Modern Retail

How to maximise fulfilment operational efficiency

As the financial and economic repercussions from this period continue to unfold it shouldn’t mean retailers lose sight of the opportunities that can be leveraged today to help businesses continue growing and developing. Creating a differential customer experience is crucial in today’s ecommerce environment to stand out and succeed, and online merchants and logistics providers must be flexible enough to react in real-time to industry trends and challenges. By maximising fulfilment operational efficiency, retailers can ensure a positive customer experience and sustainable growth.

Changing times

The exponential rise in deliveries during lockdown has meant consumer preference and priorities have dramatically shifted and companies like Amazon have set the standard for the ecommerce experience. From hourly delivery slots to same-day delivery for free or low cost, increasing numbers of consumers now don’t want or need to visit the high street for their shopping needs. There is a new wave of converts whose shopping habits have been changed permanently following their experiences with the ease of delivery, particularly with food, meaning the return to physical shops will not be as it once was.

With this significant rise it’s clear the emphasis has changed to convenience, and fulfilment delivery is now a key differentiator for ecommerce businesses – especially for those that rely on third party logistics providers. Loyalty is vital for all businesses and the impact of a poor delivery experience can significantly alter consumer perception of the brand, potentially causing them to shop elsewhere in the future. The use of strategies to optimise delivery efficiency has never been more important to secure consumers in these times.

Digitisation

Technology has played an important role in enabling safe social distancing, and companies who had previously avoided digitisation have now been forced to reconsider to ensure employee and customer safety. The exchange of physical documents such as proof of delivery, CMR, invoices and more are not required, with digital copies a much safer, easier and more reliable alternative. For those businesses that operated their route planning via paper, this was instantly turned upside down and with the rise in deliveries causing many drivers to stretch to larger geographic areas some were left using their own personal GPS systems on their phones. These businesses will now be undoubtedly less reluctant to use dedicated technological tools, such as smart route planning software, so this health crisis may therefore have helped to move along the digitalisation of processes that are still too often paper-based. Not only can these systems support a socially distanced world, but they drive efficiency and can drastically improve the customer experience.

Leveraging smarter routing

There are two distinct phases to managing delivery route planning. The first step is creating as efficient a route plan as possible, that utilises your vehicles and satisfies your customers’ demands. The second step is to ensure it will work in the real world, allowing for traffic and time, as well as the volume of the vehicles. By utilising dedicated, innovative and smart software that operates in real-time and does this automatically, businesses can transform their logistics offering overnight. Particularly important since customers are asking for ever-more personalised offerings, tighter time-slots and high quality service.

By having a single supplier for routing and scheduling and compliance management, fleet and driver utilisation and optimisation can be kept in balance with strict drivers’ hours regulations. No longer will a driver be faced with the impossible choice of missing a delivery to maintain drivers’ hours compliance or making a delivery and exceeding drivers’ hours. It also means that drivers’ hours are not managed so conservatively that fleet optimisation is compromised. Delivery capacity can be increased by as much as 35% through the use of routing and scheduling software, so there are big gains to be made that will make an important difference in these economic times.

Driving collaboration

The relationship between a retailer and road transport operators can make a significant difference; especially when these organisations are effectively the last touchpoint between a retailer; its product; and the consumer. Order fulfilment is the key part of the chain that must be flawless to keep the customer satisfied. The retailer’s objective is, if this type of critical situation was to reoccur, they need to be able to control the level of service delivered, in a way that reduces the risk of losing historical customers while attracting new ones.

By utilising technology in this way throughout the order fulfilment process retailers can ensure the intralogistics processes and necessary visibility are in place to continually and profitably meet customer expectations – from the transparency of checkout to speed and efficiency of delivery and an effective returns process that doesn’t adversely impact the bottom line.

By providing the customer with complete visibility of the order fulfilment process from picking, shipping times, GPS of their delivery van, alerts for delays to delivery, confirmation of delivery, and transparency in returns, road transport operators can support their retailer partners in not only maintaining customer satisfaction but also increasing mutually efficient business operations and revenue growth.

Furthermore, by combining this advanced solution with real time feedback from telematics systems, transport operators can ensure they have real time visibility over their fleet, allowing managers to not only see where a vehicle is, but also to compare this to where it should be. Potential delays are flagged and, if any individual appointment falls outside the agreed tolerance, it can be automatically rescheduled and optimised – and everyone related to that order, including the customer, kept up to date. For the retailer, this model can transform performance, allowing for new jobs to be added in real time or corrective action to be implemented to re-route vehicles to avoid any issues such as traffic, which can have a critical impact on performance and costs.

In the process, other costly factors are reduced, such as fuel and the necessary vehicle maintenance and servicing required, as the time spent on the road and total mileage can be decreased drastically. This bypasses the typical disconnect that exists between disparate parts of the supply chain, and instead helps to leverage measurable business benefits to optimise performance, streamline efficiency, decrease costs and provide an improved customer experience.

The future is now

Businesses can embrace this technology to take that leap into the future today, and provide consumers with the efficiency in fulfilment operations they desire. Moving away from paper-based and traditional systems is imperative and now is a good time for logistics to evolve and embody the future into its processes. There is a clear trajectory for retail and delivery and businesses must take heed to maximise their potential.

Andrew Tavener

Andrew Tavener

Andrew is Head of Marketing at Descartes Systems UK Ltd and has over twenty years’ business-to-business senior marketing management experience with high technology solutions (hardware, software and services) in complex business-to-business markets that includes logistics and transport with organisations such as Intel, Securicor, Unipart Technology Logistics and Orange.