Fixing The Last Mile Problem For Delivery Businesses

February 2, 2021
Fixing the Last Mile Problem for Delivery Businesses

For many businesses, producing a product is not the end of your involvement in the purchasing lifecycle but the start of the final step: delivery.

Any business that sells a product that must be delivered to a customer, whether its 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.

What does last mile mean? The last mile is the general term used for the 30 miles or less a product or good 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.

So then, what is last mile delivery? Last mile delivery is the entire process of delivering a product or good from a transportation hub (think parcel delivery warehouse) or directly from a business, such as yours, to the customer.

What is the last mile problem?

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 the product or good.

It’s no wonder then that what seems like such a small part of the overall purchase lifecycle is known to cost up to 53% of the total cost of goods delivery. It’s complicated!

Dubbed “the last mile problem,” ensuring that goods are delivered efficiently – both in terms of cost and time – transparently, and safely to your customers can be a challenge. But not a challenge without solutions.

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 not at as 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:

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.

Order timeliness. A delayed order or missing items are surefire ways to upset and lose a customer with today’s digital shopping expectations. Customers want it 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

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:

  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. 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 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

To solve the last mile delivery problem for bottled beverage providers, follow these tips:

  1.     Use the right vehicle. A temperature-controlled vehicle will keep your beverages cold, but come at an added expense 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. Consistently communicate. 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:

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. Arrangements also need to be delivered whether it’s 8 degrees, or 88 degrees. Florists need to keep their flowers and plants at the right temperatures 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:

  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.
  1. 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 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 to small and sometimes fragile items, including mirrors and glass. Customers purchasing furniture are also far more likely to require assistance getting their purchases to their home due to the size and weight.

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

  • 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 need to follow these tips:

  1. Understand what products you will deliver. Know what your heaviest product is and the dimensions of the biggest. 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, 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.

Different Businesses, Similar Last Mile Problems

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

  • 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.
  • Integrate your tech – with the growing number of technology options available to businesses today, the ability to integrate your solutions is a huge time saver.
  • Plan ahead – 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. 

Interested in a delivery management solution for your business? Try our free, 7-day trial at Routific.

Philip Manzano

Written by Philip Manzano

Philip Manzano is a Content Marketing Manager at Routific, a delivery management and route optimization solution that helps local food businesses scale up home delivery operations.