Fixing The Last Mile Delivery Problem For Local Businesses

February 1, 2021
A man sealing a large cardboard box with packing tape.

Producing a product is not the end of your involvement in your customers’ buying journey  but the start of the final step: delivery.

Any business that sells a product that must be delivered to a customer, whether it's food and beverages, flowers, or furniture, knows that ensuring those goods are delivered on time and in perfect condition is an essential part of a successful business transaction. It also includes the most costly component of the delivery process: the last mile.

In this blog post, we’ll unpack what the last mile is, look at some top last mile challenges and how to solve them, and finally look at the specific last mile challenges facing grocers, beverage producers, florists and furniture delivery companies. Read the whole blog if you want to take a deep dive, or use one of the links below to jump directly to a section that interests you. 

1. What Is The Last Mile?

What does “last mile” mean anyway? The last mile is the general term used for the 30 miles or less a product has to travel from your business to your customer’s home.

But, the phrase “last mile” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not just about miles, but also the time between when products are boxed up to the time they arrive at your customer.

By this definition, last mile delivery is the entire process of delivering something from a transportation hub (think parcel delivery warehouse), or directly from a business, to the customer.

2. What Is The Last Mile Problem?

The last mile problem is this:  last mile delivery accounts for up to 53% of the total cost of delivery. Ensuring that goods are delivered efficiently — both in terms of cost and time — transparently, and safely to your customers can be a challenge. Delivering goods has a lot of moving parts. It includes receiving the order and scheduling the delivery, loading and unloading goods on and off a vehicle, the actual act of transporting the goods through town, and even more depending on what it is.

3. Different Businesses, Similar Last Mile Problems

Thousands of businesses deal with supply chain and last mile logistics every day. Here are some common last mile delivery challenges (jump to the next section for solutions):

Top Last Mile Delivery Challenges for Every Business

  • Giving the wrong impression. Whether it’s your first impression or your hundredth, you’ll want to make sure it’s a good one when it comes to your customers. People will make snap judgements about your company based on your appearance — including your vehicles. When unfamiliar, unmarked vans pull into urban areas, it can put people on high alert. These vehicles can raise eyebrows in a busy central business district, too. 
  • Using legacy systems that slow down operations. Last mile logistics take time. Planning and organizing delivery details is incredibly time consuming and can be slowed down even further by using legacy systems. These outdated programs stunt a company’s cost saving and growth opportunities.
  • Having a disorganized delivery scheduling system. Issues like last-minute deliveries, too many deliveries at once, or your delivery team not being prepared can all cause a disorganized last mile scheduling system. It’s inevitable that issues will arise in last mile delivery, but the impact on customers can be minimized. Being disorganized can cause a negative customer experience and be dangerous to the company in the long run. 

Whether you’re a local delivery business or courier and last mile delivery provider, Routific offers solutions. Start a free trial of the Routific platform and save up to 95% of time spent planning delivery routes, or talk to our sales team about the Routific Engine API to integrate our proprietary algorithms into your software.  

Last Mile Delivery Solutions for All Businesses

While most businesses that deliver products to customers face a number of industry-specific challenges, these three top tips can help any business doing delivery:

  1. Look good. A dirty or damaged vehicle will leave a poor impression on your customer, making them less likely to return for another purchase. Keep your delivery vehicles clean, in top working order, and consider branding with graphics — a small investment can go a long way toward building up your business in your local community.
  2. Integrate your tech. With the growing number of technology options available to businesses today, the ability to integrate your solutions will improve efficiency and save on last mile delivery costs and time. Route optimization software means it won’t take as long for your drivers to get to their final destinations and with fewer delivery delays and shortened delivery windows,  you’ll be a leader within your industry!
  3. Plan ahead. Your last mile delivery process should be thorough and well thought-out. There should be action plans in place to avoid becoming disorganized or frazzled by unavoidable disturbances. Staying on track and having a route plan for your deliveries is essential to every business that delivers any product – regardless of type or size.  The final leg of any delivery process needs to run like a well-oiled machine. When the last mile delivery process runs smoothly, delivery costs are cut down significantly.  It also makes this complex step easier on your drivers, saving them from tedious delays and prolonged travel. Route planning software makes planning deliveries with multiple addresses a breeze! (Even if they’re in remote locations.) It finds the most efficient routes and delivers packages to the end customer faster, which ultimately makes customers happy and improves last mile delivery processes as a whole. 

