retail last mile delivery
September 6, 2023

These Best Practices are Aiding Retailers in Mastering Last Mile Delivery

Jim Waters

A shipment’s final stretch, the “last mile,” is where anticipation meets reality. It’s a crucial moment that encapsulates the effort poured into your product, marketing, and sales. It’s the bridge between a one-time purchase and a lifelong customer. 

And yet, the last mile is a difficult journey.

A dated, business-as-usual approach can lead to rising costs, inefficiency, and dissatisfied customers who never return. But a modern, strategic approach can unlock growth, savings, and waves of delighted customers.

The stakes are high, but the path to success is clear. Dive into this guide to explore 12 last mile delivery best practices that lead to efficiency, satisfaction, and unparalleled success.

The Critical Role of Last Mile in Retail

Many retailers don’t have fleets of 100,000-plus vehicles for last mile delivery like Amazon. Instead, they rely on a blend of owned vehicles and third-party partners. The overall performance of these resources can seriously impact the bottom line.

Efficient last mile delivery in retail creates outstanding customer experiences that deepen brand loyalty.

Inefficient last mile delivery in retail has the opposite effect, creating poor experiences that inspire customers to shop elsewhere.

According to a Deloitte survey, 7 in 10 executives expect supply chain disruptions to throttle retailers' growth in 2023. Retailers that establish efficient last mile delivery will be poised to overcome disruptions and continue on growth trajectories — despite headwinds.

Challenges and Limitations Without a Strategic Last Mile Delivery Partner

In recent years, many retailers have recognized the need for strategic last mile delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic drove higher consumer expectations and an emphasis on omnichannel commerce programs — expectations impossible to match and programs impossible to launch without effective last mile delivery.

Without a strategic last mile in retail, everything is harder. Specific challenges include:

  • Delivery delays
  • Increasing costs
  • Significant environmental impacts
  • Difficulty complying with industry regulations
  • Inefficient operations
  • Deteriorating brand reputation
  • Vulnerable security
  • Higher customer churn rates
  • Problematic returns and reverse logistics

A leading national tile store suffered from bad communication and a lack of attention to detail. These challenges damaged the brand’s reputation. The store responded by partnering to implement a strategic approach to last mile delivery.

A chain of auto service and supply shops wasted countless hours picking up parts for jobs. A limited last mile delivery program dragged down operational efficiency, leading to slower turnaround times and poor customer experiences. The chain recognized that strategic last mile delivery could boost efficiency.

A fast-casual restaurant chain dealt with a labor shortage that hurt its ability to transport products when shortages emerged. These delivery delays made the in-restaurant experience less satisfying, which inspired the chain to implement a more strategic approach to the last mile.

Best Practices for Retail Last Mile Delivery

Whether optimizing an existing program or building a new one, follow these 12 retail last mile delivery best practices to exceed customer expectations while lowering costs and boosting efficiency. 

1. Fast and Timely Deliveries

Amazon has conditioned consumers to expect fast delivery. When retailers pivot to a strategic last mile approach, most start with a focus on accelerating delivery times and maintaining tight schedules.

Fast, timely delivery is where many large retailers win. In late 2022, Walgreens announced plans for around-the-clock same-day delivery. Target announced plans to expand its same-day delivery services earlier this year. And Carvana is now offering same-day delivery in Arizona.

You don’t have to be a well-known retailer with locations worldwide to make fast, timely deliveries. An effective last mile delivery partner can help you conquer the same-day delivery challenge and provide an Amazon-like experience.

2. Real-Time Tracking

Customers expect real-time updates on their orders’ locations. If your retail business isn’t offering real-time tracking, you risk losing customers to retailers that do.

There’s comfort in real-time tracking. Even if a shipment is behind, you can limit customer inquiries and complaints by updating them on where shipments are located and when they will arrive. In many cases, accurate delivery windows are more important than delivery speed.

3. Flexibility in Delivery Options

One size rarely fits all for retail customers. Today’s consumer wants options, which is why forward-thinking retailers are providing multiple delivery options, including:

  • Same-day delivery
  • Next-day delivery
  • Scheduled delivery
  • Buy online and pick up in store
  • Buy online and pick up curbside

A post-pandemic survey indicated that 66% of consumers preferred home delivery, 18% wanted in-store pickup, and 16% opted for curbside. By offering multiple delivery options, you give almost all customers an option that represents convenience.

4. Clear Communication and Transparency

Not all customers visit shipment status pages. For many, questions about shipment status lead to phone calls, emails, or support team chats. By proactively and clearly communicating shipment status, you enhance the customer experience while limiting inbound inquiries.

Transparency is a common theme in last mile delivery best practices. More than customers want fast, timely delivery, and more than they want options, they want certainty. When your business is transparent about when a shipment will arrive, the customer experience improves.

