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4 Ways Last-Mile Delivery Provides a Competitive Edge, and How to Ensure Success

Sept. 30, 2022
Don’t neglect focusing on core aspects of your carrier relationships.

Your business thrives when a customer gets the correct order quickly before any doubt or worry arises that could create frustration. The mission is to delight them, and the steps within that “last mile” to their home play a significant role here.

Last-mile delivery services are growing, thanks to a boom in eCommerce. It’s where many parcel carriers are making most of their revenue, so they want to improve what they offer to businesses like yours. It’s also where eCommerce leaders differentiate themselves by ensuring a reliable and enjoyable experience.

You can be one of those leaders without having to break the bank or master a slew of new techniques. Instead, it’s time to focus on core aspects of your carrier relationships and how you manage orders during fulfillment. Here are four areas you can improve quickly to get a significant return on any investment and work.

And if you’re a carrier or provider, use these as guidelines to understand how your most lucrative customers think about the services you offer.

Being Ready: Secure Multiple Carrier Relationships

A strong last-mile plan helps eCommerce companies and service providers ensure they’re ready to fill an order or request as soon as it comes in the door. You’re more likely to have something in stock and be able to get it to the customer in time for them to click the buy button. During the past year, as many as 16% of online products were unavailable for hungry customers.

That’s an inventory issue from the business perspective; it’s a last-mile issue from the shopper’s perspective. They don’t care about the ins and outs of your supply chain, just if there’s something in a warehouse that can get to their door. They care about that transit.

Address it by expanding your existing carrier relationships. This has advantages for multiple points in your supply chain. Working with more than one major and regional carrier can speed up your last-mile delivery and avoid capacity issues (especially during the year-end boom). Improving carrier relationships for inbound goods also helps you secure containers and opens up more options for expedited freight if your suppliers and manufacturers need to get resupplies to you faster.

Staying Consistent: Make Decisions Based on Success Data

Beyond speed, customers also want their packages to arrive safely and consistently. Staying consistent makes you a more attractive purchase option, especially if you sell something that requires resupplying or replacing often. Your goal to protect this recurring revenue is to become dependable so that customers can set up ongoing purchases and then not worry about it.

To get there, you need a data-driven last-mile approach. This means measuring carrier success for on-time orders and the quality of deliveries. Look for partners that are fast and safe, as well as ones that make mistakes or cause damage that leads to returns. Shift your business to those that provide better service for you—and then, at scale, use this volume to negotiate better rates.

Thankfully, last-mile carriers know this and most regularly communicate with their eCommerce partners. It’s where they are investing in their own networks, and they’re generally open to discussions around the relationship between performance and volume. Your consistency is valuable, just as is their reliability.

Improving Satisfaction: Reduce the Need for Reverse Logistics

Internally, you want to tackle last-mile efforts with an eye toward that being the final leg of the customer’s journey. Seek out ways to ensure that you stay accurate with every order during the fulfillment process so that customers get what they want. That way, when the carrier gets it to their door on time, people have fewer reasons for returns or replacements.

You can do a few easy things right now to improve satisfaction and reduce reverse logistics requirements. Start by testing packages and average orders. Look through past returns and do test sends to see how boxes and packaging stand up during transit. If things break or bend, reinforce your boxes. If orders are arriving incorrectly, look at your internal processes to see where errors can occur.

Something as simple as scanning all the items in an order three times during the pick-and-pack process can improve staff efforts and push you above 99% order accuracy. We’ve found that scanning each item when it is picked, when the full order has been picked and then again as it is packed in a box eliminates nearly all human error.

When you get the order right, there’s much less that can go wrong in the last mile. Continual process checks and improvements keep people happy and make you a destination for shoppers.

Ensuring Reliability: Review Automation and Integration Options

Mistakes during order processing and in the last mile aren’t always the cause of human error. Sometimes the machines and automated processes that businesses rely on have hiccups that harm order accuracy and success. Regularly evaluating your system ensures that you’re processing orders correctly and able to deliver on your promises to the shopper.

For example, offering a next-day delivery at checkout requires a back end that first checks inventory to ensure a product is in stock. Then, it needs to verify that you have a shipping service option to achieve this generally. It must check that the customer is not past a cut-off time for that option. And finally, the system must purchase the right product to create the right label as soon as someone finishes the checkout process.

There are a lot of things that must work together perfectly. An update to your system, inventory software, eCommerce and shopping cart tools or the integration you use to connect to carriers can easily create a breakdown. Or an API may change and require new calls or shifts throughout the process.

So, you’ll want to assess these options regularly. Have your developers, IT team or third-party providers like a 3PL stay on top of any updates across these systems. The entire last-mile ecosystem depends on this kind of tech, so most companies try hard to keep things connected and running smoothly. It’s your responsibility to check their work.

Don’t Stop There

There’s almost always something more to do to improve your last mile. Adding a new 3PL with more warehouse locations can reduce how far orders travel, speeding things up and reducing risk. Or you might try package consolidation to see if you can reduce your expenses and improve margins. Offering free shipping for slower delivery times can build a buffer to help protect customer satisfaction. And the list goes on.

Check your reviews, ask customers, and start reading what people are saying elsewhere online. You want to shore up your last-mile efforts to tackle immediate problems. Then, start looking for cost and efficiency improvements. That’s how you create and maintain a competitive advantage in today’s market.

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About the Author

Jake Rheude

Jake Rheude is the Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an order fulfillment company for online retailers and ecommerce businesses specializing in heavy and large products. He brings a highly motivate approach to learning and sharing all aspects of order fulfillment and business management, alongside traditional marketing, SEO, and brand positioning. Marketing plays a pivotal role in the ability to attract and audience and build loyalty, and Jake’s goal is to show companies how shipping is essential to that relationship by creating a promise you must meet with every purchase.