How free routing software can help your delivery business
We all love free software. That’s the beauty of the Internet. I personally use a host of freebies every day, but I’ve also upgraded some of my accounts and pay a small monthly fee in order to access more convenient features.
I’ve found that free software usually works well in the very beginning when you have rather simple needs . As a delivery business just starting up, that might mean using free software to plan and optimize a small number of routes, or doing your delivery route planning and route optimization once or twice a week.
I’m going to say right now that free route planning software with unlimited stops is really hard to find. Most free software doesn’t allow you to route with unlimited stops. Period.
If you’re still interested in seeing what your free options are, please read on. Below I’m going to feature some free route planning software, and also some workarounds that might be good enough for you.
Can Google Maps plan a route with multiple stops?
If you’re planning routes with 10 stops or less, you can probably get away with using Google Maps to plan your deliveries. Google Maps is free - hooray! - but while it can plan your delivery route, it won’t necessarily optimize it.
That’s because Google Maps is the best solution for finding the shortest path between two stops, but it’s not particularly handy for finding the best (ie. optimized) path for a route with multiple addresses.
If you’re using Google Maps to plan a route with multiple stops, you’ll need to eyeball the map and manually determine an efficient order for your stops. This gets even trickier when you have to factor in constraints like delivery time windows, vehicle load capabilities, and driver breaks.
Using Google Maps to optimize a route still involves quite a bit of manual guesswork, so make sure you’re only using Google Maps as a free multi stop route planner when:
- Your routes need to be 10 stops or less
- You can only plan for 1 driver at a time
- You don’t need to optimize routes with constraints like delivery time windows, vehicle load capacities, driver breaks, etc.
Workaround! Recently, I stumbled upon a site that helps route planners piece together multiple routes from Google Maps, in a way allowing you to route with unlimited stops. Check it out here.
What is the best free multi stop route planner?
But because they’re free, they do come some limitations:
Limited stops per optimization
Many of the free services limit the number of stops you can optimize.
- RouteXL: up to 20 stops
- SpeedyRoute: up to 20 stops
- Mapquest: up to 26 stops
Some sites also only allow you to optimize a certain number of routes within a 24-hour period.
One vehicle optimization only
Most of the free services only allow you to optimize routes for one vehicle, except for SpeedyRoute, which allows you to route with four vehicles. Once you have more than one delivery vehicle or delivery route, you’ll need to find another solution.
Difficult to use
Good design and ease-of-use aren't that important when you're dealing with a small number of stops. You just need something that gets the job done! But as your volume of orders grows, so does the time it will take to plan your delivery routes. This problem is compounded if the software is clunky, feature-poor, and awkward to use.
How many hours do you or your staff spend planning routes each week? How much does this time cost in salaries or wages? Could this time be better spent on other parts of the business? This is the real cost of "free" route planning apps. As your business grows, the time it takes to plan and manage delivery routes grows exponentially. Meaning your cost-per-delivery starts to sky rocket.
Software that has been thoughtfully designed can shave off hours of route planning each week. And will significantly lower your cost-per-delivery as your business grows. Ask yourself, "How long can we use a free route planning app before it starts costing us too much?"
Delivery time windows
Who hates sitting around waiting for a delivery all day? It’s shocking to admit, but most delivery companies — including industry leaders UPS and FedEx — still provide their customers with 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. time windows, forcing people to wait around all day for a delivery. In this new era of delivery, if a customer requests a delivery to be made between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., delivery companies have access to the tools to accommodate this request. Setting delivery time windows is not available with most free routing software, but a paid subscription will most certainly have it.
Mobile app for driver
Route planning only gets you halfway there. Your delivery driver now needs to execute on those routes and deliveries. For that, you’ll need to equip your driver with the right tools in order to provide the best possible delivery service for your customers.
Easy access to the routes, as well as any delivery instructions and notes are vital for this. Drivers need to also stay accountable to the business and to their customers with some kind of proof of delivery — something you certainly won’t get with freemium software.
Customer support and SLAs
Free software means the person who built it isn’t constantly updating the software, providing attentive customer service, or any kind of guarantee that the service will always be available.
When you pay for something, most software companies have Service Level Agreements that help to guarantee that the software will always work — and if it doesn’t, you’ll be sure the team will be in touch to make it right.
Route planner apps with more features than free tools
When your business starts to grow and you find yourself hiring more than one delivery driver or having more than 20 deliveries to make a day, you might want to look for more sophisticated route planning software.
We are the makers of Routific, which you can try out with a free 7-day trial.
While we’d love for you to use Routific, we also want to arm you with knowledge of what else is out there, and let you make up your own mind. So, we’ve gone and done the research for you, reviewing 8 routing planning apps currently in the market.
If you’re just starting up your delivery business, and you have just one delivery driver and a handful of stops, you should use the free route planner software we mention at the beginning of the blog.
Just know that when your business starts to grow, you’ll need something more robust. That’s when you can check out the best route planner apps we feature near the end of the blog.