Missing a package delivery is usually not a problem when one can easily go online or call to request redelivery.
But as online shopping rapidly grows, such customer conveniences have become problematic for delivery companies, truck drivers and society as a whole.
In late September, the transport ministry issued the first report of its kind on the social impact that redelivery poses in terms of wasted energy and manpower as the industry struggles to deal with a driver shortage.
According to the ministry, about 20 percent of home deliveries fail the first time around.
Redelivery accounts for about 25 percent of the total distance traveled by delivery trucks in Tokyo and Fukuoka, according to a fiscal 2014 environment ministry survey.
This translates into about 180 million wasted man-hours and 420,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year — the same amount it would take about 174 million cedar trees to absorb.
Reducing vehicle emissions is crucial to Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. In July, Japan promised the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that it will cut its emissions of global warming gases by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels.
Despite the waste, industry watchers say many customers take redelivery for granted and do not care about being home when a parcel arrives, or do not designate a date and time to receive one even if given the choice.
According to the survey, about 40 percent either scheduled a delivery knowing they would not be present when it arrived or were not there despite knowing when it was scheduled to arrive.
To address the situation, the ministry has suggested delivery firms use convenience stores or train stations for package pickup and offer monetary incentives for successful first deliveries.
Parcel deliveries have grown by about 15 percent over the past five years as more people shop online through smartphones, the survey said.
Although the increase is good in terms of sales, redelivery is nothing but a waste of time and effort, said Yuji Yano, a professor at Ryutsu Keizai University in Ibaraki Prefecture who researches logistics.
Deliveries of online orders tend to be missed on the first visit because the majority are from individuals, rather than businesses, who tend to be away when packages arrive during the day, Yano said.
Yano said that the issue is interfering with their ability to hire drivers, who are already considered to be in low-paying, physically demanding jobs.
“Although drivers have to visit the same customer repeatedly, they are basically given no extra pay for the effort,” Yano said.
Parcel delivery companies have been trying different measures to mitigate the problem, but not all are on the same page.
In April, Japan Post Co. started a service called Hako Post as a joint experiment with online shopping mall Rakuten. The service allows online shoppers to pick up their Rakuten purchases from lockers at 24 post offices in the capital at their preferred time by using a one-time password sent by email.
“Traditionally, the definition of home delivery is literally to deliver packages to the home. . . . but unless they are too heavy to carry, people can pick them up at their preferred location even at midnight,” which fits today’s lifestyles, said Atsushi Shinoda, a Japan Post manager in charge of the new delivery service.
By contrast, delivery titan Yamato Transportation Co., which boasted 45.4 percent of the home delivery market in fiscal 2014, has put priority on handing over packages face to face.
Since February 2010, Yamato has offered an online service that lets customers designate date, time and place for delivery. It also allows them to alter those plans if something comes up before the package arrives.
The main point is to let customers receive their packages at home, said Masaki Fujioka, the company’s public relations manager.
“As a part of social infrastructure, our basic philosophy is to maintain the service we currently offer, even though the number of packages and e-commerce orders increase,” Fujioka said.
Meanwhile, SG Holdings Co., the parent company of Sagawa Express, launched a joint firm with convenience store giant Lawson Inc. in April to allow parcel pick-ups at Lawson stores.
The new service, launched in July, allows people to use any of Lawson’s 11,000 stores in Japan as a delivery destination so packages can be picked up 24 hours a day, no matter where, Sagawa said in a statement.