Guide to First, Middle & Last Mile Delivery 2021: Tips to Enhance Delivery Operations and Tracking

In 2020, the ever-complicated last mile delivery got more chaotic owing to the ongoing pandemic. At a time when businesses were struggling to cope up with the changing customer needs like faster and same-day delivery, in came challenges like contactless delivery, zero cash payments, health updates and more. Savvy customers want end-to-end transparency of fulfilment progress. They want to know where their order is, who is bringing it and when they will receive it. It does not stop there; customers want brands to ensure flexible delivery. Modern consumers are more loyal to brands that ensure a flexible online buying experience and make allowances for customer convenience. 

To deliver on these expectations, supply chain leaders need to revisit their last mile strategy. Conventional hub and spoke logistics models will not be enough to balance customer experience and profitability. Digitalization of core last mile processes will be key in shaping the future of retailers, eCommerce providers, grocery chains, restaurants and manufacturing companies.

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First-mile delivery

Middle mile delivery

Last mile delivery

To better understand last mile delivery lets's quickly glance through the significance of first and mid-mile delivery.

What is first-mile delivery?

First-mile delivery can be defined as the transportation of goods from a merchant’s premises or warehouse to the next hub from where the goods are forwarded further. First-mile means different things for different businesses. For instance, in the case of retailers, first-mile means shipping goods from local distribution centres to stores. In the case of manufacturers, it means transportation of finished goods from a plant or a factory to a distribution centre. 

Movers and packers consider the first-mile as the process by which they pick up goods from the end-customer’s home or store and then move it to a warehouse or storage location. In case of eCommerce companies first-mile defines the process where goods are picked up from a retailer and then transferred to third-party logistics providers or courier service providers to be delivered to the end-consumer.

Top 4 Challenges of First-Mile Delivery Operations and The Role of First-Mile Tracking

1. Poor Focus on First-Mile Experience

Businesses over the years have understood the significance of last mile delivery with regards to providing a delightful customer experience. This has resulted in a situation where the first-mile has been conveniently ignored, mainly because this process has fewer stakeholders and it is not end-customer facing. Now with the need to provide customers with end-to-end transparency of delivery progress and optimize logistics costs, equal focus should be given to first-mile operations. This triggers the need for enterprises to embrace robust first-mile tracking tools that optimize first-mile costs and ensures end-to-end visibility of delivery operations.

2. Inefficient Labelling Techniques

A small but extremely important part of first-mile delivery is labelling. Even now a large number of businesses manually label packages. This leads to a situation where not all required fields are mentioned in packages making dispatching inefficient and prone to delays. Automating dispatching, a key feature of a final-mile tracking platform, quickly addresses this challenge.

3. Improper Packaging

In the race to deliver fast, packaging often gets impacted. Businesses tend to use uniform packaging materials irrespective of the type of item a package carries. This causes material damages in the first-mile itself and thereby delaying the entire freight forwarding process. Hence, leveraging advanced delivery tools that empower businesses to gain better control of material handling is important.

4. Lack of Visibility

Poor visibility of first-mile operations is a key challenge that ultimately impacts not just mid-mile but also last mile processes along with the end-customer’s experience. Inefficient tracking of movement of freight from a warehouse to a hub, poor handling, en route delays among others are key impact areas of poor visibility. 

Importance and Key Benefits of First-Mile Tracking

When it comes to addressing these critical first-mile challenges a first-mile tracking solution or platform can make a winning difference. Let's quickly glance through some of the key benefits of a first-mile tracking solution.

Improved Visibility

A first-mile tracking platform ensures end-to-end visibility of delivery progress right from a parcel’s movement for a warehouse to a hub where it’s forwarded further to mid and final-mile processes. Businesses can track where a parcel is anywhere and anytime in its first-mile journey. Owing to greater visibility delivery stakeholders can accurately benchmark first-mile performance, eliminate unnecessary delays and improve accountability of carriers and shippers.

Reduced First-Mile Costs

First-mile tracking significantly reduces costs by optimizing driving routes, mitigating damages, reducing fuel consumption, improving productivity and more.

Positive Impact on Customer Experience

Ensuring efficient first-mile tracking empowers businesses to make the process of forwarding freight fast and this, in turn, drives on-time fulfilment. It also keeps the customers informed about the movement of her package once it leaves a warehouse.

What is middle mile delivery?

The growing complexities of first and last mile delivery often take away the focus from middle mile delivery operations. Middle mile can be defined as the shipment of goods and parcels from a warehouse or distribution centre to traditional stores, brick and mortar retail outlets and facilities. In other words, middle mile transportation precedes last mile operations.

