Four (More) Ways That You Can Modernize Your Delivery Operations Practically Overnight

Whether you’re dropping off orders on behalf of local businesses or handling packages shipped from halfway around the world, last-mile delivery tends to be the most expensive and time-consuming part of the process. But these mobile technologies can help change that.

A delivery driver use a mobile printer to generate a receipt for a customer.

As I mentioned in a past blog post, there are many different ways that technology can be used in the last mile to help your business improve the quality, speed and efficiency of deliveries. But I realize that not all of the solutions I discussed can be turned on overnight, and not all are financially feasible for small-to-medium-sized businesses (or budget-constrained large companies, for that matter.) So, I wanted to share a few ways that rugged handheld mobile computers, tablets, wearables, printers and scanners can be used to almost instantaneously improve the efficiency and outcomes of delivery operations.

Whether you’re a manufacturer, warehouse operator, retailer, restaurant and other business, you’re probably using these mobile technologies in some other way already, so it wouldn’t take too much time or money to adapt your solution. Even if a new investment is required, rugged mobile devices are still going to be far easier – and more cost-effective – to deploy and manage, especially if you’re aiming to…

1. Improve Routing

There are too many orders coming in and too many drivers on the road these days to haphazardly dispatch drivers. And drivers shouldn’t have to guess which roads are best to travel on any given day, even if they are just gig economy contractors. Giving them company-owned rugged devices equipped with easy-to-use dispatch and navigation features is critical to keeping them safe and on time.

For example, a large-screen handheld mobile computer or tablet with GPS could help drivers navigate around traffic jams while sending real-time location updates back to the dispatch team and to the customer monitoring the status of a delivery. Simple voice features such as Workforce Connect push-to-talk (PTT) allows for instant, safe communications with the store or warehouse while in transit. And the right software applications can help drivers get to and from the right places at the right time as new pickups and drop-offs are requested. That’s one of the reasons why Purolator deployed Zebra enterprise mobile computers and tablets among its field, hub and retail operations. It needed an easy way to streamline dispatch and route optimization, as well as track and trace and reporting.

2. Minimize the Time Spent at Each Stop

Turnaround times are scrutinized by every delivery company. Shaving seconds off each drop can go a long way when you’re up against the clock. That’s why it’s so important to load vehicles correctly up front, as I mentioned in this post

But, giving drivers a mobile device that allows for a clean scan of parcel barcodes on the first trigger pull also goes a long way to increasing efficiency once they’re on the road. CouriersPlease knows this all too well. It’s actually one of the reasons why the company recently equipped all of its drivers with a Zebra mobility solution. It wanted drivers to be able to “reliably and quickly scan parcel barcodes that could be dirty, damaged or poorly printed” so they didn’t have to waste time trying to manually input barcode information to report a successful delivery. And DUCIT, an Argentinian delivery company that specializes in the transportation of valuable goods, was able to ensure faster and more secure deliveries at 200 locations across Capital Federal and Gran Buenos Aires. This resulted from giving its drivers handheld mobile computers and tablets to capture information regarding the transported goods, including proof of delivery, in real time. In fact, it cut the time spent on manual processes by 95%!

For those delivering non-barcoded items such as food from a local restaurant or a flower arrangement, it can be beneficial to have a handheld mobile computer equipped with a high-resolution camera and/or contactless signature capabilities to capture proof of delivery.

3.  Reduce Customer Contact without Diminishing Customer Satisfaction

It is typically best practice to hand off items to a human being to ensure they’re received by the right person, and a request for signature is commonplace for many items, whether delivered to a residence, retail store, restaurant or other business. But with COVID-19 cases on the rise, along with people’s insistence on social distancing, signature requirements are now being waived and many delivery drivers are now being asked to drop items outside doors without ever seeing who comes out to retrieve them. This has made technology use essential to order completion.

