Back in the nineteenth century, shipping took a long time. Mail shipped (quite literally in a ship) from the US could take up to 14 weeks to reach Europe, and the Atlantic crossing was subject to the vicissitudes of wind and weather. In addition, historians of this era have found that in general mail ships would take a fortnight longer to make any kind of long journey when compared to the more streamlined merchant ships. In sum, just 200 years ago, you would be waiting a very long time for any package.

Nowadays, the story is very different. Transatlantic airmail can take just 3 days in total, whilst many interstate services ship on a same day basis provided that the customer has ordered early enough in the morning. Streamlined freight routes, the powering of container ships using a combination of efficient technology and fossil fuels and (of course) the invention of aircraft for airmail have all contributed to this dramatic reduction in shipping times across the world. Shipping times have gone from weeks or months to days or even hours thanks to advancements in human technology. But what is the future of shipping goods to consumers? There may well be a few changes on the horizon.

Factors driving changes in shipping times and methods.

In 2016, we saw the first container shipping company to file for bankruptcy since 1986. This company was South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping. This is part of a wider pattern of decline in the container shipping industry, which is partly driven by environmental factors. Many recent articles have been published citing the statistic that 9 container shipping companies are responsible for most of the fossil fuel driven pollution in the world today. With the aviation and container shipping industries facing increasing pressure both from dedicated environmental groups and from ordinary consumers, many companies are seeking alternative shipping methods for their goods.

What does the future of shipping look like?

Many commentators believed that the advent of the internet would spell the end of conventional mail and shipping. Why would people post letters and mail each other packages when they could just communicate online, instead? These commentators were proved wrong: the lure of the handwritten letter or special birthday package remains as strong as it ever was and the web has facilitated a growth in the shipping industries as more and more people order goods online. As a result, advertising companies spent 13.9% more on direct mail in 2017 than they did in 2016. The future of shipping thus looks larger than ever before.

Shipping by drone?

Using large numbers of drones to ship goods to customers could be an excellent way to deal both with the increased demand for shipping and with the increased consumer desire for shipping services that are both efficient and eco friendly. It has recently become known that Amazon has been piloting a drone delivery scheme for some time now, and we could soon see it rolled out onto our streets.

De-centralization.

Another option to increase shipping efficiency and environmental friendliness in the future is one which is already being rolled out by companies such as Amazon. This scheme involves using several different warehouses dotted throughout a given region rather than relying on one central warehouse.