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6 Minute Read

Do Food Distributors Need Order Tracking?

When it comes to food distribution, visibility has long been the holy grail—in the sense that it was incredibly elusive. With limited technological support, it’s difficult to see what capacity you have available, how planning updates will impact your routes, or how profitable your stops are—to say nothing of what the status of any given driver or delivery is.image (32)

The result is that a certain amount of inefficiency is often baked into the last mile. And when something does go wrong, it can be a challenge to follow up and make things right with the customer. Without visibility into deliveries as they’re unfolding—and not just visibility across roles and functions—it’s difficult to manage customer relationships and ensure efficiency. 

Those are just some of the reasons why effective order tracking is so important. But what do we actually mean by order tracking in the context of the last mile for food distribution? 

It’s about a lot more than just GPS coordinates from the truck. 

What Is Order Tracking?

In most distribution outfits, there’s a gap between route planning and route execution. Often, these processes happen in disconnected systems, and the link between them can be tenuous. Your strategic plans might be efficient given your customer mix and their requested delivery time slots, but how that translates into drivers getting the right goods to the right place at the right time is another story. 

One crucial way of connecting planning and execution is to ensure that you have order tracking capabilities within the system you use for route planning. In practice, this has a few elements:

  • Automatic dispatching of finished routes to drivers via mobile app
  • Automated status updates from drivers out in the field. I.e., whenever they indicate in the app that they’re driving to a new job or have just completed a delivery, the backend system receives an update.
  • GPS tracking and geofencing so you can see that drivers are staying on track geographically
  • Instant proof of delivery updates from out in the field, including pictures and signatures
  • Live ETA updates as driver statuses change

Depending on the system you’re using, this information might be displayed in a live delivery dashboard. In this way, you can track the progress of your deliveries at a glance. By adding context to your GPS coordinates, you can get a much clearer sense of how closely the reality of your delivery execution matches your plans. 

This isn’t just a nice-to-have for dispatchers. Your order tracking capabilities should also be extended to sales reps so they can instantly check on deliveries to their accounts and make sure everything is running smoothly in real time. 

Of course, when you have this level of visibility, you can also turn it around and offer robust order tracking to the customer. A grocery store manager or chef at a local restaurant isn’t going to check on the location of the delivery truck nearly as often as a consumer sitting at home waiting for a fridge to arrive (on the day of delivery, consumers will check their status two and half times on average), but there’s no such thing as too much transparency. 

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How B2B Delivery Expectations Are Changing

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: B2B delivery expectations are looking more and more like B2C delivery expectations every year. The same people who are ordering pallets of fizzy water for their convenience store are getting big and bulky deliveries to their homes—and they’ve taken note of the gap that exists between those two experiences.

Your customers don’t want to have to call in and ask when their produce, or fish, or disposal plates and cutlery are going to arrive. They want that information at their fingertips when they need it. 

Overall, the expectations for customer communication in food distribution contexts are going to be very different than they are for, say, a new couch. Your communications will probably have fewer touches overall. But the ability to offer real-time order tracking with accurate ETAs to your customers can still have a powerful impact. 

This is an area where, with the right setup, you can offer a few different tracking options:

  • Access to a track widget via text and email notifications
  • Access to a track widget via your website

In the latter use case, customers could put in their order numbers to get instant access to information about where the delivery truck is, how many stops away they are, and what the expected ETA is. This can be an important component of providing a more B2C-worthy customer experience to your clientele—which can boost loyalty and strengthen your brand in an industry where it’s hard to compete on anything other than price. 

What Kind of Order Tracking Capabilities Should Your Last Mile Software Offer?

When it comes to actually implementing order tracking capabilities—both internal and customer-facing—what, exactly, should you be looking for? How can you separate the functionality that will actually be impactful from features that all-too-frequently pass for visibility?

Here’s a rundown of some of the key functionality to look for:

  • Integration with telematics and other data: you want a complete picture of your delivery execution, which means that your systems need to play nicely with each other—all in real time. 
  • Real-time ETA updates: your system should leverage machine learning to turn status updates into highly-accurate delivery ETAs that update as more data comes in—this both improves customer experience and makes it easier to spot potential late deliveries in advance. 
  • Salesperson application: most solutions offer a driver mobile app, but it’s uncommon to find one that gives sales reps their own application for directly checking on the statuses of their orders.
  • Configurable customer portal: part of offering real-time order tracking to customers is boosting your brand, which is why it’s important to put your brand front and center in your delivery tracking portal and create a bespoke experience for your customers. 
  • Intuitive order tracking dashboard: data that you need to hunt for is significantly less valuable than data that’s already at your fingertips, which is why the presentation of your order tracking data matters
  • Complete delivery audit trail: you don’t want data about deliveries to disappear into the ether when the delivery is completed—which is why it’s so important to ensure that your order tracking capabilities are integrated with full track and trace functionality after the fact. 
  • Full tracking for shuttle routes and backhauls: This might not technically count as “order tracking” per se, but in an ideal world you’d have the same level of visibility we’ve been describing when it comes to shuttle routes from your distribution center to your yards, cross-docks, or hubs—likewise when you’re hauling goods back to the DC after a delivery run. 

At the end of the day, order tracking for food distributors is about a lot more than just tracking GPS coordinates when your trucks are out on delivery runs. It’s about creating real, strategic visibility within your four walls and beyond. It can help ensure happier customers and smoother delivery runs—all while helping to ensure greater efficiency throughout the entire last mile process. The trick is to make sure you’re prioritizing order tracking that can actually make all that a reality. 

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