Why the Last Mile is the Most Challenging Part of Delivery
The most challenging part of delivery is the last mile, hands down. There are so many moving parts involved in the process; if any one process is managed incorrectly, it can cause delivery delays or even failures.
Whether it's getting a package to a customer’s doorstep on time or making sure that food arrives fresh and hot, the last mile is essential to delivering a great customer experience.
Here, we'll look at what makes last-mile delivery so tricky and what companies need to focus on to succeed.
The Basics of Last Mile Delivery
First, the so-called last mile isn’t an actual mile; it’s often several miles. The term simply refers to the final part of delivery: the journey of a parcel from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep. While it’s generally associated with online order fulfillment, the last-mile delivery process can apply to any shipping service, from pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to food.
The last mile is the delivery stage where companies interact with their customers the most, and customer expectations are always growing. While accurate and timely delivery should be a given, customers increasingly expect faster services such as same-day and next-day delivery. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 90% of consumers see two-to-three-day delivery as the baseline, with 30% expecting same-day delivery.
Living Up to Customer Expectations
It’s easy for your last-mile delivery operations to fall short of these expectations. We’ve all been disappointed by a package that arrived too late for an important birthday or taken a morning off work to wait for a delivery that never came. And when you’ve paid extra for an expected delivery time, it’s even more frustrating. Last-mile logistics are fraught with risk, and customer churn increases when companies fail to meet their delivery promise.
But there’s still hope.
The opportunity to make last-mile delivery a great experience is there for the taking. Get it right with fast, accurate, sustainable delivery, and you can increase customer satisfaction and build brand loyalty.
7 Last-Mile Delivery Challenges (& How to Overcome Them)
From fuel costs to delivery delays, there’s no end to potential last-mile delivery problems. Let’s look at some of the most common challenges involved in this crucial leg of the journey and how you can overcome them.
Last-mile deliveries aren’t cheap; they’re estimated to make up 53% of the total shipping cost. So, where do those operational costs come from? It’s not just factors such as driver salaries, fuel, and fleet maintenance (although these all do add up). The last mile is the most time-consuming and least efficient mile. Routes can be long, with multiple drop-offs many miles apart, particularly in rural areas. In cities, meanwhile, traffic congestion throws deadlines into disarray. Ineffective route planning also adds to the cost.
Partnering with a third-party logistics company can help mitigate high shipping costs by giving you access to bulk discounts and the latest technology, such as route planning optimization software, to improve efficiency. It’s also worth considering a tiered approach to delivery pricing, charging more to consumers who don’t mind paying an extra fee for quicker delivery.
Failed and delayed deliveries pose one of the biggest last-mile delivery challenges. If a drop-off goes wrong, the delivery person has to set out the next day and attempt delivery again, doubling your delivery costs. Then there’s the customer experience to consider – your brand takes a hit when a first delivery attempt fails.
Or, perhaps a package was sent to the wrong address, and you need to send a driver back the following day to retrieve it and deliver it to the proper address. When complications surface, this is where a tech-driven supply chain and automized warehouse operations can make a significant difference. For example, suppose incorrect addresses are causing delays. In that case, a smooth fulfillment process that automates packing labels can eliminate human error, leading to more efficient last-mile delivery further down the line.
Last-mile delivery is notoriously complex. Companies have many pickup points (for example, warehouses or stores) and drop-off destinations (including homes, offices, and parcel lockers). Then there are the delivery options, with an owned fleet, outsourced fleet, or even crowdsourcing in the mix. Add in factors such as inadequate route planning, the weather, and traffic congestion, and it all gets very complicated quickly.
Again, last-mile delivery software can help here. From systems that select the most cost-effective carriers to business intelligence that identifies common patterns to help you plan operations more effectively, integrated technology can cut through the complexity.
“Where’s my parcel?” Transparency is one of the critical challenges of last-mile delivery, and tracking codes alone won’t cut it.
At Ziing, we believe that the solution lies in authentic communication. While tools such as IoT technology can give us real-time visibility of a parcel’s progress, it’s what we do with that information that counts. We care about making sure that our customers are informed, even before they’re aware that there might be an issue. So we offer communication with real human beings—not robots—at every step of the way.
Traffic congestion. Construction. The weather. Last-mile delivery is riddled with unpredictable and uncontrollable elements that can lead to failed or delayed deliveries. Added to that is the nature of fast delivery itself. If customers place orders for next or same-day delivery, it takes last-minute planning and rerouting. How many drivers will you need tomorrow? How many vehicles? And where will they be going?
While many of these things are outside your control, plenty of solutions can help you deal with unpredictable circumstances. For example, real-time tracking of delivery vehicles through IoT technology feeds into route planning systems so your fleet can reroute if necessary. Further back in the process, you can implement inventory software to spot consumer trends and predict demand.
Changing customer demands are about more than timely deliveries. Consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, too, and this can be difficult to square with a last-mile delivery service that leads to more vehicles on the road and high fuel consumption.
The good news is that it’s possible to develop a delivery process compatible with your sustainability targets. At Ziing, we take a three-pronged approach:
- Switching to more efficient and environmentally-friendly vehicles.
- Using software that helps us balance our loads and calculate our carbon footprint.
- Implementing the 4R strategy (Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, and Recover) throughout the process.
In case you haven’t noticed, we believe software can solve many last-mile delivery challenges — so don’t let creaky old software systems stand in your way. Outdated technology makes it difficult enough to meet customer expectations today, so it definitely can’t keep up as customers demand even faster services in the future.
It’s essential to use all the software help you can get—from systems that address inefficient route planning to robust business intelligence.
The industry as a whole is embracing innovative solutions, too. In the not-too-distant future, we can expect to see drones dropping packages from the skies, delivery robots trundling through the streets, and fleets of autonomous vehicles on the roads. Altogether, the global autonomous delivery market is set to grow from $11.12 billion (2021) to $51.38 billion by 2028.
Make the Last Mile Matter with Ziing
Last mile, hardest mile? At Ziing, we’re here to make your last mile your best mile with a suite of solutions that drive customer loyalty and meet your ESG goals.
Our data-driven services include a chain of signature (COS) to ensure sensitive documents are signed for, shipment tracking and notifications, temperature monitoring, and a portal to help you manage the entire process in real time.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you meet any challenge your last-mile operations throw at you and beat customer expectations with every delivery you make.