3. How To Solve Your Last Mile Delivery Problem

The Last Mile Problem for Grocers

Busy consumers are looking for more help with their day-to-day errands, and grocery shopping is something many are leaving up to delivery. In early 2020, around 31% of U.S. households used online grocery shopping, according to Brick Meets Click and ShopperKit.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a significant growth driver during 2020. 

While no longer at such extreme levels, this growth is expected to continue due to advancing technologies, with a mixed mode of shopping options — in-store and mobile delivery — the key to continued success moving forward.

The Last Mile Problem for Grocers

For grocers, this means a growing and continued need to focus on the last mile. But delivering groceries isn’t without its share of challenges. A few of the top last mile problems faced by grocers include:

Top Last Mile Delivery Challenges for Grocers

Cost. Competing with the major delivery providers is a huge challenge in terms of cost. Because consumers don’t want to pay for delivery, small grocers must often take on the cost themselves to offer free shipping options.

Order timeliness. A delayed order, missing items, or failed deliveries are surefire ways to upset and lose a customer with today’s digital shopping expectations. Customers want their order fast and correct. Additionally, groceries offer an added challenge of timing orders to meet guaranteed delivery windows.

Food safety concerns. Temperature control requirements to deliver a mix of temperature-sensitive foods and beverages add a layer of complication to delivery operations.

Visibility into the order. Because grocers are delivering temperature-sensitive products, the delivery will likely need to be timed for when the customer is home to take delivery.

A few tips to manage the last mile problem for your grocery store include:

Last Mile Delivery Solutions for Grocers

  1.  Get the right vehicle. Make sure you have the right vehicles for your deliveries. Food often needs to be temperature controlled, so look for delivery vehicles that will keep your groceries cold or frozen until they arrive at your customer’s home.
  2. Keep in contact. Delivery management solutions can help keep your customers consistently notified about the order progress in real time. Utilizing a live GPS tracking feature can provide visibility into the order for both your customer and your dispatcher. Additionally, for deliveries that are done when a customer isn’t home, some providers now offer proof of delivery features such as photo capture, which helps keep drivers accountable and prove an order was delivered accurately.
  3. Accessorize. Some creative grocery delivery specific products are popping up to help businesses deliver products when no one is home without customers having to worry about theft or temperature concerns. These products, including temperature and access-controlled lockers, are expected to expand the potential delivery window for grocers, providing some much-needed added delivery time.

The Last Mile Problem for Bottled Beverage Businesses

Keeping customers hydrated with a variety of beverages dropped right on their doorstep is a top goal for bottled beverage companies. But ensuring the often-fragile bottles get to their final destination is one of many last mile delivery problems:

Cargo Management: Bottled beverages come in many types of bottle materials, including aluminum, plastic, and glass. Ensuring these bottles are kept safe during transport is a challenge, especially for vehicles that may travel over more rural, unmaintained roads.

Temperature control. Some specialty beverage producers require their beverages to remain at a certain temperature, so vehicles must include temperature control capabilities.

Delivery timing. Bottled beverage businesses must plan their deliveries to meet order timing guarantees. Specialty providers may also need to deliver products within a certain time frame after production.

The Last Mile Problem for Bottled Beverage Businesses

Bottled beverage providers can solve last mile delivery problems by following these tips:

  1. Use the right vehicle. A temperature-controlled vehicle will keep your beverages cold during delivery. But these come at an added cost and may not be necessary for all businesses.
  2. Use effective cargo management. Bottled beverage providers should also employ a cargo management solution and instruct drivers on the proper use of tie-downs and any cargo management solutions specific to your vehicles to keep beverages safe on route.
  3. Communicate consistently. Research shows 77% of customers will get a better perception of your business from a simple notification updating them on order progress. Look for a delivery management solution that provides the ability to send email or SMS notifications to your customer.         

The Last Mile Problem for Florists

Your amazing floral arrangement is complete. Hours of painstaking effort with delicate petals and potentially temperature-sensitive flowers is done. Now, you just need to get it to your customer.

