Fixing the last mile

Why the last mile is probably the most important moment for your brand and what you can do to improve it.

This is an excerpt from the upgrading supply chain for omnichannel retail white paper. Click here to download it now!

The final leg of that delivery process, the last mile, may well be the part of the supply chain that most influences the customer’s opinion of their shopping experience. If the retailer does not get that right, all the innovation and investment farther up the supply chain will have been in vain.

As Ryder’s Todd Skiles put it, “With about an 8 second attention span across digital media, you can see how the last mile delivery experience – especially one that involves in-home delivery or installation – becomes a lasting brand impression. In essence, the individuals delivering your product into your customer’s home are an extension of your brand. Consumers don’t know or care about logistics – in their mind, that last mile partner or carrier is your brand. And if that experience is frustrating or painful for your customer in any way, your brand can suffer.”

One key to getting that right is making the customer central to the experience and giving her control. “Before your product even arrives, your customer needs to feel transparency and a sense of control over their purchase,” Skiles said. “Real-time order tracking, self-service delivery scheduling, continuous communication, and no-hassle returns all provide a sense of trust. And when customers trust you, they’re much more likely to be repeat buyers and promoters of your brand. The key is a seamless and consistent last mile delivery execution each and every time.”

Chris Richter, Vice President, Revenue, at Convey, agreed. Speaking during a panel on the last mile experience, he said, “Customers want communication, they want to be informed, they want to understand transparently and know every step of the journey, where the shipment is, what’s happening with it. And the retailer needs to understand and manage to the promised date, not the carrier EDD.” In addition, the retailer must respond quickly to any problems that arise. “Complexity is the norm now, and that’s only going to expand with capacity challenges,” he said. “So how do you find and segment those that are distressed and those others that are distressed that are the most important. The customer needs to feel like you’re committed to keeping their deliveries on track.”

This usually means having as much data as possible and, more importantly, a reliable partner with whom you have more than a mere transactional relationship. “You can’t measure what you can’t see,” Richter said. “So you need the data points. And then you need the toolsets and the platforms to fix what’s broken somewhere along the journey, and soliciting the voice of the customer feedback. And then how do you start partnering with your carriers to make it systemic – getting to the terminal level and understanding where these issues are and working at it systemically.” “We want our customers to have a seamless experience, not just ordering it, not just receiving it, but also beginning to use it,” said Jared Mellin, of Peloton Cycles, which produces cutting-edge connected exercise bicycles.

In this case, where white-glove delivery is part of the retailer’s business model, having a trustworthy and flexible 3PL becomes essential to creating a truly customer-centric experience. “When we go to a customer’s home, we like to do things like connect you to Wifi, and if you forgot your Wifi password we’re going to help you find out what it is, all those things that help you get that bike up and running,” Mellin explained. “We’re also going to spend time walking you through the screens and help you understand how to use the product. When we leave the customer’s home, we want you to be ready to use the product and excited about using it.” The challenge in providing this kind of service is to balance the customer’s demand with cost. “You have this natural tension between us wanting to provide as rich an experience as possible and an industry built on a bare-bones operation,” he explained.

“The way we’ve been solving that is two-fold. In markets where there’s enough volume we’ve been investing in building our own asset piece network, so we have our own warehouse, our own vans, our own trained employees. We do have to use a third-party network for a meaningful part of our deliveries, so we take the knowledge and best practice from that employee-based model and impart that to our third-party network and try to elevate the experience to as close to equivalent as possible.”

Clearly, this means finding the right 3PL partner, one willing and able to adapt to different requirements and eager to understand and support the customer’s business model.

This is an excerpt from the upgrading supply chain for omnichannel retail white paper. Click here to download it now!

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