Improving the Last Mile with Process, Technology

Last mile fulfillment from the warehouse or store to the final destination in the proper condition, at the right time and with the right customer experience, is critical to loyalty. According to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation, 79% of respondents said the quality of the experience will determine which brands and retailers they buy from and how frequently.

While your fulfillment center team may have little control over an order once it’s out for delivery, they’re still a crucial cog in the last mile experience. Fulfilling demand requires the proper processes and technology to get products to the customer as efficiently and accurately as possible. Your efforts will power a smoother delivery and a better customer experience.

Consider these tips for delivering on expectations in the last mile:

Adapt and Be Flexible for Customers

Today’s consumer wants more options, visibility and speed. To keep up with these increasing demands, your warehouse needs to meet them where they’re at, be it direct-to-customer from ecommerce or shipping to a store for pickup.

If you’re struggling to meet customer expectations for deeper visibility and more speed, consider investing in newer technology. A WMS can help you stay abreast of inventory levels and order status. You can provide accurate, real-time information before and after the sale for both retailers and consumers – a key part of a positive customer experience. You can also better optimize your warehouse processes to get products out the door faster. 

A WMS can help you address the customer’s desire for options by helping you forecast product demand and prepare your facility accordingly. With deeper insight into purchasing patterns and trends, you can better prepare for shifting demand and offer buyers the plethora of products they crave. 

“Pick” Up Your Processes

Efficient execution of core fulfillment tasks is a critical part of making the last mile count. Higher delivery expectations call for streamlined picking and packing processes, so you can get goods out the door and on the road quicker.

Start by evaluating how your warehouse utilizes space, and don’t forget the advantages of building vertically. Optimizing your slotting and racking processes can help you manage greater inventory, reduce picking time and prepare for peak demands. In addition, a WMS can give you deeper visibility into space utilization, helping you design optimal picking paths to maximize productivity.

Packing is still very much a human process, with a keen eye for detail required on each package, but technology can help you make better use of your packing stations. A WMS provides visibility into data to determine optimal locations and which items should go to which stations. It also maintains order details, eliminating paper-based tracking and providing a second set of eyes to ensure accuracy.

Prepare for the Return Trip

Discussion around the last mile shouldn’t overlook the importance of what happens when a transaction goes sour. An organized, efficient reverse logistics operation is an important part of the customer experience. According to UPS, there were nearly 1 million returns each day leading up to Christmas 2017 – and this peak season will likely follow suit.

The customer experience doesn’t end with delivery. A seamless returns process is crucial in maintaining positive customer relationships. Reverse logistics can often be an overwhelming process for your warehouse employees. To keep them from becoming overwhelmed by high-volume returns, you need to develop straightforward returns policies and procedures.

A WMS can help you manage these policies digitally. It can also help you keep track of what types of goods were returned, why they were returned and where to stock them. It will also help you optimize returns processes and deliver a smoother customer experience.

No Small Roles

In many ways, how you manage the first mile of the supply chain determines how successful the last mile is in delivering a positive customer experience. Working from the ground up, you can ensure your warehouse layout and inventory are optimized to streamline picking and packing.

By thoroughly evaluating your processes and filling in the gaps with technology, your team can enable a more efficient last mile of the supply chain and deliver a standout customer experience.

Don White is Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Snapfulfil

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