As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape all aspects of the transportation industry, one particular area of focus is the “final mile” of the supply chain. This term, used to describe the last leg of the journey of products, people and services, has been put into the spotlight as consumers and businesses adjust how they interact with each other during the pandemic.
While the focus on the final mile isn’t exactly new, the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced several aspects of it, including:
An increase in online shopping
With many stores, malls and other retailers closed or operating on limited hours – the trend of buying online has increased rapidly in the past several weeks. Retail giant Target recently disclosed that its online sales rose by a staggering 275 percent in April as more people shelter in place and opt to shop from the safety of their homes.
The rise in eCommerce has been developing over the past several years and it poses its own set of challenges to retailers. One challenge is that online purchases tend to be returned more frequently than in-store purchases, with online sales being returned 15-30 percent of the time when compared to only 8 percent of sales at the store.
This trend is causing a “reverse logistics” strain, complicating what is already a complex supply chain. Retailers are increasingly reliant on visibility technology to help them handle these returns and better manage their inventories.
Frustration with longer delivery wait times
As supply chains across the globe feel the stress from COVID-19, consumers are becoming more impatient with longer wait times for deliveries. While COVID-19’s effects on demand planning and inventory management may be unavoidable, being transparent with customers is key to setting expectations and building customer trust.
Implementing the right technology can help enable this transparency. One of Trimble’s customers, La-Z-Boy, utilizes technology to enhance visibility into its supply chain. By knowing where its freight is, La-Z-Boy can better inform customers of delivery status and provide real-time updates should a delay occur.
Getting more food and groceries at your doorstep
It isn’t just clothing and household items that are more frequently making their way to consumers’ homes. With widespread social distancing and shelter in place policies, deliveries of groceries and meals are becoming more commonplace.
On-demand grocery delivery service Instacart recently announced that it plans to hire an additional 250,000 workers to keep up with increased demand. This comes on top of it hiring 300,000 workers in recent weeks as COVID-19 has greatly influenced the use of this grocery shopping service.
The demand for workers is paralleled by the demands on the vehicles and equipment that make these deliveries. While vehicle breakdowns are always costly, keeping assets up and running is of particular importance during COVID-19. To help ensure the health of its equipment, fleets are turning to asset maintenance software to manage repairs and identify potential for service interruptions so they can proactively address them and maximize uptime.
Safety protocols for drivers and consumers
The brave individuals who make up the transportation industry are on the front lines of this pandemic and, in addition to the stress of an increased workload and demand, these men and women are also having to consider their health and safety while on the job.
Amazon has provided its delivery drivers with detailed instructions on how to stay safe during the pandemic. From frequent hand washing to using items like a cell phone to knock on doors, delivery drivers are being instructed to follow protocol to keep themselves healthy.
The health of the consumer is also top of mind during COVID-19. While the food industry is used to safety regulations such as the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), COVID-19 has added a layer of complexity to ensuring the health of the consumer, particularly as it relates to packaging.
Although the virus may live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and other materials, medical experts advise that getting deliveries are perfectly safe and that they are a much preferred alternative to going out in public to make these purchases.
Optimizing the final mile – both during COVID-19 and beyond
The stresses of the final mile aren’t unique to the COVID-19 pandemic and they aren’t likely to go away once social distancing and shelter in place orders are lifted. By taking the lessons learned from COVID-19, retailers and others in the final mile space can enhance how they operate – both to benefit their bottom line and the customers they serve. This includes investing in technology to help improve efficiencies and increase visibility across the supply chain.
Interested in learning more about changing consumer expectations and how to stay ahead of them – both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond? Download a complimentary version of our eBook to get a better understanding of the changing retail landscape and how to best harness technology to overcome these challenges and improve customer service.