Vexed by Missed Deliveries? Data-Savvy Tech Can Help

As I write these lines, I’m at home waiting for a delivery from Ikea, which said the package would arrive some time between 9 am and 5 pm today. It’s close to 2 pm and I’m still without news from the carrier, FedEx. The probability that my Swedish design furniture will arrive today is decreasing as the hours go by, inversely correlated with my anger levels. I stayed home, instead of heading to the office, for nothing. (The package arrived the next day, without notice from the company or the carrier.)

The frustration caused by failed or delayed home deliveries is shared by many. Roughly 5 percent of online deliveries don’t reach their destination on the first attempt, according to a survey of 304 retailers and 2,020 consumers in the US, Germany, and the UK by research consultancy Loudhouse. Each late and failed delivery costs retailers an average of $17.78, the survey found, and additional delivery attempts increase traffic congestion—though by how much is difficult to measure.

As our dependence on home delivery rises, retailers and carriers are working to reduce inefficiencies in the last mile – the crucial step when packages are handed to the recipient. They’re focusing on three main obstacles to successful, on-time delivery: Making sure parcels arrive where and when they’re supposed to, ensuring there’s someone to receive them when they arrive, and providing delivery locations where exact timing is less critical.

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Many carriers try to reduce the risk of failed deliveries by giving recipients the flexibility to postpone deliveries, indicate when to leave packages with a neighbor, or ask that parcels go to a nearby access point. DHL says it has invested heavily in online interfaces including mobile apps, chatrooms to reach customer service representatives, and social media bots that, for example, let you track a package via What’s App.

But many of the challenges encountered at the last mile are the result of missteps that take place long before parcels end up in a FedEx of DHL truck. The key to better last mile delivery, logistics experts say, is giving retailers and carriers more and better info. “You can never provide a carrier with too much data about how to reach you,” says Andrew Williams, CEO of DHL Express Canada.

One big cause of delivery failure is inaccurate or incomplete address information, according to research by the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab. Perhaps the sender forgot to provide an apartment number, or the carrier needs a buzz code to enter the building.

The problem can also occur at checkout if online shoppers incorrectly enter their addresses or the location isn’t recognized by the retailer’s website. Loqate, a location verification service, says that big data can help. It and similar services check a mailing address against a location database in real time to make sure the address is valid, for instance, verifying whether the street is spelled correctly or whether the building number actually exists (Try checking your address here.)

Address validation companies can also enrich a shipping address with additional information like neighborhood density and usage—residential or commercial—and traffic patterns. This helps the carrier plans its delivery route more efficiently, increasing the likelihood that a package will be delivered on time.

Even more enhanced data about delivery locations is on its way, thanks to mapping services that give more details about streets, traffic, and even building interiors. What’s the best time of day to avoid congestion on that block? Is there parking available nearby? What about an elevator to reach the sixth floor? Where is the mailroom?

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