Ensuring your ‘Last Mile’ delivery is ready for a post-COVID 19 world

By Simon Mardle, Principal at Capgemini Invent

With many of us restricted to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steep rise in online shopping as people attempt to shield themselves and social distance. In order to adapt to this new buying behaviour and keep up with the subsequent explosion in delivery demand, companies are needing to find innovative ways to prop up their struggling supply chains and address this ‘last mile’ challenge.

With 97% of retailers feeling that their current delivery model cannot be sustained, the need for organisations to re-think or adapt their approach to last mile delivery is becoming more urgent by the day. As the pandemic exposes further weak links in supply chains, it is clear that traditional models will only go so far; by implementing digital technologies retailers can reduce error, costs, and perhaps most importantly tasks that require human input. 

Reducing human contact through autonomous delivery

Reducing human-to-human is key to halting the spread of COVID-19 and many eyes will be looking to autonomous delivery as an innovative solution to achieve this.

While the concept of autonomous delivery has been discussed for a while, it has always been more of a dream than a reality. However, COVID-19 has finally provided companies with the impetus and opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of autonomous delivery. For instance, drones are being used in Ireland to distribute medicine to vulnerable people under lockdown. The success of these drones will likely mean a larger roll out throughout Ireland and the realisation that autonomous delivery is indeed a possibility.

Introducing dark stores

An additional option for retailers looking to adapt their delivery capabilities to reduce human contact is the introduction of more dark stores. Dark stores are places where items are picked for delivery either using traditional labour-based picking methods and/or through the use of automated storage and retrieval systems (such as micro-fulfilment). They are closed to the public and fulfil online orders only.

Pre-COVID 19, one in four retailers used dark stores, however as the industry looks to get back to some kind of normal whilst managing public concerns it would make sense for shops to continue this trend. With limited disruption and contact with in-store customers, dark stores offer a great way for retailers to get to grips with huge consumer demand.

Automation of supply chains

Automation of supply chains is another way to address post COVID-19 concerns. With 77% of shoppers more cautious about cleanliness and health and safety in the post-pandemic era and 62% choosing to actively switch to brands which prioritise product safety, the benefits of a more machine-driven approach are clear.

However, cleanliness isn’t the only benefit. Automation additionally reduces fulfilment errors, such as mislabeling packaging and sending incorrect orders. Analysis has shown warehouse automation could increase profit margins by 8%, reducing time and mistakes. However, firms must ensure that automated solutions are designed with flexibility in mind to accommodate future business needs (which may be difficult to forecast and/or predict).  It is essential they invest in solutions that can grow with their business over a longer term time horizon to ensure they get the right levels of return.

Conclusion

The sudden increase of consumer demand due to COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains and truly put retailers to the test. While yet another expense, those that put money into digitising their supply chains now, will see their investments pay off as they manage the growing demand with greater ease. With lockdown easing and retailers look to reopen, the impacts of the ‘new normal’ will soon be felt by delivery services across the board – ensuring the last mile is ready to handle this is an investment worth making.

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