Last-mile delivery services make up the critical final connection between distribution centers and your clients’ front doors. Thanks to the increasing demand for e-commerce fulfillment with ever tighter delivery deadlines, there’s been a tidal wave of demand for last-mile delivery. This includes both small packages and oversized products, such as furniture and appliances, which are being increasingly sold online as well.
Modern retail has changed the way companies handle shipping and logistics. To expedite delivery, most companies today are following the Amazon logistics model, opening small regional warehouses near major cities rather than large distribution centers in rural areas. This creates increased demand for freight services that transport goods from warehouse to warehouse, and, of course, get product to your customers directly — usually with only a few hours notice. Amazon is even building their own last-mile fleet as we speak.
Local shipping networks are unique, and there are probably rich sets of options available in each region where your company operates. So, how do you find the best last-mile delivery companies for your needs? Here’s what to keep an eye out for:
Smart technology will redefine the way shipping and fulfillment operate in the next decade (if not sooner). Early adopters in your supply chain can shave precious hours off delivery times, which enable popular next-day and same-day delivery services that only a few years ago would have seemed impossible. Knowing a little about what kind of tech your prospective last-mile partners use can tell you a lot about how they operate.
Two big technological changes in the delivery world come in the form of IoT technologies and the big data collection and analysis they help bring about. The ability to track products from end-to-end is changing the way these items are transported. IoT technology enables quicker movement from the port, through drayage systems, onto freight, into trucks and warehouses, and finally to your customers doorsteps. For last-mile providers, that means better loading and unloading practices from the warehouse to the customer door, as well as better route planning that uses sensors and data to accommodate routes for weather, traffic, and more.
More than just scanning and tracking products, IoT devices give context to a product’s movement, which can be collected and studied to make delivery routes more efficient. Analytics tools allow last-mile companies to isolate and identify important cost factors across all deliveries. This helps drive costs down.
Thanks to the prevalence of online shopping, companies have a new window into the reliability of last-mile service providers: consumer reviews. When your last-mile delivery vendor doesn’t provide customers with good service, it reflects poorly on your company. Reviewing user feedback for your potential last-mile provider on social media and review sites will offer you a window into their client interaction history.
Of course, another more traditional way to learn about provider reliability is searching for testimonials from people in your professional network. Do the people in your industry have a provider they prefer? Check around and see what your peers have to say.
Risk vs. Rates
It’s no surprise that increasing last-mile demand is driving new interest from upstarts in the industry. Do you choose an old standby with years of logistics experience or a startup that promises faster delivery times or a lower rate?
Often, the amount of product you need to transport and its destination will play a big role when choosing between an established provider and a startup. Many startups are experimenting with smaller-scale delivery, using crowdsourcing to manage personnel to match fluctuating demand flows.
A crowdsourced provider may be faster and more affordable for small packages, but not ideal for moving large amounts of product. A trusted, established shipper may be able to leverage decades of experience connecting with freight lines or port drayage systems to deliver product faster and cheaper than the spriteliest startup.
What’s Their Fleet Like?
Today, logistics professionals have a lot of room for customization in their last-mile delivery services.
Large vehicles aren’t ideally suited for dense urban centers or winding suburban cul-de-sacs. They also use more fuel and should be fully loaded to make best use of their size, which slows delivery times. A lot of last-mile delivery companies are experimenting with using smaller vehicles — small box trucks and utility vans — that are better suited for quick trips along tight roads. Some are retrofitting vehicles with custom lifts to meet the demand for oversize and white glove delivery.
When choosing your last-mile provider, check out what kind of vehicles they have in their fleet. Do they have what your company needs to get product where it needs to go quickly and affordably?
The next five to ten years will see a revolution in the shipping world. Nowhere is this more apparent than the booming last-mile market. With automated vehicles and drones quickly becoming a reality for home delivery, companies that are well-positioned in the market are set to make waves. Finding the best last-mile delivery service for your company can get you in on the action now.