Last Mile Delivery, 3PLs and Last Yard Logistics Services

Last mile delivery? No, last yard is the final step in delivery

For years, much of the buzz in the supply chain industry has been about last mile delivery and last mile logistics.  The “last mile” refers to the final stage of a delivery process, extending from a point of origin to the customer-specified destination.  The final segment of the supply chain or order fulfillment process, the last mile is usually the most expensive part of the supply chain process. As customers form impressions of brands based on their experience in receiving the goods that they order, last mile delivery is incredibly important.

Both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions can be involved with last mile delivery.  With the dramatic increase in online shopping, the sheer volume of shipments and last mile delivery efforts is daunting, both in the United States as well as across the world.  Specialized last mile delivery services have invaded the transportation and logistics industry. No longer limited to employees performing delivery services, today, the gig economy has flourished along with Uber.

The last mile does not end when the goods that were shipped are delivered to a customer (B2C) or receiving location (B2B).  Essentially, value is created when the goods are available at the appropriate location within the customer organization.

Just when you think you have heard and read all that you can stand about last mile delivery, enter the concept of the “last yard”.  The last mile does not end when the goods are delivered to a customer or point of receipt.  Remember, value is created at the point when the goods are available at locations where they are needed within the customer organization.  In some situations, the term “last mile” may be interpreted to include last yard responsibilities in order to fulfill the promise of value creation.

Due to higher customer expectations of customers (especially consumers) regarding delivery, last yard delivery has become a point of concentration for e-commerce retailers.  Last yard delivery issues occur when the delivery professional arrives at the delivery location.  Often in both cases of B2B and B2C deliveries, there are roadblocks to delivering a package directly into the appropriate person’s hands. 

The Last Yard

This refers to what happens to a shipment once it is delivered, either to a customer or consumer and how it is then routed to the appropriate location where it may be used or needed.  Last yard may be considered as an extension of the last mile concept, the next step beyond the conclusion of the last mile.

What is the biggest problem involving last mile logistics?  Delayed, damaged, misplaced or lost deliveries.

These roadblocks may include:
  • Community or property gates that prevent entry to the delivery address
  • A doorman, who may be unavailable, unwilling or prone to mistakes in facilitating delivery into the hands of the necessary recipient.
  • Disorganized, hard to find or otherwise challenging mailrooms
  • Lack of or temporarily inaccessible parcel lockers (such as in multi-family residences)

In last yard logistics, the customer receives the shipment and takes it to its point of use.  Here are some examples:

B2B

Movement of parts required to complete the production of goods from a receiving dock to the manufacturing assembly line. The last yard of this shipment would be the movement to the manufacturing facility in which the package will be opened, and its contents used in production.

B2C

Order is delivered from the fulfillment center to the final address of the end consumer

Managing last yard logistics is an important element for managing growth in consumer-centric supply chains as it can determine if the customer’s needs have been fully satisfied.  Obstacles to efficient, effective last yard logistics include poorly run mail rooms and receiving departments.  These intermediary steps in the delivery process can delay the timely arrival of shipments to their final destination, resulting in dissatisfaction and other consequences.  Modernizing mail rooms, receiving departments and other areas and introducing innovative new technologies can improve real time shipment visibility and enhance logistics efforts.

To alleviate the need for human intervention by doormen and other staff as well as theft by “porch pirates”, parcel and package lockers have increased in popularity.  Amazon and UPS have both been working on plans to deploy multi-unit delivery lockers in multi-family housing units. The electronically-secured package lockers can be accessed using a passcode and are branded but can be used by any delivery service.

Additional last yard logistics problems may occur at drop off or delivery locations and include goods that are delayed, misplaced, lost or damaged.  To remedy these problems, shippers and 3PLs need effective strategies, processes and technologies that provide real time tracking and visibility.

What Factors Are Fueling Changes in Last Yard Logistics Services?

  • Increase in package volumes in contrast to the decreasing volumes of physical (“snail”) mail
  • Notable increases in seasonal shipments and deliveries of all types, especially around holidays
  • More personal packages being shipped to work addresses
  • Increase in value and critical nature of many shipments such as life science supplies and equipment, parts needed for replacement and/or repairs, top priority deliveries for executives
  • Escalation of growth in perishable consumables and non-consumables such as food and grocery

With warehouses and last mile delivery service providers pressured by decreased staff productivity, high expectations of customers for speedy, accurate deliveries, lack of adequate storage space and poorly performing mail centers, the existing supply chain and last mile model are feeling the pressure.

In order for the customer to be able to realize the “value” of the shipment, the last yard responsibilities must be executed properly and the shipment must be available at the appropriate location on time.

Because of all these pressures to perform, 3PLs are taking on these challenges.  Today some third party logistics providers now specialize in both last mile and last yard logistics.  3PLs tend to have one distinct advantage:  they tend to invest in technology to remain competitive. 

Some of the technologies that 3PLs use for last yard logistics include:
  • Tracking and receiving software solutions
  • Android and iOS Smartphones and tablets for real time delivery tracking and capture of electronic signatures at time of delivery
  • Wireless barcode label printers
Many 3PLs view last yard as an extension or continuation of their existing last mile delivery service offerings which for consumer deliveries may include:
  • White glove services such as item assembly, furniture or appliance placement, installation and clean up
  • Returns exchange service
  • Product demonstration

3PL B2B last yard services may include:

  • Instant proof of delivery
  • Rework and management of returns
  • Returns exchange services
  • Packaging, tagging and labeling services
  • Relocation of stock to point-of-use
  • Consolidation and stockroom replenishment management
  • Separation of product by department

Here are two examples of B2B Last Yard Service Innovations by 3PLs:

3PL Fashion Apparel Specialist:

Provides an array of services tailored to the fashion, accessories and clothing markets

3PL Automotive Industry Specialist:

In-plant movement of raw materials, components and sub-assemblies either to or from stocking points on production lines as finished goods are created

Conclusion

If you are an Amazon Prime junkie or regular Joe (or Jill) who spends hours enjoying online shopping and posting reviews on social media, you know how great it feels to have something you ordered delivered right into your hands .  Consumers do not know all the ins and outs of supply chain management.  They have no desire to take a deep dive into the world of inbound logistics and home delivery to understand why packages sometimes arrive late and disappoint consumers.  What they do know is that the customer experience is critical to the formation of the consumer’s impression of a brand.  Effective package delivery is an essential element of that brand’s promise, regardless of whether a white glove third party logistics company or an Uber driver gets it to the door on time.

Today, online shopping has led to a plethora of available delivery options and delivery vehicles, all competing to meet demanding customer expectations.  It is not enough to simply get the package to a destination.  Now, one stop beyond the final mile for both B2B and B2C, there is the last yard with which to contend.  The dramatic increase in shipment volume and need for a more satisfying delivery experience that leads to the ultimate culmination in the customers assumption of the “value” of the shipment involves last yard services.  This may mean ensuring that packages are delivered straight to an assembly line of a manufacturing facility or opening boxes for a consumer so that the goods can be inspected, assembled and arranged in a consumer’s living room.

Third party logistics providers are helping with the dramatic increase in last yard service needs, partially because of their tendency to adopt technology.  Use of technologies including mobile computers and printers with sophisticated 3PL warehouse management systems  provides last yard service providers with the means to capture and use real time data to track shipments, enhance order fulfillment capabilities and save time and money on supply chain operations.

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