his two-part feature on recruitment across the retail/delivery ecosystem, James Strickland, group sales director of Omega Resource Group looks at this topic.

As always, if you haven’t subscribed to eDelivery yet we’d love it if you did. You’ll get a weekly newsletter summarising the main stories we’ve covered, and we’ll keep you informed of other big announcements. But we won’t spam you – you don’t like spam, do you? We don’t. You’ll find details on subscribing here. And if you’re not receiving a copy of the magazine you’ll find details on that too.

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