Savvy retailers who own both the ends of middle mile, that is warehouse and brick and mortar selling facilities, are realizing that the routes connecting these points remain mostly unaltered. Citing this as an opportunity to automate repetitive manual milk runs, they are deploying unmanned vehicles to transport goods between these locations to drastically reduce operational costs.

Now that we have established the importance of first and and middle-mile delivery, let us take a close look at all aspects of last mile operations. Get to the part that you are most curious about. 

What is last mile delivery?

Last mile delivery refers to the last leg of supply chain operations. A product’s journey from a warehouse to the doorstep of the end-customer. This last step of the delivery process is most critical and should be well managed for speedy shipping. 

Increasing consumer demand has led to businesses strategizing this critical step for a quick and efficient shipment. Be it personal residence or retail store, the final destination of the supply chain should be covered at lightning fast speed, in order to churn out more and more delighted customers. Final mile also happens to be the most expensive leg of the journey from the transportation hub to its ultimate destination, thereby need of resource optimization should be the key focus area.

What is the last mile delivery process and steps involved in it?

Once a customer places an order online her web browser or mobile application directly communicates with the retailer or eCommerce provider's server. The order is sent to a centralized order management system confirms stock availability and provides the customer with an option to pay online. It then sends a request to the warehouse hosting the stock to dispatch the products to the end customer. It is here when the last mile mainly commences. The shipper sends an agent to pick up the customer's item from the warehouse. 

The agent then loads the parcel in his vehicle and delivers it to a predetermined hub. Then from the hub an agent picks up the parcel and delivers it to the customer's doorstep. All these might appear to be simple but in reality it is not. There are multiple moving parts in the last mile ecosystem and the quality of execution depends a lot on internal and external factors. To ensure a seamless execution of all these disparate processes, businesses are embracing modern  logistics solutions.

In simpler terms here are 6 key steps involved here

  • The sender’s requested orders are digitally recorded into the carrier’s system
  • The said order arrives at the transportation hub
  • The order is assigned to the delivery personnel with the relevant information (like a recommended route and recipient’s locations)
  • Orders are scanned for the purposes of record-keeping and then loaded on the trucks
  • The item is then delivered to the intended recipient
  • The personnel then records and updates the delivery status

What are the problems in last mile delivery?

There are a plethora of challenges that weigh down overall supply chain and last mile operations, thereby making it most expensive. The rapidly growing need to drive same-day delivery, legacy IT architecture, poor logistics visibility and, COVID-19 regulations and more pose serious problems when executing it. Optimizing last mile delivery will obviously cut down shipment’s total cost, but that will only happen when we thoroughly understand the problem areas and address them accordingly. Let’s quickly glance through these challenges.

1. Executing Same Day Delivery

According to research, more than 80% of customers today are willing to pay more for faster delivery, and keeping up with this expectation itself is the biggest challenge with last mile deliveries. Inefficient routing practices, manual dependencies with regards to allocating tasks and poor management of third-party logistics providers make it extremely difficult to shrink delivery turn-around-time and pose a threat to the entire shipping process. Another challenge here is ensuring optimum utilization of vehicle capacity. Since same-day delivery mostly includes small packages, the chances of fully utilizing vehicle capacity become a problem, causing a dent in logistics company’s significant savings. Businesses do not have the luxury of time to wait for sufficient orders to be placed so as to ensure 100% capacity utilization. This poses financial challenges too.

2. Traditional Routing Models

Without having highly efficient routing tools and strategies it is difficult if not impossible to ensure timely and cost-effective execution of last mile deliveries. Traditional routing models are highly dependent on manual processes making it challenging to consider all the factors that influence chalking out highly productive routes. For instance, with manual routing processes in place, it's a mammoth problem to change a route based on real-time factors like weather, traffic congestions, sudden road closures, accidental diversions and more, thereby delaying the delivery process.

3. Poor Logistics Visibility

Legacy supply chain architecture and traditional delivery processes with poor system interoperability are major reasons behind poor visibility of logistics operations that converts it into a time-consuming process. Take this case in point. If an order management system is not in sync with a 3PL provider's system, it will be very difficult for a logistics manager to track and trace the exact location of a vehicle at any given point in time. This triggers a plethora of inefficiencies. Poor visibility results in delays, inaccurate ETAs, route diversions, vehicle idling, extra fuel consumption and makes deliveries opaque to customers, which further adds up to the last mile problem.

