The holiday shopping season seems to be creeping up earlier and earlier every year. Even with the disruptions caused by the pandemic in the past few years, consumer demand around the holidays has done anything but slow down—which means that delivery organizations across the board are facing tougher and tougher tests each year of their ability to delight customers without breaking the bank.
Given that, for many businesses, a huge amount of the year’s revenue can come from only a few weekends worth of buying, it’s hard to overstate the importance of rolling out deliveries that seamlessly meet customer needs. Brand loyalty is harder to come by than ever, but good delivery experiences have a big impact on the odds of winning repeat business. If you’re at your best when delivery season is at its busiest, you can stand out in a crowded marketplace—all while benefiting from efficiencies that help keep costs manageable.
But how do you make sure that you’re at your best when you’re at your busiest? The first step is to implement the right best practices.
1. Make Sure You’re Maximizing Capacity
The first challenge that you’ll need to overcome around something like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Christmas is the sheer volume of deliveries. You need to match your delivery capacity to your projected order volumes—but to do that, you first have to get a handle on what your capacity actually is. Without the right tools, this can be more complicated than it sounds.
More often than not, when businesses feel like they can’t meet delivery demand no matter how many trucks they add, the issue actually comes down to route optimization. You might have a sense of how many deliveries you should be able to carry out per day, but drivers wind up running late and not being able to complete all the day’s deliveries because it’s not clear how long each delivery will actually take. As a result, it’s difficult to figure out how much you theoretically should be able to deliver.
That’s why route optimization is so crucial to success when capacity is a concern. When you leverage AI to optimize your routes, you can be sure that you’re driving the fewest possible miles between stops and that your drivers are positioned to arrive on time. This helps you get the most out of your existing truck capacity—all while making it easier to figure out exactly what your capacity really is, such that you only add extra trucks (or contractors, or 3PL partners) if needed.
2. Optimize Your Distribution Network
Obviously, route optimization can help you ensure that you’re driving the fewest possible miles per stop—making it possible to deliver more orders, more quickly. But when it comes to high capacity times of year, you can amplify the effects of route optimization even further by making sure that your distribution network is optimized for your expected demand. If, for instance, you know from past holiday seasons that your orders are likely to be spread out or clustered in particular areas, you can map out the optimal points to establish warehouse and distribution centers to minimize drive time and maximize capacity utilization across your entire fleet.
This might sound a little daunting—but making it a reality just requires access to historical delivery data and the same kind of route optimization technology that we talked about above. When your route optimizing software is lightning-fast and incredibly accurate, you can run potential what-if scenarios on hypothetical order data to determine the optimal network for meeting high demand. The result? More customers get their deliveries on time.
3. Confirm Delivery Appointments in Advance
The first two best practices on this list might be oriented towards the cutting-edge side of last mile delivery technology—which, to be sure, is something that can’t be ignored. At the same time, some of the most effective ways to ensure that things go off without a hitch are just common sense. For instance: confirming customer delivery appointments before they’re routed.
Simply put, when you’re able to confirm with your customers before the day of delivery that the scheduled date works for them, their order is accurate, and their address is correct, you can significantly cut down on the number of deliveries that fail because the customer isn’t at home. Since failed deliveries of this kind can be costly and throw a wrench in future delivery plans, this can actually have a big impact.
Here, the only real challenge is finding a way to make this work at scale—since calling everyone on the schedule individually can fill up an entire call center’s worth of effort. But last mile technology solutions can provide a means of automated both the communications and the tracking of schedule confirmations, even flagging unconfirmed deliveries so you can follow up with those customers.
4. Adopt Technology That Actually Scales
In the same way that you need to be able to scale up your customer communications in periods of high delivery volume, you naturally need to scale up all of your other delivery-related processes as well. This means routing more stops than usual, sending out more notifications, tracking more deliveries, and potentially managing more drivers or carriers.
To make this happen, you need to first have the right processes in place—you can’t scale something that doesn’t work. But you also need to have technology that’s built to handle as many orders as you can throw at it without slowing down or grinding to a halt. There’s a lot that goes into this, but generally speaking it helps to seek out a true SaaS solution, i.e. last mile tracking software that was built for the cloud and is architected around the ability to scale processing power up or down as needed.
5. Visibility, Visibility, Visibility
There’s a lot you can do in advance to prepare for peak season deliveries—some of it process-related, some of it relating to technology. But once the orders have been routed, dispatched, and loaded into trucks, the game changes completely. All of sudden, it’s not about how well you can plan, but about how effectively you can execute on those plans in real time. Sure, AI-optimized route planning that has highly-accurate ETA predictions will help ensure that things stay on track most of the time, but there’s no way to predict everything that’s going to happen on the day of delivery.
That’s why, in order to successfully ramp up your delivery efforts during periods of higher order volumes, you need to build in a lot of flexibility and adaptability throughout your entire delivery process. The key to making this kind of flexibility possible? End-to-end last mile visibility.
We can’t stress enough how important this is to keeping plans on track. When you can see at a single glance what’s going right and what isn’t, you can work proactively to keep plans on track and prevent late deliveries from piling up.
This isn’t just a matter of visibility into truck locations and driver statuses. It’s also about data visibility within whatever delivery management platform you may be utilizing. And it’s a matter of visibility across teams and functions (i.e. delivery vs. warehouse vs. sales). Beyond that, providing visibility to your customers also helps reduce failed deliveries and ensure delightful deliveries no matter how busy the season is. If you can make that happen, you can position yourself to win not just this holiday season, but in all the peak seasons to come.