5. Sustainability

Last mile delivery can be an emissions-intensive activity. During the first and middle miles, your business ships en masse from manufacturing hubs to warehouses to distribution centers. But, in the last mile, each shipment includes a unique address, which can mean vehicles inefficiently zig-zagging across delivery areas (known as “the last mile problem”).

A strategic approach to last mile delivery is more efficient. Modern last mile delivery means optimized and batched routing that reduces miles driven. Not only does this save money, it’s also good for the environment. 

6. Secure and Safe Deliveries

Ensure your shipments arrive at their final destinations in prime condition. Part of the solution is packaging your products effectively to insulate them from damage. But another part of secure, safe deliveries is hiring the right people to execute last mile delivery programs.

Whether your business operates its own last mile program or partners with third parties, the people loading and unloading shipments from vehicles should do so with the utmost care. 

7. Leveraging Technology

Last mile delivery is traditionally a low-tech business steeped in analog tools and processes. The companies and service providers that excel in last mile delivery have embraced technology and use it to boost efficiency, lower costs, and delight customers.

Some last mile delivery services are now using artificial intelligence to optimize routes. This saves money and creates better customer experiences by accelerating delivery times. Others offer digital platforms for delivery management, allowing recipients to schedule deliveries or choose delivery windows. And some are leveraging technology to access advanced analytics that empower constant program improvement.

8. Gathering and Utilizing Feedback

Your customers are your best insight into last mile delivery performance. Configure systems that allow customers to provide feedback that fuels real-time updates and improvements to last mile delivery services.

9. Cost-Effective Solutions

There’s a delicate balance between quickly delivering shipments and minimizing costs. Use proven last mile delivery tactics to help strike that balance. For example, optimized delivery routes, group deliveries, and capacity-planning tools can help accelerate delivery speed without cost overruns.

10. Training and Management of Delivery Personnel

For last mile programs to be successful, you need dedicated team members making deliveries. These team members are the face of your retail business to end customers and have an enormous impact on the customer experience. 

Invest in the training and management of your front-line employees, and you’ll get a strong ROI from repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

11. Industry-Specific Strategies

This list is meant to include universal last mile delivery best practices, but you should also follow industry-specific guidelines. For example, best practices for last mile delivery by a farm shipping eggs will differ from last mile delivery best practices for an industrial supplier

Even retail is a broad category that may have several sub-categories. For example, selling surfboards direct to consumers may require less-than-truckload shipping. In contrast, a brick-and-mortar fashion retailer may offer same-day courier or next-day parcel delivery services. The two situations and related last mile delivery best practices are completely different.

12. Reliable Partnerships

Most retailers don’t need to build and manage their own last mile delivery programs. Instead, they find last mile delivery partners to provide outstanding service while creating positive customer experiences.

As you partner with technology platforms, logistics companies, and other service providers, emphasize specific characteristics like:

  • A delivery presence in markets that are important to your business.
  • Delivery options, including same-day, next-day, scheduled deliveries, plus more.
  • The ability to deliver shipments large and small.
  • A track record of serving other well-known retailers in your space.
  • A technology-driven approach that includes real-time tracking and other customer-focused features.

Identifying the right last mile delivery partner helps delight your customers while empowering growth.

The Rewards of Mastering Last Mile Delivery

The rewards of mastering last mile delivery are plentiful. When your business successfully plans and launches a modern last mile delivery program, the benefits include:

  • An improved customer experience: Last mile delivery disproportionately influences the customer experience. Great last mile delivery means delighted customers — and repeat business.
  • Reduced costs: Strategic last mile delivery helps reduce costs by facilitating batched deliveries and optimized routes.
  • Increased sales: Improved customer experiences lead to repeat purchases and word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Improved efficiency: Spend less time transporting shipments to their final destinations when you perfect last mile delivery. Improved efficiency frees your team to focus on growth and other high-value tasks.
  • A competitive advantage: When you leverage last mile delivery to enhance the customer experience, you gain an advantage over your competitors.

The last point is particularly important. According to FRAYT’s 2023 Last Mile Delivery Survey, 79% of businesses say last mile delivery is “very or extremely important” in developing a competitive advantage.

Get Started With Strategic Last Mile Delivery

Modern consumers hold high expectations for the delivery experience. If you go with a dated, business-as-usual approach to last mile delivery, you throttle your company’s growth and miss a huge opportunity.

Strategic last mile delivery can unlock a series of benefits for your operations and your bottom line. Start by considering the last mile delivery best practices above. And take the next step by evaluating and identifying the right partner to help build and implement a last mile delivery program that creates efficiencies, lowers costs, and exceeds the heightened expectations of your buyers.

At FRAYT, we specialize in helping businesses evaluate and optimize their last mile delivery strategies. Getting started is easy. Create a free account to check quotes and start placing delivery orders, or schedule time for a brief platform demo.

Thank you! You are now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Request Demo

Subscribe to Updates

Get ideas on how to delight your customers with delivery on their timeline.
Thank you! You are now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.