With online shopping quicker, easier and more accessible than ever, consumer expectations continue to soar. In addition to the increased online demand, the “quick commerce” market has exploded, with many retailers offering home deliveries within as little as 15 minutes. But, as pressure on delivery businesses to embark on the journey to net zero builds, is this sustainable?
Many businesses are already spinning plates in order to meet both demand and expectations, and with the added pressure of the widely publicised driver shortage and rising costs, environmentally friendly operations may seem entirely out of reach. From drones and electric vehicles to self-driving robots, can businesses realistically investigate the untapped potential of advanced solutions, when business as usual is a challenge in itself?
Andrew Tavener, Head of Marketing, Descartes explains how to future-proof delivery operations in a world where the future feels uncertain.
Empty miles and rising emissions
During the pandemic, consumers adapted to online shopping and home deliveries almost instantly. Whilst the change was welcomed by many retailers, it posed logistical, financial and environmental challenges for others. With more and more delivery vehicles on the roads, emissions are on the rise. For retailers who have failed to nail the basics, unsatisfactory communication and poor scheduling can lead to expensive rearranged deliveries and empty miles. With home deliveries now deemed essential and customer expectations running high, how do we sustain this?
In an attempt to cut emissions and boost efficiency, many businesses are trialling new options. Whether it be transitioning to Electric Vehicle (EV) fleets, or implementing the use of drones and autonomous delivery robots, there are numerous possibilities to consider. Yet, whilst the latest innovations boast exciting benefits, there are also potential drawbacks that ought to be considered, including rising electricity costs. How can retailers find the best approach to take that meets both today’s demands and prepares for the unknown road ahead?
Businesses simply cannot afford to wait for a concrete future. Today’s consumer expectations must be met, best utilising the existing capacity of the existing fleet. Using real-time scheduling and advanced routing software, capacity can be effectively optimised in line with the demand, and provides a solution that can easily adapt to a future fleet.
A clear need for change
Retailers must accept that immediate change is needed. By implementing effective strategies such as automatically routing EVs into Clean Air Zones, or using shorter cycle options for cargo bikes, companies can make effective use of the existing fleet, as well as any new vehicles being trialled.
Adding telematics into the mix would offer businesses insight into a range of factors, including the overall performance of each vehicle type that could be used to inform future fleet strategy. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions can help to identify trends in operations and areas for improvement that may have otherwise been overlooked. Are drones failing to make successful deliveries in a certain area? Is there a pattern to unsuccessful delivery attempts, leading to empty miles? Are cargo bikes able to maintain temperature effectively all year round? By actually exploring this information and identifying trends, fleet managers can gain a better understanding of the underlying factors that affect performance, maintenance and repair costs, vehicle availability and even carbon emissions. Businesses can dive into this information to improve contingency planning and better inform the mix of vehicles in future fleets.
Consumers expect timely deliveries and it is crucial to meet these expectations in order to minimise unsuccessful attempts and the need for redelivery – an unnecessary and easily avoidable financial and environmental cost. By offering customers a choice of dates and times, they are able to select an option that suits their individual needs and sits seamlessly within their existing schedule, which will undoubtedly increase delivery success for retailers and logistics providers. Moreover, a solution that can automatically provide an optimised delivery time slot and the option to reschedule can eliminate wasted journeys and reduce the distance unnecessarily travelled. To further improve their sustainability credentials, businesses can also add ‘greener’ delivery options with enticing pricing and rewards in order to build a positive customer experience for the eco-conscious consumer.
Additionally, there is a clear need for delivery companies to collaborate and use local hubs. Multiple delivery vehicles simply shouldn’t be driving around the same roads at the same time, and this wasteful and ill-planned approach will not be welcomed by today’s consumers. By collaborating, retailers and logistics companies can group deliveries and achieve a tremendous reduction in carbon emissions, whilst reaping the benefits of lower operational costs.
Retailers cannot predict what the face of home deliveries will be years from now, yet many waste time preparing for the unknown. There are no guarantees on future consumer demand and the future will depend on what we do in the present. We cannot effectively prepare for the future whilst ignoring the challenges that exist in the here and now.
Companies need to act today in order to meet consumer demands and stay in the game. Experimentation is going to be key as the last-mile delivery model continues to take shape. As fleets diversify with the introduction of new innovations, it is more important than ever to have a robust and effective routing solution that can maximise efficiency and manage real-time complexities, whatever the delivery vehicle is now and in the future.
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.