Tuesday 25th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Delivery perfection

Making the perfect delivery is vital to fulfilling the perfect order, an essential requirement in the fickle world of online retail. And increasingly, retailers are turning to carrier management software to improve both quality and efficiency. Malory Davies reports.

This article was first published in Logistics Manager, July 2016.

This article was first published in Logistics Manager, July 2016.

Making the perfect delivery is an ambition for every logistician, particularly with the growth of online retail.

But, what is the perfect delivery? For Marie Hamblin, product director of GFS Technology, it is quite simply one which arrives at its intended destination when and how it should without any further involvement on the part of the client along the way. “It will be completely transparent, with full and relevant information available to the right people at the right time at every point in the delivery.”

And increasingly, companies are turning to carrier management systems to improve both the quality and the efficiency of their delivery operations.

But a myriad of factors need to be taken into account when developing an effective carrier management strategy.

Matthew Robertson, commercial director at NetDespatch, points out that the current industry trend is around having numerous carriers for retailers, offering a multitude of options to the consumer (eg next day, delivery to a store). “In fact new stats from the beginning of the year show that 56 per cent of British shoppers said they would move to a rival retailer if their preferred delivery method was not available, so the pressure is really on for retailers to deliver flexible ways of getting parcels to the consumer. Making sure retailers have the best advice on which carriers they want to work with, and what delivery options a retailer can realistically provide, will help streamline the carrier management strategy.

“Building on this, retailers will be considering the preferred method for the consumer. Retailers will also be looking to match their profile to the relevant providers – for example, if the company sells a lot of high value items, picking a carrier that offers tracking and signature services may be the best and safest option. There are a whole host of carriers out there for every size of parcel and speed of delivery, and choosing the right carriers for a retailer’s business will ultimately boost sales and the bottom line.”

Hamblin is clear that a truly effective carrier management platform needs to be about so much more than printing labels on behalf of a number of different carriers. “It has to form a partnership covering clients’ entire product journey. That means being able to grasp what products are being sold and where and guarantee the level of customer experience which clients intend to deliver. It has to be capable of being integrated – quickly and easily – with whatever order management, ERP or WMS systems clients are using.”

And, she says: “I should point out that a fundamental reason why businesses choose to use a carrier management provider is to benefit from cost effective distribution. This is about so much more than just a parcel price. A good carrier management system will contribute to efficiency across the whole business.”

She points out that users want a platform which is easy, reliable, robust, secure and allows for fast integration between their existing systems and the right carrier services for their needs.

“That optimal experience almost inevitably requires a mix of carriers but the business of determining which delivery is best for individual packages may become inefficient if it’s left only for the warehouse staff to decide. For instance, providing a retailer with the means to set rules as to what type of delivery options are presented to customers at the online checkout not only automates the process but ensures that consumer expectations are managed at the point of transaction. It’s important to recognise that we all have different delivery requirements.”

In the retail market, Robertson highlights the importance of having an IT system that is able to work in the same way as how a retailer operates is key to ensuring that all processes run smoothly.

“In today’s market, retailers are growing all the time, in terms of the lines of products offered, numbers of customers served and delivery options offered – a carrier management system needs to be able to adapt and grow alongside these changes.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to retailer carrier management systems – every retailer needs something different, to ensure they are providing the best service for that particular set of clientele. Making sure all the different IT systems adapt and work together with new and upcoming technologies will allow retailers to grow and profit from a faster, seamless service – for example, NetDespatch’s partnership with Snaffle has allowed retailer UK Printwear to boost parcel orders, nearly tripling parcel output to 300 orders per day.”

The ability to integrate the carrier management system with the warehouse processes holds out the possibility of almost automated operation and concomitant savings for retailers. Robertson says: “The key is for the system to handle the data and put it in the correct place, ready for the next person or process – be that retailer, carrier or consumer – for them to use that data.

“Having an IT system that incorporates all aspects of order processing and one that can use the already available data, and reduce or eliminate the need for the retailer to manually duplicate the data into different systems is really important. By automating the data management, it reduces human error by (for example) automating label and manifest production, processing orders automatically and making the process much faster with less need for human intervention. By reducing the need to manually input data and minimising manual labour, an effective front to back-end IT system can create a streamlined operation.”

And Hamblin says: “I would argue that any carrier management system should be integrated from the web to the warehouse. When you consider e-commerce firms, for example, a number of different departments need information on how goods are or can be dispatched, when that’s done and how much it will all cost. Companies should be able to avail themselves of the broadest possible menu of delivery options, even though their own practices will determine what services they choose to offer customers. To look at label generation as one part of the process, high-volume shippers will need to be able to print enormous numbers of labels at speed and with contingency. The software developed by GFS enables their customers to print in excess of 50,000 labels per hour and without dependency on the internet.

“Being seamless, enables clients to focus on what they need to do, giving them the material they need to run their businesses even better.”

Ultimately, says Robertson, a retailer should be looking to gain two main benefits from an efficient carrier management system – saving time, and increasing efficiency. “By automating processes that would have otherwise been completed manually, carrier management systems can help retailers to get parcels out the door and to the customer quickly and with fewer data input errors. A knock-on effect of this is the second benefit – increased efficiency.”

Route Genie integrates with InPost lockers

Route Genie, iForce’s carrier management platform, has formed a long-term partnership to integrate InPost UK’s network of automated parcel lockers into its software.

InPost currently has more than 1,000 lockers at a variety of secure locations including Morrisons supermarkets, Esso petrol stations, Transport for London (TfL) sites, as well as outside retailers such as Toys R Us.

Route Genie already integrates with major carriers, allowing retailers to process and manage those providers efficiently while reducing operating costs. Route Genie was launched as a SaaS application last year.

The Route Genie software underpins iForce Pathfinder, the company’s carrier management solution, which is currently used by retailers such as Dunelm, Waitrose Cellar and Paperchase.

£3 million savings for River Island

River Island reckons it has saved £3 million by switching to the MetaPack carrier management system.

The retailer has 350 stores across Europe, Asia and the Middle East and six dedicated web sites. Up until three years ago, its carrier management system was manually intensive, requiring staff to assign each parcel to a carrier on an individual basis when processing an order. And because the system wasn’t aligned with physical stores, it couldn’t handle carrier automation or package assignment.

River Island implemented MetaPack Manager and set up allocation rules to dynamically assign each parcel to the right carrier based on factors such as product type, value, size and delivery postcode.

“MetaPack’s rule-based methodology has provided River Island much greater flexibility in terms of an international proposition and carrier services based on order weight and value, and this has been reflected in the savings that have been made in the last three years,” says e-commerce logistics manager Sunil Bhudia.

“We can clearly see that international rates have been dropping substantially year-on-year, with greater customer satisfaction, lower loss rates and around a 39 per cent overall fall in costs of overseas delivery. This equates to around £3 million in savings over this period based on the decreasing average delivery cost, lower customer service interactions and lower lost parcels.”

The system also allows the retailer to use a greater variety of delivery services in fulfilling international orders. While technical complexities previously meant the retailer could offer only three or four international services, today customers can choose from eight international delivery options as well as PUDO services through personalised delivery offerings on the website’s front end.

“We’re seeing year-on-year increases in new visitors and registered users of our website,” says Bhudia. “Domestically we’ve experienced a 15 per cent year-on-year increase in conversion.”