Drones. Blockchain. Autonomous vehicles. We’ve been hearing about how technologies like these are going to revolutionize delivery for years now. And there’s no doubt that trends like drone deliveries are beginning to have a small impact in the world of logistics—but for anyone who’s managing a large last mile delivery operation right at this moment, it should be pretty clear that the trends that make headlines often aren’t the ones that are going to provide an impact in the next few years.
While we wait for transformative technological developments that always seem to be just over the horizon, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overlooking the new developments in delivery that are actually making a difference to today’s retailers. Right now, some of the most impactful trends are the ones that are powering a more effective approach to what you might call the fundamentals: delivering on-time, satisfying the customer, and making an efficient use of your resources.
And there should be little argument that whatever tools or technologies are under discussion, it’s precisely those fundamentals that need to define the future of parcel shipping. The question is: what will that actually look like in the next few years?
Why the Fundamentals Matter
Again, the next big thing will always be on its way to the parcel delivery sector. Sure, sometimes it’ll be solving a problem that doesn’t exist—but even when it’s targeted to address a real pain point, it may not be a panacea. Take driverless vehicles as an example:
On the one hand, they’re trotted out as a way to fight a very real problem—the driver shortage that’s been plaguing the world of logistics for years. But more efficient delivery operations can already protect you from the worst impacts of the driver shortage, e.g. by enabling you to deliver more parcels per route per day. When your routes are designed to ensure that you get the most out of your capacity, you simply need fewer drivers.
It’s often the same dynamic with technologies that are designed to address increasing customer demands. “If we can’t deliver via truck quickly enough to satisfy customers who want their product the next day,” someone might say, “let’s try delivering via drone.” Meanwhile, the real issue comes down to the ability to orchestrate complex delivery options efficiently and at scale. If you can quickly and easily make sure that the right product is in the right distribution center to enable delivery to the customer at the right time, you’re already in a position to ensure a rapid delivery turnaround. If you’re able to route as many orders as needed on a moment’s notice and send proactive notifications to the customers at every stage of the process, so much the better.
At the end of the day, successful parcel deliveries are all backed by similar best practices:
Optimizing routes to make sure the capacity is being utilized efficiently
- Generating accurate delivery ETAs so that customers get their orders as expected
- Providing notifications and live visibility to customers so they can track their orders
- Tracking deliveries in real time to spot and manage any exceptions
- Staying connected with drivers and enabling them to capture photos and signatures for proof of delivery to ensure that every delivery is documented
Those best practices are a recipe for accomplishing the one thing that will always be paramount for parcel deliveries, now and in the future: on-time, cost-efficient deliveries that delight your customers.
How Technology Is Powering the Future of Parcel Shipping
Don’t get us wrong—we’re certainly not suggesting that modern technology can’t have a transformative effect when it comes to following those best practices and keeping your customers happy. Quite the opposite! It’s AI-powered, SaaS-based technology that’s only been introduced in the past few years that’s making it possible for retailers to do more with less and optimize their parcel deliveries in the face of supply chain complexity, rising costs, and fickle customers.
And when we talk about the future of parcel shipping, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Here are a few concrete ways that technology is shaping the future of parcel shipping:
- AI is making on-time deliveries second nature for those who know how to leverage it. When you’re able to learn from previous delivery runs, you can make much more accurate predictions about when you’ll arrive at each delivery site—meaning that you can actually get the most out of your capacity without risking late deliveries.
- Real-time visibility is becoming the default. Because smartphones have made it so much easier to stay connected with drivers as they carry out deliveries, dispatchers, managers, and customers are all in a position to view the status of every order as it unfolds, resulting in improved customer experience and better exception management.
- Drivers are being empowered to provide better customer service. In the past, drivers tended to have little leeway to resolve issues that cropped up once they’d started their routes. But when they have the ability to communicate instantly with dispatchers and make order adjustments directly within the app, they can bring a new amount of flexibility to keeping customers happy even when deliveries aren’t going precisely according to plan.
- Customers are getting better, more satisfying delivery experiences. Not only is technology helping to ensure that customers receive their orders on time and enabling them to track the delivery in real time, it's also elevating the delivery experience from end to end by enabling consistent messages, notifications, and updates for each and every delivery. This can even include giving customers the ability to self-schedule their delivery windows at check-out.
- All of this is happening more efficiently than ever before. In the past, even successful deliveries were often inefficient and expensive. But as technology has empowered businesses with smarter supply chain optimization plans and more robust delivery execution, providing a great experience to customers is no longer coming at a cost that breaks the bank.
How to Choose the Right Parcel Delivery Technology
When it comes to evolving your parcel delivery processes to meet the very real challenges that are facing retailers and other businesses at the moment, you don’t need to look for futuristic technology. The technology that’s already out there and gaining widespread adoption has the power to future-proof parcel delivery and cement as an efficient and adaptable process that adds real value for consumers. The trick is to look for fleet management software solutions that offer a few particular features:
- AI and machine learning algorithms that learn from previous deliveries
- Real-time connectivity between drivers, dispatchers, and customers
- Highly-accurate ETA predictions to minimize late deliveries and ensure efficient use of capacity
- Scalable SaaS technology that enables you to keep up with seasonal fluctuations in demand and delivery volumes
- Configurable customer communication options to ensure an elevated delivery experience
- Post-delivery follow-up in the form of surveys, delivery receipts, etc.
Of course, it’s more than just features that you need to look out for. No matter what new technologies come down the pike, parcel delivery will continue to evolve at a rapid clip. You need technology that can evolve alongside changing expectations and market conditions—in other words, you should look for something that can help you effectively future-proof your parcel delivery process. If you can make that happen, you can ensure that your future delivery operations are efficient, cost-effective, and designed to maximize customer delight.