By Gilad David Maayan
While there is no certain way to create a successful last-mile delivery strategy, this article proposes creating a strategy that meets specific consumer needs. By following a blueprint designed to balance consumer needs with the resources of the company, you can create standard procedures that can withstand fickle trends and unplanned changes.
What Is Last-Mile Delivery
Last-mile delivery is the final step required to fulfill an order. The length of the road doesn’t matter—It can be a mile, three feet, or across states. As long as this path takes the order to its final destination—to the end consumer—the delivery is recognized as a last-mile delivery.
Why Does Last-Mile Delivery Matters
Last-mile delivery is responsible for creating a lasting customer experience. If end consumers receive their order in a timely, efficient, convenient, and cordial way—last-mile delivery can result in positive customer experience. If important consumer expectations aren’t met, last-mile delivery will result in negative customer experience.
In a time when one customer can instantly spread their dissatisfaction with a global network of people, one bad review can turn into a massive virus of bad PR that infects prospective customers across the Internet and beyond. Once the damage is done, fixing the reputation of the company might be expensive and time-consuming. In the meanwhile, the company suffers from a decrease in sales and monetary loss.
How Last-Mile Delivery Influences Consumers
Nothing can ruin the customer experience quite like last-mile delivery. Nowadays, if a website is slow to load, a consumer can move on to another one. If they insist on staying because they’re emotionally attached to the product, they can tinker with a poorly-designed website until they finally press that desired buy button. But if something gets in the way between this product and the consumer? There would be hell to pay.
Consumers develop an emotional connection to brands and products even before they make a purchase. Once a product is bought, it becomes a possession of the consumer. While possession has always granted people certain rights, the digital revolution has tipped the scales towards instant gratification.
Now, as soon as money is exchanged, consumers expect to receive their physical order almost as fast as a digital order. Any last-mile delivery delay or inconvenience might cause a visceral emotional reaction that can send the consumer on a borderless ranting spree. Thus, negative last-mile delivery usually translates into bad PR—online and offline—and damaged bottom lines.
Six Consumers Expectations in Last-Mile Delivery
The overall experience of last-mile delivery can be broken down into six factors. Each of the following factors represents a need the consumer expects to be met during last-mile delivery.
Consumers expect to be offered a variety of delivery methods even before they order the product. The variety of the available delivery methods influences the decision to purchase a product, and consumers have shown a distinct preference towards the most convenient delivery method.
It is important to note that ultimate convenience relies more on customization rather than speed. One consumer may benefit from one-day delivery because they need the product urgently. Another consumer may want to time the delivery to two days hence in preparation for a planned house party.
The key goal here is to provide consumers with a variety of delivery options needed to help them incorporate the delivery into their time, rather than the other way around. You can do that by running last-mile delivery in-house, managing your own warehouse and drivers fleet. Or you can partner with a third-party provider.
Consumers expect fast and prompt deliveries. A prompt delivery means providing the consumer with their order on time without delays. Research indicates that failure to deliver on this promise can cause the consumer deep emotional distress. If you’re running your own fleet, you can use technological solutions such as route navigation optimization to ensure your drivers are always prompt.
While fast can be a subjective term and needs to be defined individually by each company, there are certain standards companies need to meet in order to compete in the market. Companies like Amazon have become world leaders in last-mile delivery and standardized fast delivery options such as two-days, one-day, and same-day delivery.
If you don’t have the resources to provide fast delivery in-house, you can take advantage of the available last-mile delivery services offered by third-party providers. Many third-party delivery providers offer end-to-end solutions that should cover all your last-mile needs. You can also incorporate a variety of third-party solutions into your delivery infrastructure. Be sure to make sure all the tech tools you choose can integrate seamlessly into your system.
People are often prompted not to judge a book by its cover. However, most of the time people do exactly that. Consumers, like any human being, are subjective to universal signals. We see an envelope icon and we understand it represents emails. We see an old man dressed in red and we recognize him as Santa Claus. We see a woman figure over a door and understand it designates the room beyond as the ladies’ room.
