Guest View by Marion MacCormick

The resurgence of door-to-door milk deliveries, thriving local butchers and fishmongers, local veg basket deliveries … who would have thought the revival of traditional shopping habits would have been one of the positive stories emerging from the heavy cloud of Covid-19.

Buying local has become the order of the day for many, partly out of necessity, partly because of the convenience for many living and working much closer to home. Also, hopefully because they are relishing the quality.

Certain groups too have a little more disposable income due the reductions in travel, holidays, plus spending on leisure and eating out, and these factors, too, all have a part to play in this change in behaviour.

What has been the outcome of the new way of shopping locally for many suppliers and manufacturers? Well, there has certainly been a race for many local outlets to invest in an online shop presence and they have even extended this investment to some fairly elaborate delivery services too.

This reflects the 2020 trend in general where online grocery shopping increased and now accounts for approximately 12-14% of the UK market share in this area.

These supermarkets, too, are under pressure to adapt and change their home delivery in a model which has yet to prove profitable, which will be a worry in this bun fight.

If this is the current lay of the land for grocery, who is making money online? And, from home delivery? – well I think most of us would be able to nail this. It's Amazon.

Apart from price, convenience is and has always been one of the key factors in the decision why people shop where they do.

In the realms of the law of unintended consequences, convenience and the Amazon Store have become synonymous. In the pandemic, this partnership appears all the more interwoven, but in the shadow of the warm glow that brown box and big smile on the front doorstep brings, there are, further significant more sinister unintended consequences most of us just don’t think about.

In an urban context, delivering goods to homes is one of the most polluting activities in the Amazon chain and most notably in certain of our largest global cities, the 'last mile' deliveries' emissions are expected to increase more than 30% by 2030.

Contradictory to the Amazon Environmental Pledge, made late last year, when its boss, Jeff Bezos, said 'we're done being in the middle of the herd on this issue' and he set his sights on 'making a difference' on the environmental issues in his business.

Amazon did make some major commitments, ie to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030 and for all their activities to be at net zero carbon emissions by 2040. As most of you know, the former is savvy business as renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel sources and the latter is aspirational.

Amazon as a business has emissions equal to those of Norway, so its challenge as a result of its size and scale, and high consumer expectations (wanting their purchase yesterday!) is about to exacerbate even getting remotely close to their Pledge objective. Attempting to mitigate its environmental impact will be even more challenging.

The irony is ‘the last mile’ is most polluting element of this supply chain in our urban areas, due to where the population, demand and volumes are.

But also, do not underestimate the number of vans tearing about into rural areas delivering ample amounts of plastic pillows and bubble wrap and many drivers being paid less than minimum wage for the luxury.

Many businesses felt the squeeze on available cardboard in the market in Christmas, 2020, too. Was this caused by Brexit leading to a shortage of importing containers? Alas no, Amazon had cornered the cardboard market for those smiley brown boxes.

Big brands are facing ever greater scrutiny about their value base and the tide can change very quickly if trust in their claims is undermined. In time, attitudes will challenge this behemoth, Amazon’s staff are already doing so, because when all things considered, it has been allowed to creep into our businesses and homes unfettered and unchecked, and on a very uneven playing field compared small local businesses.

So maybe, just maybe, the new norm of local businesses taking the impetus might just be the first step in re-evaluating what convenience really is and was, buying locally!