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Opinion: How retailers are enhancing the last-mile delivery experience


The customer experience is more important than ever in last-mile delivery so how are retailers innovating in this area asks Anthony Gavin, regional director EMEA at Narvar.
Digital customer experiences have redefined our expectations of the physical world. We’ve grown accustomed to the instant gratification of cyberspace and want to see this immediacy and convenience extended to all experiences. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the delivery of goods.

Today, online shoppers expect their orders to be delivered rapidly and with exceptional service. And with a wealth of choice at their fingertips, if brands fail to get this right, then they simply go elsewhere. For example, in a recent Narvar research study 65% of UK shoppers said a bad delivery experience would be enough to stop them using an online retailer again.

The market has responded to this demand and is turning the supply chain on its head – particularly when it comes to the last-mile of delivery. A major challenge retailers are facing today is the rise of on-demand, same-day delivery. An increasing number of retailers, large and small, are offering this and those failing to provide such services are ultimately failing to offer their customers what they expect – the closest thing to instant gratification: items delivered in mere hours.

However, a better post-purchase experience isn’t just about speedy deliveries. As many retailers now offer such services, it’s essential they go over and above to meet customer expectation. Standing out from the crowd is one of the biggest challenges for retailers today.

The second is control: as an increasing number of third-party carriers and couriers are used to meet customer demand, how can retailers protect their brands and engage with customers? After all, it’s ultimately the retailer – not the carrier – that bears the brunt of customer anger when things go wrong. Retailers simply can’t afford to relinquish control of the customer journey after the point of purchase.

So, to meet such challenges, what are successful retailers doing to enhance the last-mile of delivery?

1) Offering branded experiences to the customer throughout the delivery process – whether that’s sending customers a notification to say their goods are on the way, proactively communicating with customers if the delivery date/time has changed, or thanking them once their goods have been delivered. Each additional communication not only shows the customer that the retailer cares, it also provides an opportunity for customers to re-engage with the brand and encourage new sales.

Such branded experiences will also be critical to an oft-forgotten part of the customer experience: returns. Even premium brands often leave the customer to fend for themselves in the returns process.

The brand promise may be luxury, but that soon evaporates when the customer is left standing in a post office queue for the best part of their lunch break. A truly customer-centric retailer will be able to offer customers a simple, branded returns experience that’s comparable to same-day delivery in terms of convenience and ease. This area is yet to be fully exploited by most brands and it therefore offers second mover advantage and an important competitive edge.

2) Customer-centric delivery is fundamentally altering how retailers operate their supply chain. The overriding shift is towards greater localisation. Instead of holding huge volumes of stock in a central distribution centre, retailers are opening smaller, localised distribution centres closer to the customer.

As part of this shift, some retailers have even transformed their local stores into de facto distribution centres. Argos, for example, routinely shifts goods between its stores using its network of delivery vehicles – so if your local store doesn’t have the laptop you want, Argos can route it from a neighbouring store that same day.

3) New partnerships are proving critical in helping retailers adapt to changing customer demand. As they look to get goods to customers ever faster, retailers are teaming up with each other and digital-centric couriers.

Today, for example, gourmets no longer need to travel into town to eat from their favourite restaurants – Deliveroo can bring the restaurant to them. And it’s not just food: companies like City Sprint and Gophr offer same-day, on-demand metropolitan courier services for any product you care to name.

4) Tech innovations of last mile delivery are only just getting started. From Amazon’s delivery drones and Starship Technologies’ self-driving delivery robots to automated parcel lockers and beyond, we’re on the cusp of a new age of last-mile delivery where automation will make it easier than ever for retailers to get products to customers.

The last-mile of delivery is more complex than it’s ever been, but brands that get it right stand to increase customer brand loyalty by giving them exactly what they want and expect throughout the post-purchase experience.

As retailers evolve their supply chains to meet customer demand it’s essential they keep control of the end-to-end journey and deliver a compelling and consistent brand experience throughout. This is because the last mile of delivery is also the last mile of the customer experience – and leaving a good impression is essential if retailers want to see that customer again.

Anthony Gavin, regional director EMEA at Narvar.

Image credits: Narvar and Fotolia

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