People are naturally visual and see the world in symbols. The way a package is designed and packed often tells a consumer a lot about what they’re getting. At the branding level, appealing package design can spell luxury or high quality. A branded package design can hint or tell a consumer what type of product they can find inside.
Done right, the package design can create a connection between consumer and brand that may even lead to saving the package. However, a package doesn’t have to be branded to meet consumer expectations. It does need to be properly packed to show care for the product and care for the consumer expenses. Receiving a product in a squished package tells the consumer you don’t care enough to protect the product the consumer spent hard-earned money on.
Efficiency is the primary strategy of achieving any goal in the western world. Modern consumers often manage busy lives, juggling multiple tasks and priorities. To handle all of their responsibilities at home and at work, consumers need to be efficient. People continuously look for productivity tools to help improve every aspect of their life.
Today’s consumers are tech-savvy—and that includes almost every generation alive. From baby boomers and their overshadowed generation X siblings, the notorious millennials and their responsible generation Y counterparts, and the generation Y children who were born into a connected world and can’t even imagine life without technology as a source of instant gratification. There is hardly anyone who doesn’t use technology to become more efficient.
While receiving an order is often regarded as a fun activity, many consumers don’t have the time nor patience for an inefficient delivery experience. Consumers want to know their order is on its way and will arrive promptly. Integrating with tech solution such as last mile tracking can infuse transparency into the last leg of the delivery and inform consumers of the location of their order in real-time. Efficient delivery experience translates into a positive customer experience.
In brick and mortar shops, sales representatives are the face of the brand. In e-commerce and delivery-oriented businesses, the delivery drivers serve as the face of the brand. In both cases, consumers expect, at minimum, a cordial treatment from the personnel that hand over the product. While the delivery drivers don’t have to be smiling rays of sunshine, they should present a standard of a professional manner as defined by the company.
Companies that manage an in-house last-mile delivery operation can dictate the standard manner all drivers must adopt and every aspect of the handoff—from the type of outfit, where to park the vehicle, how to greet the customer, and how to present the order. Tech-savvy companies can also give their customers the ability to rank the drivers and their satisfaction with the delivery.
However, companies that rely on third-party providers have less control over this aspect, if at all. As a service, last-mile delivery often comes at a fixed model with zero customization options. That means relying on the provider to manage their drivers properly. You will have no authority or power over the drivers and no way of implementing any changes for the better. If the driver, for example, throws your carefully packaged order over a fence, you will not be able to prevent this driver from continually ruining your reputation.
Since the invention of 24/7/7 live customer service via chats, consumers expect instant gratification on the communication level. Time has become the number one commodity, a priceless resource that should be used and prioritized to maximum capacity. Not because time is money but because time is living.
No one wants to waste their lives waiting for a customer service representative. No company wants to appear so slow in its service as to be compared to a sloth. Implementing smart technology solutions can help improve all levels of communications in last-mile delivery operations. Improved channels of communications can serve as an open channel for delivering efficient service that promotes a positive customer experience.
Incorporate Consumer Expectations into Your Last-Mile Delivery Strategy
It is possible to operate a business without a strategy or plan. You can wing it, and the success of the venture will rely on your intuition. However, creating a strategy and a plan can help ensure you take steps in the right direction. With a plan, nothing is vague or mysterious. You have pre-defined goals to follow and specific measurements with which to count your success.
When you create your strategy, you can incorporate as many of the delivery expectations as possible. For most companies, it is nearly impossible to achieve the highest level of quality in all delivery expectations. A strategy can help you evaluate the capabilities of your business and define the minimum and maximum level of delivery quality you can achieve.
Once you have a roadmap ready, you can opt to create your own in-house delivery operation, delegate the responsibility to a third-party provider, or implement the strengths of both delivery models into a hybrid strategy—a unique delivery infrastructure modeled to fit your business DNA.
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Oracle, Zend, CheckPoint and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.