4. Curbing the Impact of COVID-19 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupted existing logistics models and had an impact on the last mile shipping. Social distancing regulations have changed the way parcels are picked up, delivered and received. Contactless delivery has become an elementary expectation and why not, it ensures greater adherence to social distancing compliance. Well, contactless deliveries might come across as a simple process where an executive just keeps an item outside a customer’s doorstep, but actually, it's not. Businesses need to ensure customers know about delivery completion without having to open the door. Eliminating cash and card payments is also necessary to ensure zero-contact. Also, brands need to inform customers about the latest body temperature of a person and store staff along with a timestamp to ensure high levels of safety standards. 

5. Scaling Delivery Operations

With the increasing volumes of online buying and a surge in the number of shipments, the pressure to shrink delivery time, businesses are revisiting how they execute last mile operations. Many businesses are struggling to find executives during peak business days when their own resources are exhausted. This makes committing to same-day deliveries difficult and make customers happy.

6. Rigid Logistics Processes

In a world driven by instant gratification and constantly changing market dynamics, there is little place for rigid delivery processes, which is considered to be one of the major supply chain inefficiencies. Traditional processes that are dependent on manual intervention fail to deliver in customer expectations and skyrocket in customer dissatisfaction quotient. For instance, modern customers would prefer brands that allow them to change delivery location and time on the fly based on their convenience.

7. Increasing Carbon Emissions

Unfortunately, transportation accounts for more than 20% of the world’s carbon emissions. As environmentalism goes mainstream, more consumers are willing to pay extra for products that are organic in nature and packaged using recyclable materials. It will not be surprising to witness customers demanding carbon-neutral deliveries. According to research, 48% of consumers are in favour of their delivery to be carbon-neutral. Therefore businesses need to implement strategies and bring in best practices to reduce fuel consumption and miles travelled in the last stage.

6 Ways How Technology Can Solve the Biggest Last Mile Challenges 

Last mile delivery solutions empower retailers, eCommerce providers, 3PLs, and manufacturers among many others, to orchestrate, optimize and enhance end-to-end logistics operations to achieve on-time delivery. 

Logistics companies that has excelled in perfect last mile utilizes their complete toolkit for its efficiency. Be it real-time driver tracking or communication or dispatch planning or effective fleet management tool, technology integrated with analytics can optimize your delivery process. Let’s now quickly glance through some of the key features of a last mile solution. 

1. Dynamic Routing to Reduce Delivery Time

For any driver, which route to follow for a specific location in a stipulated time is a huge challenge. The best last mile solution ensures fast deliveries, better margins and delightful experiences savvy businesses are leveraging modern dynamic routing tools. Dynamic routing enables logistics managers to track their executives and fleet in real-time. It would recommend efficient routes that delivers packages faster. It immediately triggers alerts via SMS in real-time in case there are unnecessary diversions, prolonged stoppages and vehicle idling. It optimizes routes in real-time based on traffic congestion, weather conditions, one-way windows, urgency and more while keeping the drivers informed with real-time information. Dynamic routing also plans and optimizes routes. Based on route productivity, vehicle capacity and fuel consumption it automatically generates the most efficient route to reach a customer’s location. It can also forecast delivery time by optimizing route times.

2. Auto Dispatching reduces service time and saves on labour cost

The routing software is a boon to the logistics managers. It not only does efficient resource allocation, but keeps the final mile costs well in control. The software plan your routes, allocates number of tasks per driver, and even pinpoint driver location. It is instrumental in reducing inefficiencies, as it saves time and decreases the number of drivers. The dispatch automation feature eases the entire process, helping to reduce the mounting costs that drive up last mile delivery costs.

3. End-to-end Control of Delivery Operations

Visibility of ground-level delivery operations makes or breaks the last mile. Leveraging modern logistics technology can help businesses to gain 100% visibility of logistics operations right from the time a customer places an order. Logistics managers can track ground-level activities in real-time and quickly address inconsistencies as and when needed.

4. Proof of Delivery (PoD) for greater transparency and efficiency

Proof of delivery adds greater transparency to the entire system of last mile services. PoD is a brief documentation with signature from the recipient, date and time stamp, photo of the package and other details to confirm that the item has been delivered. Through this simple step the entire delivery process can be consumer friendly. The PoD is generally integrated with a mobile app that features functions like photo collection, signatures, barcode, and notes, which drivers can feed in while delivering the parcel.

Modern logistics solutions are powered by electronic proof of delivery that allows businesses to empower customers to sign receipts using mobile applications. This is critical now as leveraging ePoD, both customers and field executives can adhere to social distancing norms by eliminating physical contact. It also helps efficiently archive data, analyze customer feedback, makes audit processes easier and reduce manual errors.

