Common challenges of last-mile food & beverage delivery
“Last-mile delivery” is a term which describes the final leg of the delivery journey, as an item makes its way from a warehouse to the customer’s doorstep.
This stage of the delivery process is the most important but also the most challenging. And when delivering food or beverages, the importance as well as the challenges of last-mile delivery are augmented.
In recent years, customers have come to expect immediate delivery of food and beverages when they order online. And if there’s one item that incites rage when delivered late or damaged, it would be food and/or beverages.
Why is it so difficult?
Here are the common challenges which you must resolve in order to offer last-mile food and beverage delivery.
The delivery of damaged goods is a problem for any kind of delivery, but even more so with food items.
There’s nothing more certain to give customers a bad impression of your brand than the delivery of spoiled food.
Even just receiving a meal that’s a little too cold, or a beverage that’s a little too warm, can leave a bad taste in their mouths (literally). In this situation, they are likely to choose a different company for their needs next time. And…you’ve just lost a customer, and maybe gained some disparaging Yelp reviews.
Temperature control is essential to the delivery of quality food and beverages. But getting the temperature just right is an inexact science which has baffled many companies.
Providing refrigeration in your delivery vehicles represents a significant expense, which may or may not pay for itself.
Then add to that the challenge of different temperatures required for different items, and you’ve got a giant puzzle to solve.
If you don’t get it just exactly right, the best-case scenario is that food arrives just a little too cold or too warm.
In the worst-case scenario, you end up delivering food items which are dangerous, even toxic, to your customers. That’s because inadequate refrigeration can result in the growth of harmful bacteria, like salmonella, which cause food-borne illness.
If you deliver food, it’s important to carry out a daily check on the temperatures of all refrigeration and freezing technology in your delivery vehicles to ensure they are keeping the food healthy, safe and delicious.
In most areas, failing to adequately refrigerate food you serve may even be illegal, exposing you to expensive fines and bad press.
So while maintaining proper temperature control does cost time and money, in the end it saves you from the much greater cost to your business that results from spoiled food.
When it comes to any kind of delivery, unpredictability is the name of the game.
If you’re delivering clothing or electronics, this unpredictability is merely an inconvenience. But when delivering food and beverages, it’s more than just inconvenient. If you don’t get to your destination on time, it can result in costly spoilage.
Unfortunately, your business really has no control over those factors which can abruptly throw a wrench in the delivery route. Poor weather conditions and traffic tie-ups can pop up at any time.
Added to that, you have the unpredictability inherent in the industry itself. If someone puts in a last-minute request for some beer or cold cuts, you find yourself abruptly juggling everything else on the delivery route to ensure you can provide the same-day or one-day service that they expect.
These problems are greatly complicated by the lack of the right technology. If your tools and software are outdated, you lack the ability to stay competitive and meet the increased expectations of today’s consumers.
Inadequate technology leads to inefficient route planning. To conquer that last mile, you need to anticipate and avoid every possible hurdle, whether it’s rush hour traffic or an inexperienced delivery driver.
Poor route planning adds to time spent on the road. It also uses more fuel, more stops and more expense.
Inefficient route planning can result in prohibitive costs all around. It also leads to delays which detract greatly from customer satisfaction.
Failed or missed deliveries mean your customers are unhappy. It also costs your business time and money to backtrack, potentially even having to create a new order if perishable items are spoiled due to delay.
There is also a huge snowball effect, as one missed delivery snarls up the rest of the route, making it likely that other food items will arrive late or not at all.
Lack of real-time tracking
With the technology available to them today, customers have grown accustomed to many perks which they would never have imagined before.
One of these is the ability to track their order at every stage of the delivery process. If this communication is missing, they will experience that as an inconvenience, and they will feel less satisfied with your service as a result.
As important as it is, this level of transparency can be challenging to achieve. It’s not easy to keep track of all your delivery drivers and communicate that information on an ongoing basis to customers.
The only way to accomplish this effectively is through the right technology. Fortunately, there are tools which your drivers can use to quickly and easily update the status of deliveries throughout their route. With these tools, you are able to see exactly where orders are and when they are going to arrive at their destination, and you can communicate that information to your customers.
While adding tracking codes to individual items can assist with this, this only scratches the surface of what customers will expect from you when waiting for food products to arrive.
While tracking codes provide information on the last time a status was updated, more detailed technology is needed to allow customers to track their orders in real time.
This requires high-tech delivery management software which provides up-to-the-minute details on exactly where each item is right until the moment it arrives on your customers’ doorstep. Part of this technology includes a cutting-edge driver mobile app and automated status updates.
