How the gig economy can help win the last mile delivery race

It’s been a tumultuous year for those trying to get things from A to B. Disrupted supply chains, a blockage in the Suez Canal, dock workers going on strike, and the continuing e-commerce surge has made it a less than easy ride for transport and logistics professionals

Like the broader logistics industry, last mile delivery has found a way to adapt to meet changing and unpredictable conditions.

While the gig economy isn’t new, its benefits have been felt tenfold during the pandemic.

It has helped plug gaps in the workforce, and in the UK it is expected to surge 300% over the next three years alone. But it has also meant a dramatic shift in how last mile delivery operates and finding more staff to increase capacity is only half of the battle. In the final stages of order fulfilment when the physical touchpoint with the customer happens, poor service can leave a lasting impression on both the delivery firm and the retailer. In many cases, technology adoption is still lacking, making it harder to attract and retain talent who are looking for the best companies to work for in a competitive market.  It’s never been more important to onboard new workers and to serve the end customer efficiently.

Technology to support the last mile

Smartphone-based app solutions, often within a bring your own device (BYOD), corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) or hybrid model, are already part of the last mile technology toolkit for over two-thirds (67%) of postal and logistics providers. Each model offers differing benefits from the flexibility offered within one device rather than multiple, the ability to standardize IT requirements to higher productivity and the workers feeling like they are obtaining a perk or benefit. Logistics businesses can easily deploy smartphones at scale and onboard workers with either reduced or removed fixed costs, helping to streamline processes. Plus the bonus of not having dedicated scanners that may sit dormant in quieter times.

With 27% of those who have still not made the switch from using dedicated scanning devices to smartphones stating they have considered a BYOD strategy, it’s likely we will see even more businesses take advantage of BYOD moving forward.

For example, as part of its digital strategy, UK independent parcel carrier Yodel has a transformation programme to replace its hand-held terminals (HHTs) and replace them with smart devices using a mobile app. It handles over 145 million parcels every year and has a relationship with 85% of the UK’s top retailers. With many of its couriers self-employed, Yodel needed a scanning app to work across a wide range of smartphones in support of its BYOD policy and help to onboard new drivers quickly to deal with peaks in demand.

Delivery drivers are able to quickly download an app that allows them to scan multiple items in one go and view instructions and information on an augmented reality (AR) overlay, to help speed up loading at depots and reduce the time taken to find packages in vans.  This helps drive productivity in services centres and on the go.

Preparing for peak

Moving away from specialist hardware saves time with the speed of onboarding and training new drivers, particularly important for an industry that sees demand peaks. For example, when deliveries need to be scaled up during events such as Christmas or Black Friday, it’s easy to bring on new gig economy workers, without having to hold lengthy technology inductions. Essentially they can download an app, which can provide them with instructions as they go via AR. Saving time for both workers and last mile businesses – it’s a win-win for all.

The benefits of those who have already taken advantage of BYOD are already being noticed across Europe. According to Scandit’s research, 81% of those in Europe that have made the switch from dedicated hardware to smartphone apps say they have delivered the benefits they were expecting. One of the biggest savings is a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by switching from a shared dedicated device model to a COPE smartphone model. The addition or option of a BYOD model adds much needed agility to adjust to onboarding requirements and peak periods. 

Deploying smartphones in the last mile is also more convenient for delivery drivers as they can work from one device which they already have familiarity with and adopt the technology from the offset. This helps foster workers feeling more equipped for the job and more inclined to stay which is important in such a competitive labour market. Plus as some drivers may work across multiple companies, this can make the working day significantly more flexible with just the need to download an app.

Giving customers a seamless experience

In every aspect of our lives, we have become accustomed to being mobile-first and last mile delivery is no different. To be fit for the future in the short – and long-term, last mile delivery businesses need their entire operation to be as seamless and efficient as possible. Today’s customer expects a seamless experience and a late delivery, or even an unhappy driver can cause reputational damage that impacts long term loyalty.

The most successful businesses are making long-term investments in technology to boost their operational efficiency, drive down costs, and create much slicker tools to help attract and retain last mile workers and improve UX and CX. The industry can’t afford to wait for another crisis before evolving to the needs of the market. It’s time to future-proof by investing in people and the right technology to streamlining processes and ensuring customer and staff needs are met.

About the Author

Samuel Mueller is CEO at Scandit. Scandit helps enterprises around the world by moving scanning-enabled routine processes onto smart devices, all powered by our computer vision solutions. We blend the physical and digital worlds to create new ways for our customers and employees to engage. Many of the world’s most successful companies work with us as part of their digital transformation, including 7-Eleven Inc., Sephora, Levi Strauss & Co, NHS England and Instacart.

Featured image: ©Fizkes