5. Accurately Benchmark KPIs

Leveraging a modern logistics platform helps businesses accurately benchmark KPIs and improve SLA adherence. It provides logistics stakeholders with a single pane of glass to view critical delivery benchmarks like performance of executives, delayed deliveries, customer ratings, ETA adherence, pending deliveries, 3PL performance and more. 

Through reporting it becomes easier to identify the gridlock in the system which could be timely addressed in order to avoid further escalation. Monitor key metrics such as success rates, on-time rates, service times, feedback scores, distance travelled et al through comprehensive reports and find out opportunities for improvement. Through this last mile supply chain can be made efficient and effective.

6. Flexible Deliveries

Rigid logistics processes are major roadblocks when it comes to ensuring wonderful customer experiences. Last mile software provides customers with a self-service delivery model. It empowers them to change location and time on the go based on their convenience. Such a solution can accommodate such changes quickly by updating workflows based on customer needs.

7. Crowdsourcing Deliveries

With the growing demand for home deliveries, it’s becoming difficult for businesses to cost effectively scale delivery operations with their existing resources. An advanced logistics solution that is powered by crowdsourcing tools, empowers businesses across industries to effectively scale delivery operations. It can quickly onboard temporary or part-time executives by scanning the gig-economy. It onboards such executives based on costs, productivity, urgency, proximity and more.

8. Focus on Customer Experience

With cut-throat competition and every logistics company trying the grab a share of the pie, focusing on customer experience is the key to success. Keep the system as transparent as possible to your customers. Let all channels of customer communications be availed. One should look beyond those static tracking number. Empower them to be into real-time feedback loop and make them talk to the driver, if need be. Strengthen your delivery service through SMS notifications. Take their feedback through occasional consumer surveys on your platform, so that they get more reasons to be satisfied. Do not only track their order but hear them out, understand their pain points. A delighted customer can only lift you to greater heights.  

Why is last mile delivery important?

There are multiple reasons why it is important. Today, logistics is actually the only touchpoint between a customer and a brand, hence making the last mile extremely critical. It impacts customer experience, profitability.

What is last mile tracking?

Tracking all the moving parts in the last mile ecosystem is critical. Modern logistics platforms ensure that logistics stakeholders have greater control of ground-level activities . Some key benefits of shipping tracking are eliminating unnecessary delays, mitigating transportation risks, KPI accuracy, better productivity, and cost optimization. By ensuring robust end-to-end package tracking and post tracking, businesses can drastically reduce turn-around-time.

Top Benefits of Last Mile Delivery Solution

Here are seven immediate benefits:

  • Planning ahead 
  • Optimized routing and mapping of the fleets
  • Flexibility with delivery options
  • Automation of the dispatch process
  • Consistent communication with the consumers
  • Verified, electronic proof of deliveries
  • Live tracking and Updates

The last-mile has evolved over quickly in the last few years, especially in 2020; but then again, evolution is a continuous process. Here are some trends that organizations have chalked to make the best of their logistics operations and to achieve the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction. Optimizing on key resources coupled with technology can perfect the this process thereby fulfilling consumer demands and delighting them. These trends (along with others that evolve) will play an important role when it comes to planning and improving last mile logistics.

1. Quick Order Fulfillment

We live in a world of instant gratification. If you want to speak to your friend even countries apart, it can be achieved at the tips of your finger. Hence, consumer behaviour, as a whole, has become rather impatient and everybody wants to have their orders delivered as soon as possible; in some cases on-demand or same-day. With increasing number of customers opting for same-day delivery, quick order fulfilment is the game changer.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, even the last-mile carriers need to fulfil this expectation. This entire turn-around process of fulfilment becomes very easy and rapid with the implementation of technology. 

2. Enabling Order Traceability

Tracking and traceability have become essential elements that assure a package is properly counted for. This is rather important because it avoids potential confusion around a lost package. Live-tracking through GPS further adds to the feasibility of monitoring the real-time location of a package and a fleet driver; all of it contributing to increased awareness on the carrier as well as the user end. Other similar additional features such as POD and tracking information helps reduce the potential disputes that can otherwise take place between a consumer and a shipper. 

Traceability has also brought in transparency and enhanced customer experience. GPS functionality has further enabled us to track packages and keep a tab on how far the driver is from reaching their home.

3. Self-Sustaining Last Mile Logistics Ecosystem

A lot of medium and big players in the e-commerce industry have now shifted to an in-house delivery system. The biggest, obvious example here is Amazon. With in-house systems and resources, the retailer doesn’t have to depend on a third-party carrier to be able to effectively ship the product packages; they do it on their own. The company essentially builds its own fleet and hires drivers on their own payroll. This primarily reduces dependencies and cuts down a lot of costs. Their in-house resources are also reliant on the use of technology which might come across as a big first-time cost, but it is worth the money saved due to it in the long run. 

