Is Your Organization’s Last-Mile Strategy Working For or Against You?

  • May 25, 2022
Delivery man with delivery van

The term “last mile” has become synonymous with the transportation industry. However, the term originated within telecommunications and refers to the installation and delivery of communication services to the end client. but, in the transportation world, last-mile delivery refers to a product’s destination in the supply chain. For ecommerce deliveries, that mostly means to the customer’s home, office or other preferred delivery location.

In the early days of ecommerce, customers simply expected to order parcel-size items online. Now that ecommerce has fully established itself as a primary option of consumers, shoppers expect online availability for anything and everything — from shoes and clothes to a new dishwasher or that shiny new riding lawn mower they’ve been coveting for years. Now, their shipping expectations extend far beyond item availability and now include shipping costs, shipment method and expedited delivery.

Why it’s important to establish a best-in-class last-mile operation with the right carriers

Only a few years ago, online parcel orders were limited to what the U.S. Postal Service, UPS or FedEx could handle. With large or oversized item shipments, the best a customer could hope for was the item being shipped to the store closest to them. Then, the customer would have to figure out how to get the item from the store to their home, across the threshold and into a garage or in-home area.

With white-glove delivery with in-home setup or installation options included in last-mile delivery these days, the ongoing last-mile irony gets even more complicated. Last-mile delivery has the very same logistical challenges it did years ago: finding the best way to transport a large item, unload it from a truck and get it to the destination. Only now, the last-mile delivery onus is on the retailer, including scheduling delivery at the customer’s preferred time while having the product delivered at the cheapest cost possible, often for “free.” Given the operational and financial constraints for retailers, it’s imperative to optimize last-mile delivery.

To succeed, we advise that retailers start by selecting the right carrier for the job

You’ll want to start the process by first matching your freight demands to the carrier or carriers who can manage your last-mile deliveries effectively. Selecting the right carrier goes well beyond finding a company that can properly transport freight. Your carrier must handle it the same way you would if delivering via your own private or branded fleet to ensure you retain customers as well as protect your company’s reputation and brand.

Keep in mind the carrier’s driver is the last person interacting with consumers before the transaction is complete and that experience leaves a lasting impression. What’s more, social media pretty much guarantees dissatisfied clients will share any negative experience with a multitude of existing and potential customers, so choosing the right carrier remains critical to keeping customers satisfied and loyal.

First, think about the issues of freight delivery and then what services your customers will expect

These expectations can vary substantially based on market, price point and demographics. For example:

  • If you are a retailer selling faucets, do you offer installation services? If so, this requires far more than successful delivery; you’ll need to schedule a qualified installer — requiring multi-step coordination with a technician — all while considering customer availability. In these instances, shippers track the delivery of the parcel to the installer, not to the customer. Once the package arrives, the installer would arrive at the customer’s home at a predetermined time and day and install the new faucet.
  • What if it’s a larger item such as a riding lawn mower? These products can’t be moved through a traditional parcel network and require a more hands-on approach, like one provided by a home delivery carrier that specializes in large equipment. In this case, you need a carrier who can handle large items efficiently through its network and deliver to a variety of customers’ homes via a lift gate truck and most likely a pallet jack. Additionally, the driver may need to be trained to address questions — or even start the mower or provide a product demonstration — to reassure the customer the product is in proper working order.

When selecting a carrier, it’s important to think not only about the current requirements for your freight but also future customer expectations and needs. At the same time, it’s important to step back, be honest with ourselves and realize we can’t anticipate everything. What’s more critical is developing a solid partnership with one or more reliable carriers who’ll provide continuous feedback so you’re aware of changing customer demands.

Your carrier needs to be agile and provide onsite services as the customer requests them. You’ll need to give them the flexibility to charge for those extra services to keep customers happy. A driver who says “we don’t do that” is a red flag and a sure way to lose future sales. In many cases, carriers already provide extra services to keep customers happy. However, expecting carriers to continually absorb these costs is short-sighted. As an industry, we expect the transfer of these charges to the shipper, either through increased base rates or new accessorial charges. As this shift occurs, shippers must be able to trust their carriers and feel confident they won’t abuse the arrangement by charging for services not rendered.

Last-mile delivery is constantly evolving, and only effective partnerships can allow shippers and carriers to build the right infrastructure for the future.

— By Bryan Watt

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