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Midsize business

How to use last mile carriers to improve order fulfillment

There are really only two steps involved in the delivery experience in your customers’ eyes: they place their order online, and then it arrives on their doorstep.

How the package makes it from point A to point B isn’t much of a concern. But, as a business or retailer, you know there’s a lot of complexity involved in the management and optimization of your supply chain—particularly when it comes to that final stretch.

That last leg of the delivery process is known as the “last mile,” and it’s one of the most daunting pieces of the shipping process for businesses and last mile carriers alike.

What is a last mile carrier?

A last mile carrier is a shipping carrier that transports a package from the nearest shipping hub to its final destination, typically the customer’s doorstep.

Think about when you order something online and receive tracking information to keep tabs on your package. Your order tracking link will tell you when it’s shipped, record the locations of the different post offices, transportation hubs, or warehouses it passes through, and finally tell you when it’s “out for delivery.”

That “out for delivery” stage is when the last mile delivery services transport the package through its final stage of the journey and onto the customer’s doorstep. Some common and well-known last mile delivery companies include:

  • UPS
  • FedEx
  • United States Postal Service (USPS)

However, there are plenty of smaller regional companies that do last mile deliveries as well. You might also hear last mile carriers referred to as “delivery service providers,” as they’re the ones actually delivering products to customers.

Why are last mile carriers important to your business?

Here’s the simplest reason that last mile carriers matter: they’re the ones who get products to customers, which means they have a direct and significant impact on your customer experience and customer satisfaction. Ideally, last mile carriers will:

  • Provide friendly customer service
  • Deliver damage-free packages to customers
  • Work to deliver packages within their intended timeframe
  • Optimize their routes to save businesses shipping costs

While the last mile might seem like the simplest part of the shipping process, it’s actually where many inefficiencies (and as a result, added costs) come into play for businesses. One study found that last mile services account for 41% of overall supply chain costs, proving that the journey’s final leg is arguably the most important to manage.

What is last mile carrier tracking?

Nobody wants to feel like they’re left in the dark, and last mile carrier tracking provides transparency—to both customers and businesses—about the final stretch of the delivery process.

Last mile carrier tracking is technology (often offered by last mile logistics or third-party logistics companies) that provides real-time tracking of a package.

Let’s return to our example scenario of checking your tracking information and seeing that your purchase is “out for delivery.” As a customer, it’s typically this point when you feel entirely out of the loop. Sometimes your package arrives within mere hours. Other times it’s marked as “out for delivery” for days on end without any updates.

Last mile carrier tracking is no longer nice to have—it’s quickly becoming an expectation for customers. For example, 97% of customers want to track their orders and receive updates throughout the shipping process. And 85% of shoppers say they’ll buy from a retailer again if they can track their purchase throughout the delivery process.

What are the benefits of last mile carrier tracking?

Last mile carrier tracking solutions bring a lot of helpful detail to this otherwise-mysterious final stage of the delivery experience. With last mile carrier tracking, customers can:

  • Get a timeframe for when their package will be delivered
  • Receive an alert when their package is almost there
  • Monitor their driver’s location in real-time

That added visibility into their package’s location and when it will arrive offers increased confidence and peace of mind for consumers. Businesses also have the advantage of monitoring packages and collecting proof of delivery. So, if a package goes missing, they have the evidence that it was delivered as planned.

For example, Amazon implemented a photo on delivery program that shows the package’s location and verifies delivery. Amazon might also use that information to troubleshoot what happened if and when a package goes missing.

Last mile carrier tracking offers additional advantages for business owners and ecommerce companies as well, including the ability to:

  • Receive detailed information about where packages are
  • Understand the customer experience through ratings systems and feedback
  • Collect and store proof of delivery in a simple and streamlined way

Most last mile carrier tracking solutions give customers the option to rate their service and even provide feedback. Businesses can review scores and feedback to find ways to to improve deliveries and their overall customer satisfaction.

