How can businesses conquer the last-mile challenge?

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Justine Clark from Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions looks at how posts can refine last-mile delivery and save cost and time by embracing new technologies in distribution centers

Modern supply chains are hugely complex, so it’s vital that companies ensure visibility throughout. Specifically, Honeywell research shows that last-mile delivery makes up 50% of all logistical costs, so it’s no wonder that this can be the most challenging facet that organizations face in perfecting their supply chain.

What’s more, the delivery process is key to ensuring that the overall experience for the end customer is a positive one. It is paramount that parcels arrive in excellent physical condition and customers are able to track the delivery status of their order, for example.

Deliveries to hard-to-find locations and, even worse, incorrect delivery addresses, are inevitable, but they do continue to be one of the top challenges faced by logistics organizations. This, coupled with lengthy traffic and damage to the products themselves, causes companies a lot of wasted time and money.

The delivery and distribution processes are closely connected, with problems associated with the last-mile often traced back to warehouses and distribution centers. Packages have to be picked correctly and with the correct information in order to meet the customer’s expected delivery window.

It’s imperative that businesses find ways to optimize logistical execution to ensure the last part of the delivery is as problem-free as possible.

A connected worker is a better worker

Human error can be eliminated and efficiency increased through replacing manual- or paper-based systems with technology. Equipping workers with the right tools in the warehouse enables a more informed, connected worker. This will have a knock-on effect for overcoming challenges associated with the last mile. Examples of such connected technologies include handheld computers, rugged portable receipt printers, wearable scanners and voice technology. Each device transmits valuable data insights about stock and parcels, allowing for greater traceability of the delivery status of goods. Armed with these insights, businesses can drive efficiencies and make changes for the better.

Voice technology: enhancing order picking

Companies wishing to minimize delivery errors in the last mile should consider implementing voice technology in the warehouse, a relatively new solution, but one which adds huge amounts of efficiency. It permits managers to communicate more clearly with workers, which improves the success of the picking process, as well as allowing employees to work without reams of paper. Using pen and paper methods when order picking means workers have to constantly stop and read instructions. With voice technology, workers are able to receive instructions via their headsets while they’re on the move, making the process a lot faster, and allowing less room for error. Companies will benefit from higher levels of productivity and employees’ work lives are made easier.

Voice technology can also help to tackle the returns issue. Although returns are an unavoidable part of the retail process, voice technology improves picking accuracy so that as few customers as possible receive the wrong item – which can have a considerable impact on return rates. The chance of a picking error is lessened as workers have to verify both the quantity and location of each item picked.

Leveraging the cloud

As the demand for delivery process traceability increases, it is pivotal that companies can monitor packing, loading and proof of delivery. Organizations can connect their mobile workers to back-end systems with a cloud-based solution, sharing information in real time. They can offer better customer service and improve both operations and sales. Some cloud-based platforms also offer a mobile application to support services, for example proof-of-delivery or customer tracking, in order to optimize visibility and intelligence with asset utilization.

It’s clear that processes need to be refined at every stage of the supply chain process to improve last-mile delivery, but these are challenges that can be tackled head on with the right tools.

By incorporating technological changes into the warehouse, companies can provide a solid foundation for overcoming last-mile hurdles, by intelligently connecting workers to make them more informed, and the process accurate. In return, businesses can expect a reduction in costs, fewer product returns, a more streamlined supply chain, and ultimately, happier customers.

Justine Clark is transport and logistics marketing manager at Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions.

September 12, 2017

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