In the future, delivery drones may be added to the last-mile logistics mix as well. Photo: Amazon

In the future, delivery drones may be added to the last-mile logistics mix as well. Photo: Amazon

When I was growing up, you could buy stuff in stores, through catalogs like Sears or Spiegel, or by ordering something you saw on an ad on TV or via direct mail. It took weeks for that package to arrive, and there was no way to know when it was going to get there.

Today, you order online and expect it to be there in two days with Amazon Prime, or that you can go pick it up at the local store later that afternoon, or in some locales even that you can get it delivered to your home or office later that same day.

Consumer expectations for last-mile, same-day and home delivery have drastically changed, thanks to the likes of Amazon and department stores that offer same day delivery and in-store pick up.

I recently talked to Chris Jones, executive VP of marketing and services for Descartes, which provides software-as-a-service solutions for logistics-intensive businesses – so he has a front-row seat to witness how things are changing.

Growth in online buying probably will grown another 50% in the next three to four years, he says, adding another dimension to logistics.

“The way I describe it is the biggest provider of home delivery services is leaving the market."

“The way I describe it is the biggest provider of home delivery services is leaving the market,” he says. “And I’m not talking about UPS or FedEx — I’m talking about us, about people. When you went to the store and brought it home, you were basically the final-mile person.”

When you buy online, it’s now incumbent on the retailer to get it to you. “So whether they’re a pure play Internet retailer or someone with omnichannel retailing (both stores and online business), more of that is coming via the retailer to someone’s home.”

And it’s not just a matter of customers getting things faster, but also being able to get it when they want it. We’re not only looking at one to two days instead of one to two weeks, we’re even looking at same-day. And when it comes to larger goods especially, customers want to know when their goods are going to show up within a few hour window.

So optimizing retail networks today is very different from the past, he says.

If you’re the logistics services provider — the one being paid by the retailer to handle these deliveries — there’s a blizzard of real-time data involved. In the past, technology was used to optimize the fleet and routes.

“But today, retailers are expecting more," he says. "They want to know, is their delivery in route, if it has been delivered — is there a proof of delivery picture? What happens if there’s a return or a claim? And they want all that information to be automated.”

Consumers, or course, are expecting more as well. Jones cited an example of working with a retailer that measured itself with traditional metrics — were the order complete and on time within the one-day window promised.

“Part of their strategy moving forward and working with third parties was working toward two- and three-hour windows,” he says. And here they found something interesting. Their performance for meeting the two-hour window wasn’t the 99%-plus the all day was. But when they asked the consumer about the experience, they got a higher customer rating than they did for the all day window that they virtually never missed.

Turns out the customers would rather have a delivery be 15 minutes late on a two-hour window than be on time on an all-day window. “So part of the challenge is to measure the consumer experience,” Jones says.

“We have a saying: The last mile’s the last word in the customer experience. If you put all this energy into selling it to them but you’ve alienated them by the time that shows up, you’re not getting them back” as a customer.

Author

Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

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Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

View Bio
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