Apple's Local Delivery Could Do More Harm Than Good

Are faster iPhone deliveries worth it?

Key Takeaways

  • Apple will deliver many orders directly from its downtown retail stores.
  • Next-day delivery will be possible.
  • Running delivery operations out of a retail store is an environmental disaster.
Boxes of the new iPhone X sit on a table at an Apple Store.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images 

Apple is turning its downtown stores into delivery hubs. That means faster deliveries, but downtown isn’t built for massive delivery operations, so it could also mean more pollution and traffic congestion, say experts.

Previously, Apple has shipped orders either direct from China, or from regional warehouses. Now, says Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, it will also ship direct from its network of around 300 retail stores. This will speed up delivery times for those who live in cities, but it will also have a significant environmental impact. 

"[Downtown fulfillment centers are] a disaster, from a traffic congestion and pollution point of view at the least," Michael Neuman, professor of sustainable urbanism at the University of Westminster told Lifewire via email.

Next Day Delivery

We’ve all grown used to next-day and even same-day delivery from Amazon, and Apple has usually lagged in this regard. Visiting stores is a bad idea in COVID times, which has left Apple Stores quite empty, and in some cases, closed to the public. Apple’s new plan will use FedEx in the US, and UPS in Canada, to cover a 100-mile radius from stores.

Dirty Business

According to Gurman, Apple briefed its staff on the change, and told them that it will be "beneficial to the environment." However, using city center locations as delivery fulfillment centers is far from environmentally friendly.

"In the USA, those centers are in the outskirts, in repurposed old industrial factories that have good transport access," said Neuman. "This is because of the massive amount of traffic movements (outgoing delivery trucks, incoming large trucks with 18 wheels)."

FedEx workers load a truck as New York City continues Phase 4 of re-opening during COVID
John Lamparski / Getty Images 

Whereas out-of-town warehouses have the infrastructure for massive delivery logistics, cities are already congested and polluted. In fact, cities like London are combatting their filthy air by forcing delivery vehicles to go electric.

"9 of 10 vehicles in big city centers—like London and New York—are delivery vehicles and taxis, which in London means mostly diesel fuel, which is very toxic," said Neuman. "Instead of shoppers walking to their neighborhood stores or driving to a shopping centre or mall to do multiple shopping stops all at once, many delivery vehicles drop off packages day and night to deliver to many individuals’ houses."

"[Downtown fulfillment centers are] a disaster, from a traffic congestion and pollution point of view at the least."

Add to this that Apple’s retail stores are often in sweet, super-central locations. Malls might already be designed for receiving truckloads of goods, but they’re not optimized for sending out fleets of small delivery vehicles. And locations chosen for walkability may not be a good fit for increased traffic.

The Future

Deliveries are likely to grow way more as the pandemic continues, but this needs to be counterbalanced with greener deliveries. For one, fulfillment centers shouldn’t be in cities, where roads are choked and people live and work.

Second, it’s ridiculous having a zillion different delivery trucks visiting the same residential street all day long. Deliveries should be consolidated, so the same truck brings Amazon, FedEx, UPS and the rest, all in one. Delivery companies won’t like that because it commoditizes their services. That’s why it will have to be forced by law. These vehicles should also be electric, or even pedal-powered.

City infrastructure has already changed thanks to COVID, with New York repurposing the real estate wasted on free parking and turning it into outdoor restaurant seating. We will need more of this kind of radical rethinking. But in the meantime, at least you’ll be able to get your brand-new iPhone one day earlier.