Of course, if you want to set yourself apart by providing truly superior customer service, you can also provide a real person who is available by phone to respond to the never-ending stream of “Where’s my order?” questions. While this does require an extra investment in personnel, it may be worth it.
No backup drivers or vehicles
Accidents, bad weather, road closures, traffic delays…all these events are part of life.
No matter how carefully you optimize your routes, no matter how dedicated you are to your customers, you simply can’t control everything.
To excel in delivering quality foods and beverages to your customers, you have to anticipate these obstacles before they happen.
Let’s say a delivery vehicle ends up stranded by the side of the road due to a bad snowstorm.
A superior delivery service has the ability to pivot, quickly sending another vehicle to relieve the stranded one. In doing so, you minimize delay, keeping perishable items in good condition and your customers happy.
In another scenario, let’s imagine that one of your drivers is injured in a car accident while en route and thus unable to complete the delivery.
In this case, you can send out another driver to relieve the one who was injured, again ensuring that the delivery arrives with the least possible delay.
No one likes to think about such problems, yet they happen.
And if you don’t have additional vehicles or drivers available to provide coverage, these situations can completely derail your entire delivery schedule, leaving unhappy customers in their wake.
While it’s true that most customers will be forgiving in such situations, they still want to know that you have a plan in place.
Sometimes delays are inevitable, but a little advance planning on your part can make a big difference.
Of course, this kind of planning can also be quite costly. It’s expensive to keep additional drivers and vehicles waiting around in case of an emergency. The extra staff must be paid for their time, and vehicles must be maintained and gassed up. These costs may be more than what your business can absorb.
If so, consider working with a third-party courier service that can provide this flexibility.
Competing priorities - no dedicated driver manager
If you’re responsible for selling food and beverages, delivery management is only one of many all-consuming tasks which absorb your attention on any given day.
Preparing and packaging food, shopping for ingredients, managing marketing and customer relations, are each full-time jobs just on their own.
Add to that the logistical nightmare of managing deliveries, and you may quickly find that you’re spread too thin, doing everything yet excelling at nothing.
Success in the food service business is an elusive target for many reasons, but delivery adds a whole additional layer of difficulty.
You may find yourself spending so much time planning delivery routes, communicating with drivers, and troubleshooting failed or missed deliveries that the rest of your business suffers.
And yet, all of these tasks are absolutely necessary if you’re going to keep your customers happy.
One way to solve this problem is by hiring a dedicated driver manager.
This is a person on your staff whose sole responsibility is managing deliveries.
They take on the job of recruiting and training drivers, coordinating maintenance and repairs on delivery vehicles, planning routes, and providing backup in case of emergency.
This leaves you free to focus on other core tasks of running a food business. You don’t have to worry about sudden interruptions to your day if a delivery driver calls in sick or if a customer has provided an incorrect address. Instead, you can leave someone else to take care of these issues.
However, the downside to that arrangement is the need to keep an extra person on the payroll. This means an additional salary as well as just having another person to manage.
A better solution is to find a courier service which equips you with your own dedicated driver manager. This is really a win-win. You get someone to take on the role with minimal payroll costs.
It can be difficult to find a delivery service which offers this feature, but they do exist, and it’s definitely worth asking about.
The “last mile” is notoriously the most expensive leg of the journey for businesses and consumers alike.
Most consumers value quick delivery so highly (especially when it comes to food) that they are willing to pay top dollar for it. However, meeting this expectation can become very costly for your business.
The tremendous overhead involved in building an infrastructure which supports last-mile delivery is daunting, especially in the food delivery business, where timing and temperature are critical aspects of success.
It’s not just the delivery process itself which is costly. You also must factor in the following costs:
- Failed deliveries, in which you must replace any food that spoiled, as well as pay extra for time and fuel to make the delivery again
- Driver salaries
- Complicated routes, especially if you deliver to any rural areas
- Extra stops (such as fuel, bathroom breaks, etc.)
- Operating and maintaining a fleet of vehicles, and equipping them with proper refrigeration
To some degree, these costs can be passed on to your customers, but be careful about this, especially if your customers are ordering online. A 2021 survey found that 55% of online shoppers will abandon their cart if excessive delivery costs are added to the price.
Instead, aim to lower your costs through more efficient route planning. Working with a courier service that provides the right technology is the best way to do this.
Managing delivery costs can be very much of a moving target. How many staff members do you need to have on the payroll to meet demand? How many ingredients do you need to store, and can you use it all before it spoils? How can you justify these extra costs during slow seasons and times?
None of these questions are easy to answer.
As you can see, last-mile food and beverage delivery is a valuable service that is fraught with complications. You can minimize the impact of these challenges by partnering with a reputable delivery service.