In today’s world of always-on, always-available wireless communications, it’s hard to imagine that way back in the ‘80s, the term last mile technology referred to broadband.
Not to delivery packages, to provide delivery service, to enable better eCommerce experience, or to allow for a same-day delivery services of packages, but to how to get broadband Internet from the communications hub into people’s homes.
Finally, when the ’90s rolled around, after the widespread adoption of cable television, it became apparent that the network which had been laid for cable would be perfect for broadband Internet. Currently, 80% of Americans are still using the cable television infrastructure for their broadband Internet connection.
Fast-forward to today and it’s hard to believe that the problem was so difficult to overcome. The big difference is the development and deployment of new technologies such as wireless communications and fiber optics, which was not practical option back then.
Last mile technology services in transportation and delivery are quite similar
Due to globalization and advances in technology that were accelerated by the COVID pandemic, the demand for same day delivery and delivering packages where products are stored until they are ordered and then must be delivered within a short window is the new last mile. Having to reach the customer’s doorstep as a final destination in a limited timeframe – has become a huge bottleneck.
The answer to solving this conundrum lies in the same solution that brought broadband Internet into our homes – namely, leveraging of the latest technologies and existing infrastructure. In the case at hand, we are referring to last mile technologies that, in similarity to broadband communications, enable optimized, fast and reliable delivery of goods to their final destination.
What are last mile technologies?
This is probably the fastest moving and most crucial development about which online retailers and industry professionals must stay informed. We are already starting to see the implementation of incremental changes within the supply chain such as route optimization, incentivized scheduling and real-time tracking.
Another major technological advancement is the ability to provide visibility across the entire supply chain. While this was formerly a blind spot with minimal data available, today’s demands for real-time updates – from both customers and delivery partners is one of the main drivers of last mile technology.
We are already seeing features such as SMS notification, real-time tracking, direct communication between customers and drivers, as well as innovative technologies that are changing the last mile logistics paradigm.
When looking under the hood, however, one finds that what really holds all these technological advancements together is software. Even when real-time delivery data is available, the real challenge is how it will be utilized, where it will be stored and how it will be shared between resources, stakeholders, delivery partners and customers.
Conducting last mile technology evaluation
Since delivery software is crucial in making all the moving parts come together, it is important to conduct a serious evaluation and make sure to address these important features:
- Automated driver management and scheduling
- Optimization of driver’s route and task completion
- Visibility into inventory with full journey product tracking
- Option for customers to set their own delivery windows
- Ability to seamlessly handle product returns in a timely manner
- Delivery estimations based on order type, driver availability and additional stops
While providing a great customer experience is one of the key elements to online success, an equally important consideration is the ease of doing business with logistics personnel both inside and outside an organization. This means seamless integration with logistics partners, provisioning and synching of real-time information and accurate delivery estimates based on established delivery times supplemented by real-time data.
It is important to select a software solution that increases operational flexibility while making it easy to integrate with internal and external systems. This makes it easier to adapt to each customer’s changing needs, while increasing coordination with logistic partners to react quickly to dynamic situations, which have unfortunately become quite the norm these days.
What is first, middle and last mile connectivity?
Besides the delivery process, it is also important to recognize the first-mile. This is the part of the process where a product leaves the factory floor and is shipped by various means to the next stop, which may be a distributor, retailer or storage facility. This is in essence the beginning of the journey.
While first-mile refers to shipping from the source and last mile refers to local delivery services, middle-mile delivery is everything that is in between the beginning and end of the journey.
One of the biggest breakthroughs today is the ability to connect the disparate parts that make up the first-mile, middle-mile and last mile to provide a comprehensive picture of the entire delivery process.
Supply chain visibility and data communications
Real-time visibility into delivery services and communicating that information to a central system that contacts customers automatically is a real efficiency booster.
This crucial component of last mile delivery operations, requires up-to-date data on both the exact location of the orders, the number of open orders, the internal or external fleets that are available and more.
The availability of this data is what provides the analysis and efficiency measures down the road.
By analyzing the data on delivery flows along with customer data, online businesses can gain insights that are crucial for understanding and optimizing their delivery operations. Once these improvements are implemented, businesses can offer faster, more flexible and convenient last mile delivery services for their customers.
Multiple fleet management
While some businesses have internal delivery operations and others only outsource fleet management services, many businesses rely on a hybrid model consisting of both internal and external delivery companies which presents a unique set of challenges for fleet management systems.