Florists have been part-time delivery fleets longer than many other professions, and the overall growth in e-commerce has continued to drive the need to deliver flowers quickly and without damage to customers.

When it comes to the last mile problem faced by florists, you face a few unique challenges plus a few common delivery fleet concerns:

Top Last Mile Delivery Challenges for Florists

Holidays. Often, florists see seasonal booms, such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, so you need to be able to adjust your delivery capabilities based on order volume.

Temperature control. Some flowers love humidity and high heat while others do not — yet flower arrangements still need to be delivered whether it’s 8 degrees, or 88 degrees. Florists need to keep their flowers and plants at the right temperatures during the delivery process to avoid wilting or damage.

Cargo management. Because flowers are delicate and often oddly shaped, delivery vehicles need to be large enough to fit the arrangements as well as have any specialized cargo management solutions to help keep products from shifting during delivery.

The Last Mile Problem for Florists

To help avoid last mile problems with your florist business, follow these tips:

Last Mile Delivery Solutions for Florists

  1. Don’t ignore the vehicle. Invest in your delivery vehicle. An old cargo van with air conditioning that doesn’t work and a few cardboard boxes to hold your arrangements is not likely to damage your product.
  2. Plan efficiently.For businesses such as florists, with challenges that include order fluxes related to holidays or time of year, route planning solutions can help plan out your deliveries without missing a stop. Around Mother’s Day, you may have the need for 50 vehicles, but during the rest of the year five are sufficient. A flexible route planning solution can help you scale up or down your delivery fleet needs so you can meet customer demand when high, and avoid paying for idled vehicles when business is slower.

The Last Mile Problem for Furniture Delivery

Furniture businesses operate with large, heavy products such as couches, and also with small and sometimes fragile items, including mirrors and glass. Customers buying  furniture are far more likely to need help getting their purchases into their home.

A few of the last mile problems faced by furniture businesses include:

Top Last Mile Delivery Challenges for Furniture Delivery Companies

  • Size and weight. Furniture can be heavy and oversized. This means there are times when more than one person will be needed to make the delivery. A vehicle that can carry the weight and fit the size of the product is also needed. And, don’t forget equipment that may be required to safely move the product from the vehicle into the customer’s home.
  • Timing. Customers purchasing furniture are excited and often want to get it in their home as quickly as possible. And because of the product, they often need to be home at the time of delivery adding an additional timing element into the delivery.
  • Planning. Some furniture businesses also offer in-home set-up. The set up will add additional time to the delivery and must be considered when planning additional deliveries.
The Last Mile Problem for Furniture Delivery

To succeed in last mile delivery, furniture businesses can consider these tips:

Last Mile Delivery Solutions for Furniture Delivery Companies

  1. Understand what products you will deliver. Know what your heaviest product is and the dimensions of the biggest piece. But also take a look to see if those items are delivered frequently enough to justify a larger vehicle, or if you can get away with something smaller or renting a truck or van when needed for those larger items.
  2. Use the right tools. Make sure your drivers have the tools they need to safely load and unload the furniture, as well as assemble it if required. Reducing time spent returning to the office saves on fuel and keeps your deliveries quick and efficient.
  3. Map it out. Furniture delivery businesses often offer white glove services, which means entering a home or business and performing duties beyond delivery. A comprehensive delivery and route planning solution provides the ability to share additional details with your drivers like schematics and building plans to help drivers know where to go. Additionally, the ability to factor in service times at each stop can be built into your routes so that your ETAs remain accurate.

As you can see, the last mile delivery problem is one that’s faced by a variety of businesses, but with some creative strategizing it can be solved. Implementing last mile delivery software can  be just what your business needs to reduce delivery costs and optimize last mile logistics.

Interested in a last mile delivery solution for your business? Try our free, 7-day trial at Routific.
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Suzanne Ma
Suzanne Ma is a former journalist and published author turned co-founder at Routific, a route optimization platform. She loves to capture inspiring stories from small business entrepreneurs, and share their journeys of growth alongside Routific. As a Product Marketer, she ensures that the community stays up to date on the latest innovations at Routific.

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