4. Micro Warehousing: Renting of Additional Warehouse Spaces

Renting additional spaces and converting them into your company’s warehouse can further help in ensuring seamless order fulfillment. This is simply because, with more volume of orders, one obviously will need more space to be able to fulfill the increased orders. With more establishments dedicated to fulfilling orders, one can also segregate them on the basis of the kind of delivery they’d be used for. For example, one-day and no-rush delivery warehouses.

5. Deliveries Through Autonomous Vehicles and Drones

Last mile delivery and logistics solutions can be of immense aid with regards to enabling future-ready and disruptive technology. Savvy businesses have already started experimenting with autonomous vehicles by delivering food within a college campus. Then pizza makers are leveraging drone technology to deliver food to customers via their balcony and windows. It will not take too long for robot tests to be launched soon either. 

As we have already established, human intervention is one of the biggest facets that cause delays in deliveries and makes the process complicated. You cannot control issues like unavailability of agent or their inability to work a particular shift, autonomous cars can mitigate the intensity of these problems. Besides, human involvement also means a lot of labor costs in the form of salaries. With the advent of robots and drones, that aspect will be easier to handle too. 

8 Key Features of Last Mile Delivery Software

Thanks to rapid advancement in logistics technologies the complexities involved in executing the last leg delivery can be easily addressed. Modern last mile delivery software is powered by disruptive technologies like machine learning, the Internet of Things, business analytics, natural language processing, automation and more that makes last lime delivery management simple, productive and seamless. Let's take a quick look at some of the key features of advanced logistics software.

1. Loop Optimization

A modern last mile delivery platform analyzes historical data to automatically identify and generate the most efficient route within a particular geofence parameter of a cluster. This is loop optimization. It's one of the most effective ways businesses can leverage the power of self-learning algorithms to enhance routing, boost driver productivity, optimize the number of deliveries per journey and ensures larger volumes of on-time deliveries.

2. Real-Time Delivery Visibility

Poor visibility remains a major challenge when it comes to executing delivery operations. A logistics software allows businesses to gain complete visibility of on-ground delivery operations. Real-time tracking and tracing help businesses know where exactly a vehicle/driver is, how long the person has spent on a task, what's the estimated time of arrival, will the driver reach the destination on time, is the vehicle idling and so on.

3. Electronic Proof of Delivery

Electronic proof of delivery or ePoD is one of the key feature that eliminates the physical paperwork involved in raising customer invoices. An end-customer can digitally sign a delivery receipt using her smart device. It's also a great way to store delivery details in a centralized repository for later access and analysis. ePoD empowers businesses to accurately capture the details of on-time in-full deliveries and gain insights into first-hand customer feedback.

4. Automatic Scheduling and Task Allocation

Based on driver availability, past performance, proximity from store/customer among other factors, the software automatically allocates delivery tasks to executives. It automates scheduling by keeping a set of tasks ready for drivers the previous day. Executives can use a simple app to gain insights on the jobs he is supposed to complete in a given day.

5. Crowdsourcing Capabilities

Scaling deliveries is key to increasing bottom lines. A Final mile platform quickly scans across hundreds of gig-economy markets a quickly on-boards temporary/part-time executives to scale delivery operations on any given day. These executives are not randomly selected. Based on costs, availability duration, proximity, productivity etc. the software selects drivers.

6. Chatbots

Advanced software improves customer engagement and experience by driving NLP (natural language processing) powered chatbot based customer support. This significantly reduces investment in human resources and customer query calls. NLP helps businesses understand customer concerns with less need for human intervention. NLP get smarter with time as the variety of questions increase.

7. Flexible Delivery Workflows

Such software empowers businesses to make deliveries flexible for customers. The later can change delivery location and time on the fly based on their convenience. The software quickly accommodates the changes and updates stakeholders regarding the same to eliminate confusions.

8. Customer Tracking

It boosts transparency by empowering customers to track their orders throughout the last mile delivery process. At any given point in time, end-customers can know where their orders are, who is going to deliver, what's are the ETA s and so on.

What companies provide reliable last-mile delivery solutions?

FarEye is a last-mile delivery solutions company. It’s a SaaS platform trusted by over 150 enterprises all around the world inlcuding United Kingdom(UK), Europe, United States.etc. FarEye’s last mile delivery platform helps brands across industries gain efficiency when executing logistics operations while keeping costs under check and offering professional, technical help with a range of operations from delivery scheduling to allocation to routing to real-time tracking and tracing. FarEye's last-mile delivery software helps enterprises deliver the perfect last-mile experience to customers at optimal efficiency.

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