A combination of GPS tracking and push notifications using rugged mobile computers can alert customers when delivery drivers are approaching. This allows the customer to guide the driver to a specific drop point to ensure proper distancing is maintained and/or prepare to come out and retrieve the items immediately after the driver returns to his or her vehicle.

If a signature is still required for high-value or high-volume items, such is often the case for direct store deliveries (DSD), a contactless receipt solution should be considered as it helps to keep both delivery personnel and customers safe and socially distanced. Drivers can get a customer signature and issue a receipt without any physical contact whatsoever with the recipient. Depending on the app design, all the customer may need to do to acknowledge delivery is pull out his or her own smartphone and scan a barcode or QR code presented on the courier’s mobile computer screen. The parcel information and signature line can then appear on the customer’s device for order acceptance. The recipient’s identity is confirmed and a valid delivery receipt generated in real time on the courier’s device. It can be a totally seamless, web-based experience that can work wonders for those who no longer want to have to exchange pen and paper or touch the courier’s device.

4.  Improve Trust and Accountability 

Though you may trust your team members and third-party delivery service providers, customers may not. When customers report issues related to delivery delays, missing orders, tampering or damaged goods, you must be able to get to the bottom of things quickly. By giving delivery drivers rugged mobile computers to use on the road, they can document every action taken during order fulfillment, which helps to improve the security of transported good, secure customer’s trust and even improve the safety of drivers.

For example, they can scan a barcode and/or snap a picture of the delivered item when there is no direct handoff so that everyone knows exactly where and when the item was left by the driver – and the condition it was in at the time of the drop. Built-in GPS tracking could then be correlated with those data points to help corroborate timelines or locate packages in the case of missing orders. Taking a picture at the time of pickup also helps with quality control matters and provides a secondary timestamp if delivery delays are reported even though the order left the store, restaurant or warehouse on time.

Of course, getting a signature is always the best way to ensure items make their way into the right hands – and help track down the person who intercepted the package when things are reported missing. As mentioned before, your mobility solution should be able to facilitate fast, contactless ID verification and signature capture. It should also be able to generate both a paper and digital receipt upon request.

Just be sure that whatever mobile device you choose is able to maintain a strong wireless signal at all times, whether via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/5G wireless networks. The second delivery occurs, everyone should know – and they should have some kind of digital proof, whether it’s a picture, signature or barcode scan with geolocation verification.

In Other Words…

At a minimum, delivery teams should be mobilized with technologies that enable them to stay in close touch with fulfillment partners and customers without having to come into close physical contact to provide the requested services. This will ensure they’re prepared for what’s predictable and able to prevail over what’s not.

Just know that it will take time to fully scale delivery services, especially in the last mile, no matter what’s being picked up or dropped off and which technologies you ultimately decide to employ to scale efficiencies. There’s a significant amount of resource planning, asset investment and workforce expansion required. You can’t just hire 10 people today and increase your fulfillment capacity ten-fold tomorrow. Well, you could, but things may not go as swimmingly as you need them to in order to boost revenue, improve margins and secure five-star ratings every time. What you can do, though, is very strategically implement technologies that boost the efficiency of your current workforce and maximize resource utilization almost instantly from the point of fulfillment all the way through the last mile and door drop.

If you choose the right rugged, enterprise-grade mobility solutions – and, by that, I mean the right hardware and software combination – you could optimize time-sensitive operations in a matter of days or weeks. Then, as time and resources permit, you can start to put other technology tools such as intelligent automation and smart loading platforms to work to help improve the picking, packing and loading processes in the last mile.

Not Sure Where to Go from Here?

If you’d like to have a conversation about which mobile technologies could help you improve your delivery operations right now, please contact my team. We’ll help you find a solution that meets your needs so that you can meet your customers’ expectations.  

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Mark Wheeler
Mark Wheeler is the lead for warehouse and plant floor solutions for Zebra’s North American manufacturing vertical. Mark has more than 30 years in the industry, with deep expertise in warehouse and plant floor operations.
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