Modern Crowdsourcing for Last Mile Delivery: A Disruptive Force in Local Supply Chain Management

by LJM Group

The traditional chokepoints of last mile delivery are being eased by a unique network that’s integrated in the fabric of local communities: food delivery drivers operating on a crowdsourcing model. This isn’t a solution for the future; crowdsourced delivery is a disruptive force that is already reshaping how we get things from point A to point B. How is a crowdsourced food delivery model being adapted to deliver other goods, and how can businesses leverage local networks to improve efficiency and reduce costs of last mile delivery?  

The Food Delivery Model: Speed and Convenience on a Platter

For hungry customers, instant gratification is the goal. Crowdsourcing platforms like DoorDash and Uber Eats have mastered this process, leveraging networks of local drivers to deliver hot meals within minutes. This model benefits restaurants (reduced delivery costs, wider reach) and customers (faster service, wider selection) alike. The logistics platform Locus, for example, highlights this win-win scenario, touting its ability to help DoorDash deliver food in under 30 minutes, boosting customer satisfaction and repeat orders.

Retail Reimagined: From Warehouse to Your House

But crowdsourcing isn’t just for pizza and pad thai. Retailers like Walmart, IKEA, and Dillards are experimenting with platforms to tackle the last mile challenge for more complex deliveries. They are tasked with customers expecting to order a new bookshelf online, for example, and instead of waiting days for a traditional delivery truck, a local delivery service picks it up from a nearby store and brings it directly to their door, potentially the same day. This flexibility and speed translate to happier customers, and potentially higher conversion rates.

Beyond the Hype: Challenges and Considerations

While the potential of crowdsourcing is undeniable, it’s an evolving science, and requires logistics managers and shipping professionals to carefully consider the challenges.

Background checks, insurance, and training for drivers, for example, are crucial to ensure safety and quality in this environment. Additionally, optimizing delivery routes and managing peak demand periods requires robust technology and operational expertise. As one example, last mile route planning technology provides a case study in tackling these challenges. Their collaborative model utilizes existing delivery networks, like local couriers and postal services, to fill in information gaps and handle last-mile deliveries. This approach leverages existing infrastructure, reducing costs and providing scalable route coverage.

Unleashing the Power of the Crowd for Local Delivery

Beyond the field of robotics, the often-overlooked tool of distributed or crowdsourced computing can provide a global network of human minds. For example, Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), encompasses an online marketplace where managers can tap into a diverse pool of remote workers, or “crowds,” to tackle tasks that confound most standardized artificial intelligence models. By coordinating specialized micro tasking networks, managers can quickly harness multilingual wizards, integrate and categorize large shipment datasets, label images for improved package recognition, and perform sentiment analysis on customer reviews, using distributed digital technologies.

Large courier services are using MTurk to identify damaged packages from photos, where workers, acting as human sensors, quickly label thousands of images, feeding valuable data to analysts, managers, and customers, and reducing misidentified damaged packages, leading to faster claims processing. Elsewhere, MTurk has been used to provide companies with native customer service speakers, 24/7.  Want to test a new delivery route before full-scale deployment? Crowdsourced route simulations from MTurk can be provided to workers familiar with the local areas.

MTurk boasts advantages beyond speed and accuracy. Its global reach unlocks diverse perspectives, helping you tailor your logistics strategies to different cultures and markets. Plus, its on-demand nature lets you scale your workforce up or down in real-time, perfectly adapting to fluctuating demand. However, this kind of technology often comes with high costs and steep learning curves for businesses. Other similar and more affordable solutions exist, such as tracking and route optimization tools, which many companies already use to expedite shipments and reduce costs.

Waze: Crowdsourced Navigation Meets Last Mile Efficiency

In other applications, Waze, the world’s largest community-based navigation app, harnesses the power of real-time data and human intelligence to redefine local and last mile delivery. For skilled logistics managers, Waze holds untapped potential beyond simply getting from point A to point B, by seamlessly enhancing local and last mile information, including:

Crowdsourcing in Action – At its core, Waze is a dynamic ecosystem. Millions of users actively report traffic jams, accidents, police traps, and even the smoothest shortcuts, providing a real-time snapshot of road conditions. This raw data is then processed and fed back to users, shaping the fastest, most efficient routes, for the moment.

Last Mile Advantage – This live traffic intelligence unlocks significant benefits for last-mile delivery. Consider a pizza delivery driver in rush hour. Waze instantly reroutes around a sudden accident, shaving precious minutes off the delivery time. Or analyze the model of a courier navigating a dense urban maze. Waze guides them through side streets and back alleys, bypassing congested main roads.

In Israel, Domino’s pizza delivery managers integrated Waze data into their delivery system, reducing average delivery times by about 20%, boosting customer satisfaction, and even optimizing staffing based on live traffic patterns.

Going Beyond Navigation – Waze’s potential extends beyond route optimization. The platform’s location-based features can be leveraged for real-time delivery tracking, where customers receive live updates on their package’s progress, fostering trust and transparency. Further, it allows micro-targeting promotions, where local businesses can target nearby Waze users with geo-fenced opportunities, turning drivers into potential customers. It also supports dynamic delivery pricing, where delivery costs can be adjusted based on live traffic conditions, ensuring fairness and efficiency for both businesses and customers.

Waze is a prime example of how open knowledge networks can revolutionize local navigation and, by extension, last mile delivery. By embracing such dynamic crowdsourced models, logistics professionals can unlock operational efficiencies, improve customer experience, and gain a competitive edge in the ever-evolving delivery landscape.

New Applications from Proven Ideas

Crowdsourced last-mile delivery demonstrates the power of distributed knowledge networks and open collaboration in tackling seemingly insurmountable challenges. The crowdsourcing model is evolving to take logistics and shipping to the next level through open-source navigation apps, real-time weather data shared around the world, and collaborative supply chain optimization. By embracing crowdsourcing in conjunction with time-tested logistics tools, businesses can unlock the potential of a flexible, dynamic, and customer-centric last-mile delivery system, helping them stand out in a crowd.

Cracking the Longitude Code: A Historic Perspective on Crowdsourcing

Imagine the challenges of being a logistics manager in the Middle Ages, struggling to coordinate shipping in the open ocean, where maps provided only limited information. This was the reality for centuries, with latitude easily determined by celestial bodies, while longitude remained largely a mystery. Shipwrecks plagued countless voyages, costing lives and livelihoods. Then, in 1714, an innovative solution emerged: the Longitude Act.

This open invitation, or “crowdsourced,” prize competition was created by the British Parliament and offered generous monetary rewards for a practical method to pinpoint a ship’s longitude within a few degrees. This pitted scientific minds, inventors, and seafaring veterans against a centuries-old puzzle. Think of it as an open-source shipping challenge or hackathon, where astronomers, clockmakers, mathematicians, and even lunar enthusiasts submitted proposals, fueling the exchange of ideas.  Scientific progress unfolded in public, with heated debates and collaborative testing propelling advancements.

As a result, inventor John Harrison’s marine chronometers changed the world of navigation—and ocean freight shipping—forever, providing a testament to the power of crowdsourcing. Through meticulous trials and relentless refinement, Harrison’s clocks defied the existing navigation paradigms, and ultimately saved the lives of countless mariners.


Smithsonian Institute. Crowdsourcing.

Business Insider. Crowdsourced Delivery Report.

Locus SH.  Emerging Trends Around Last Mile Delivery Fulfillment Models, Crowd Couriers.

crowd couriers.


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