Combating driver shortages and improving sustainability

Driver shortages

Delivery convenience is a key motivator for 70% of consumers, and research shows that 48% of customers are unlikely to purchase again from companies that deliver their packages late. Clearly there is an increasing need for efficient and accurate last mile logistics, however ongoing driver shortages coupled with the current ‘pingdemic’ are presenting significant challenges for the retail sector with reported staff absenteeism of 30% in some areas due to NHS isolation pings. Meanwhile, more than half a million people were ‘pinged’ by the app in a single week in July, and industries are buckling under the pressure.

The well-known issue of delivery driver shortages has plagued the UK for years, with Brexit contributing further to this problem. However, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, resulting in the loss of around 12 months of driver training and testing, all while online retail sales have increased massively. In 2019, the Logistics Skills Report found that drivers were already decreasing at a rate of 16,000 year-on-year pre-Covid-19, and those numbers are still nowhere near being replaced fast enough. Meanwhile, consumer demand has not ceased in light of restriction relaxations (ONS June ’21 +8% greater than June 2019), and the latest World Economic Forum report stated that the increase in last mile deliveries will persist well after the pandemic is over. So, how can logistics keep up?

Speed and sustainability

A positive customer experience is an important part of achieving overall brand success, and for ecommerce consumers, receiving a good delivery service is paramount to their satisfaction. Expectations are increasing and evolving for the consumer to receive their packages at a time and place convenient to them, and sustainability is high on the agenda of younger consumers. Logistics operations must meet these needs if they wish to stay competitive and grow. 

While this might seem to be a test too far for some, it is possible to kill two birds with one stone here. To combat driver shortages, it’s necessary for logistics to be as efficient and streamlined as possible to ensure active drivers aren’t burnt out, and this also helps to drive sustainability if delivery routes operate at optimum efficiency. So how can this be achieved in practice?

Advanced route optimisation and delivery scheduling software will enable road transport operators to deliver more goods in fewer miles. Drivers will save time from the most efficient routes possible and can  be rerouted to avoid unplanned traffic issues. This software can also be applied to all types of delivery vehicle, including bikes and e-Scooters, with the inclusion of distance variables and availability of battery charging stations – supporting the change to lower carbon emissions.

Transport operators are able to ensure that the process is smooth and transparent for the end customer. It’s possible to notify customers of the status of their delivery and any delays, in order to improve first time delivery rates and eliminate unnecessary return trips. After all, 65% of consumers want greater delivery flexibility, and more than half want real-time order status visibility and tracking.

Through continuous background optimisation of deliveries, customers can be offered a range of appointment options at the point of sale that can be achieved given the resources available and given incentives to select delivery slots that are closer to existing planned deliveries to maximise delivery density. There can be options for customers to select an ‘eco-friendly’ delivery option that uses less CO2 by grouping orders together as a benefit to both customers and fleets, and is likely to increase customer satisfaction overall. 

Tracking for success 

Descartes’ advanced routing capabilities will reduce fuel consumption by 5%-25% and saved around 552,000 tons of CO2 emissions, essential in the fight against climate change. Adopting these capabilities will ensure vehicles fulfil their potential in terms of the number of deliveries in the range and drivers’ hours available, and that organisations will add yet more sustainability into their operations. 

Traffic information should be analysed so that delivery schedules can be adapted accordingly. Taking into account the various traffic speeds at different times of the day as well as profiles for each type of vehicle, for example bicycles, add to the potential to greatly increase the delivery capacity of a fleet and ensure customer satisfaction, unlocking multiple benefits.

To promote sustainability further, telematics data can be used to produce fuel efficiency reports and help improve drivers’ habits by reducing engine idling, revving, speeding and through a comparison of vehicle and drivers’ fuel consumption. This data helps to identify improvement areas when training drivers to drive more efficiently and can also reduce vehicle maintenance and servicing, in turn contributing to lower costs and maximising profits.

Limiting emissions associated with any delivery, through the introduction of operational efficiencies and reduced fuel consumption, further ensures that companies are doing the best they can to work towards that net-zero goal that is so desired by consumers and mandated by Government.

Supporting drivers

The driver shortages are a serious problem in the UK so logistics providers should be focused on driver retention and reducing staff turnover. Driving commercially can be stressful and poor route plans could leave drivers struggling to meet delivery assignments. It’s imperative that optimised routes that evaluate a vast range of factors, including drivers’ hours compliance, are used to increase driver confidence that they can execute the day’s work and not find themselves making corrections mid-route, breaking speed limits or drivers’ hours obligations to make timed deliveries just because the original plan was not feasible. This will help fleet operators retain their driver pool and hire additional drivers, not replacements.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can identify patterns more easily than humans, for example an experienced driver may be 10% more productive than someone who has just started.Tthis can be identified and route plans adjusted in a personalised way, thus helping drivers to complete their work in a suitable time for them, while effectively increasing their productivity with less stress.

Optimisation all round

Using the latest optimisation technology and automating route planning processes will increase driver productivity, and for large organisations this could be the equivalent of hiring dozens of additional drivers. Existing Descartes customers have increased their delivery capacity by 35% by and reduced costs using advanced route optimisation software.

These environmentally friendly solutions can support companies wishing to integrate more sustainable practices into their business operations, while also benefiting them in the long term in line with government goals and regulations, and consumer views.

Organisations need to embrace this opportunity to adopt tools which help streamline deliveries to be more efficient and protect their drivers while safeguarding their business and consumer base, after all, 35% of consumers stated they would rather buy elsewhere than wait a long delivery time.

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