For example, Uber Eats asks customers to rate their delivery drivers by giving them a thumbs up or a thumbs down and leaving more detailed feedback. That feedback is then aggregated into an overall rating of the driver. Customers aren’t the only ones with a say, as delivery people can rate restaurants and customers, and restaurants can rate drivers too. All of this information gives Uber a detailed understanding of how their fulfillment processes are working.

To put it simply, last mile carrier tracking removes the mystery and gives both customers and business owners detailed information about their packages.

How to optimize for last mile carrier fulfillment in your business

UPS alone delivered over 21 million packages per day in the second quarter of 2020. With that many parcels moving across the country at any given time, last mile carrier tracking can get pretty complex. When you’re running a growing business, fulfilling orders can feel just as daunting.

Fortunately, you don’t need to do the heavy lifting all on your own. Using order management software that streamlines your order management process can help get more orders out the door and onto your customers’ doorsteps on time. Here are three additional ways you improve your last mile carrier fulfillment.

1. Revamp your order management process

Outlining each step of your order management process can reveal opportunities for automating steps and improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain. This can include things like upgrading to mobile barcode scanners for picking and automating reorder points for inventory items. Your business can also check to be sure you are using the best carriers for your current needs.

2. Manage customer expectations

As with anything in business, you don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver. Particularly as the pandemic continues to cause shipping delays, you must be upfront with your customers about what they can reasonably expect for shipping times.

Many businesses have included an alert about shipping and delivery delays before, during, and after the checkout process.

It’s also important to provide frequent updates about orders that customers are kept in the loop. Even if you’re unable to deliver good news, at least they aren’t wondering where their orders are.

3. Use brick and mortar stores as fulfillment centers

Convenient shipping hubs are one of the most important elements of an efficient last mile, which is why businesses have begun using their physical, brick and mortar stores as fulfillment centers and shipping hubs.

Alternatively, retailers are giving customers additional options to bridge the last mile of the fulfillment process. Click and collect or buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) options have become increasingly popular, with BOPIS experiencing a 500% increase at the peak of COVID compared with the same period in 2019.

It gives customers more control and often the option to get their order sooner than if it was delivered, it also greatly reduces costs for retailers.

If you’d like to take last mile carrier logistics off your plate, outsourcing fulfillment logistics to a third-party logistics (or 3PL) company is also an option. A 3PL is a service provider that specializes in ecommerce fulfillment processes. They can help business owners by:

  • Finding the right warehouses and shipping hubs
  • Analyzing carriers to find the most cost-effective options
  • Optimizing delivery routes for maximum efficiency
  • Providing tracking information for businesses and customers

Working with a 3PL is an option for businesses who want to manage and streamline their supply chains without getting too into the weeds on all technical details.

Challenges to prepare for with last mile carriers

The last mile is a crucial part of the overall shipping process, and it’s also one of the most challenging. Here are a few hurdles that businesses should be aware of:

  • Slow shipping speeds: Ecommerce sales skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. While that was good news for retailers, it means headaches for carriers. Order fulfillment takes, on average, a full day and a half longer than usual now.
  • Inefficient routes: The packages that need to be delivered change every day, which means figuring out the most optimal and efficient route for deliveries is a constant challenge for last mile carriers.
  • High cost: The last mile is the shortest portion of the delivery process, but it’s also the most expensive. Keeping costs down is a difficult task for last mile carriers.

Some of these challenges (like shipping speeds during a pandemic) are difficult to navigate around. However, others can be avoided by partnering with a knowledgeable 3PL who can optimize routes and reduce costs.

Leave the right impression with effective last mile delivery

Finally getting a product or package into the arms of your eager customer sounds like it should be the most straightforward part of the process. Most of the work (and the bulk of your supply chain) is behind you, and this is your final sprint through the finish line.

However, in reality, the last mile is one of the most complex pieces of the shipping process. It requires plenty of thought, strategy, and work to make sure it’s optimized and as efficient as possible.

Use this as your guide to work effectively with a last mile carrier, and you can meet your customers’ increasing delivery expectations—without tons of added hassles and headaches.

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