This is especially relevant with package delivery, considering that external delivery personnel may be the ones making the critical last mile touchpoint with customers. Businesses employing multiple fleets must find ways to maintain full control over the entire delivery process to ensure that their business needs and quality of service are met. Only by maintaining this control will online operations be able to exceed their customers’ delivery expectations.
How to increase efficiency with last mile technology
Today, last mile delivery is the most inefficient process of the entire supply chain, according to 59% of T&L companies in the U.S.
Online retailers should be asking themselves how they can make digital operations more profitable. One of the best ways to do that is going back to what we call traditional delivery accounting. Simply put, it means looking at every aspect of last mile delivery and seeing where costs can be reduced and more efficient processes put into place.
As we look around, we see extreme volatility in the marketplace and its effect on the global supply chain, which in turn affects retailers’ ability to provide reliable last mile deliveries. At the same time, the demand for local delivery services keeps growing.
These market conditions demand solutions that are flexible enough to deal with dynamic conditions of contraction and expansion, along with the ability to scale rapidly within a short time period if required.
Control cost of multiple delivery models
While the customer satisfaction resulting from a positive package delivery experience is paramount, businesses must also reduce costs and improve overall ROI.
This used to be pretty straightforward in the days when shoppers used to come to the supermarket to buy their groceries. Today, in addition to in-store shopping, a customer may choose home delivery or curbside pickup. The introduction of multiple delivery models is great for consumers but a nightmare for keeping a lid on costs.
An essential part of increasing efficiency is having a system which optimizes delivery models according to circumstances, while increasing efficiency by providing detailed financial and performance data regardless of the delivery method.
Synchronize drivers, with staging, and loading package delivery times
Efficiency and excellent delivery experiences start in the warehouse before the orders are even loaded onto the truck. The key to improving efficiency here is to make sure the drivers are synchronized with what is happening in the warehouse. They should have specific instructions when to arrive at the loading dock as opposed to hanging around waiting for their shipment.
A smart logistics system makes sure that each vehicle is filled to capacity and on top of that ensures they are loaded in the proper order in terms of last mile deliveries. Knowing how long it takes to load each vehicle and minimizing each driver’s time in the warehouse are key contributors to improving last mile efficiency.
Optimize driver planning and scheduling
The introduction of automated driver planning, scheduling and dispatch software is a real cost saver. Instead of handing out deliveries to the best-liked internal drivers, the system determines the optimal delivery model and selects a suitable fleet or driver depending on real business considerations such as the cost of the order, cost of delivery, distance, time, service agreements and customer expectations – as well as the skill of individual drivers.
These driver management applications should also take into account regulatory requirements, union agreements, mandatory breaks and similar factors when making optimal dispatch and route calculations.
Use software to increase efficiency across the supply chain
Every online business wants data on their last mile delivery operations, but whether that is monthly, daily or in real-time depends on the operation and priorities of the customer. Some online businesses will have programmers build custom interfaces to transfer data from one system to another, while others still expect their 3PL contractors to manually input data into their system. From an operational perspective, this is clearly costly, inefficient and not scalable.
Similarly, working with contractors may expand geographic reach or delivery volumes, but training contractors and external drivers to meet quality standards can take a long time. If local delivery drivers are based on pen-and-paper planning, dispatching and delivery, then it renders even the most sophisticated fleet management systems useless.
That’s where automation comes in. Every logistics provider and 3PL contractor can improve efficiency by utilizing software that automates and speeds up logistics processes. At the end of the day, it is the overall software solution or platform that really enables all the pieces to come together providing a positive last mile delivery experience for customers, improved coordination with logistics partners and implementation of efficiency measures that truly impact ROI for e-commerce operations.
Last mile technology means customer satisfaction and operational efficiency
While the last mile journey must concentrate on delivering the best end-user experience possible, online businesses are waking up to the fact that maximizing efficiencies and lowering costs for last mile delivery makes a major contribution to the bottom line.
Bringg’s last mile technology enables retailers to focus on the key business priorities, by taking multiple constraints into consideration – including speed, cost, distance, vehicle fuel economy and the unique business needs – to automatically dispatch orders between the right providers.
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Whatever technologies are in plan to be used, to increase efficiency for their last mile delivery process, it is important to remember that it is the management software that really brings everything together.
If you are looking for a last mile delivery and fulfillment solution, then why not start a conversation with the experts at Bringg who are always willing to go the last mile to improve customer satisfaction.