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How conquering the last mile has become critical for brands

Brands and experts say last-mile delivery is no longer a value-added service but has become a necessity, even though some offline players are still hesitant to try out this aspect. Penetrating deep into the hinterland, maintaining data hygiene are few of the challenges brands are yet to conquer in reaching the last mile

The challenges posed by the Covid pandemic and lockdowns in the past one year have compelled every brand to consider and incorporate last-mile delivery as part of their core business functions. With movement restricted and people preferring to stay at home, a lot of companies are realising the importance of being an omni-channel or D2C-only brand.

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Talking to BestMediaInfo.com, brands explained how the pandemic has only pushed them to carry out greater innovations in delivering products and services as fast and efficiently as possible and how it is posing logistic challenges.

Mother Dairy is ensuring last-mile availability for almost all its products through various e-commerce platforms.

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With consumers opting for convenience, last-mile connectivity has become a crucial channel for almost all brands, a company spokesperson said. Whatever infrastructure is required has been established in urban markets and to an extent in some tier-II markets. However, penetrating deep into the hinterland will take time.

“Last-mile availability, or delivery of products, is at a critical juncture today. It was there before the pandemic and it will remain going ahead. Innovation in last-mile delivery will evolve as the industry and demand for in-home shopping gain momentum. Furthermore, companies expanding their horizon and diversifying to offer last-mile connectivity to different categories will drive innovation,” he said.

A convenient, fast and tech-driven last mile delivery experience is not just useful but essential in the current scenario.

Nandu’s is an omni-channel meat retail player with a customer outreach across retail, e-commerce via its own webstore, app, call centre, and also online marketplaces.

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Narendra Pasuparthy

Narendra Pasuparthy, CEO and Founder, Nandu’s, said that in the present scenario when consumers are making a conscious choice of buying from trusted brands that vouch for high standards of hygiene, health and safety of their products and services, a robust last-mile delivery is crucial in catering to the growing demands.

“Last-mile delivery will remain relevant for brands even in the long run. The pandemic has changed the whole dynamics of doing business and we should be able to evolve along with it. The need for more eco-friendly delivery options for faster, cost-effective and greener last-mile delivery has arrived,” he said.

Last-mile delivery plays a crucial role in building a brand and hence organisations should focus on leveraging this aspect to the fullest. However, for big-ticket items, it is more than simply leveraging the existing logistics capabilities as this part is under-developed.

Due to its in-house logistics infrastructure, Pepperfry was one of the first e-commerce businesses dealing with non-essential categories to re-initiate delivery of large items within the country.

Satish Mishra

Satish Mishra, Head of Supply Chain, Pepperfry, feels retail brands as well as logistics companies will focus on integrating technology such as GPS, fuel sensors, shock/tilt sensors, route optimiser, etc., to enhance their logistics infrastructure. He said even in the post-pandemic era, brands will continue to focus and fortify their supply chain capabilities (owned or contractual). Delivery through neighbourhood stores, delivery franchisees and last-mile aggregators, etc., is a concept that would sustain and expedite the adoption.

Not only products but also services such as plumbing, beauty and spa-related, etc., have seen a sustained upward trend amid the pandemic. New service providers have entered this segment and the older ones have begun providing home services.

A Senior Director at Enrich, thinks that with the new Covid world we live in, reaching to consumers wherever they may be, has become a given. Largely a brick-and-mortar salon business, it now has an efficient last-mile delivery system where it facilitates customer to place orders on call as well from the app.

He said the challenge for online players will be to offer an experiential shopping experience virtually. From virtual try-ons to virtual skin and hair analysis, there is no dearth of innovation here.

Pawan Sarda

Pawan Sarda, Group CMO, Future Group, Digital, Marketing and E-commerce, said conquering the last mile is an additional source of business that can help brands to expand their footprint. He said each business must have tried to achieve this but there could be logistical constraints due to local restrictions in the present scenario.

K P Saha

K P Saha, Founder, NDHGO (a platform that enables any business small or large to go online in less than a minute), said the pandemic has only pushed online consumption and forced brands to go the last mile. Most brands have some level of online presence either through aggregators or their own.

“Retailers or any small brick-and-mortar store are helpless today and because of the lockdown and restrictions they don’t even have enough time to have a proper infrastructure. Whereas, online players are able to deliver to consumers. Our platform is catering to all brick-and-mortar stores so that they can easily create an online presence and own online stores. We have made our services free for lifetime to all the retailers,” he added.

Apart from logistics issues, the last mile concept has other challenges, including poor infrastructure or customer derivatives (incorrect address, client absence, etc), and needs a lot of investment.

How brands are overcoming the challenges

The challenges in last-mile delivery need to be solved fast because the delivery landscape is changing rapidly with various advancements. Drone deliveries, delivery robots and driverless vehicles may soon replace traditional ways of delivery. These could become part of the mainstream with the blink of an eye and pose a new set of challenges that will be several times more complex than the present ones.

Pasuparthy said now is the right time to look for technologically feasible, affordable solutions to the current challenges regarding infrastructure, route optimisation, meeting fulfilment timeline of the last-mile delivery before this becomes a catch-up game affecting both operational efficiency and profitability.

Processing and delivering an online order may sound simple but it involves a lot of processes in between. Once an order is placed, it goes through several stages in the supply chain before the delivery is complete. And both technology and agile processes play an important part in last-mile delivery. Ultimately it is the last-mile delivery that determines if the product reaches the customer safely and on time, and this involves a cost.

Given the importance of the last mile in the supply chain, businesses have to make sure that they make sufficient investments to keep this division running, Pasuparthy said. Hence, brands need to tactfully allot their revenues to ensure smooth functioning of every division and this is where it takes time, thought and planning. The ever-complicated last-mile delivery has got more chaotic owing to the on-ground restrictions in movement and contactless deliveries. And zero cash payment has added to the struggle for many brands. It is the need of the hour for brands to digitise the last-mile delivery system as the future tech-savvy customers demand complete transparency of their order fulfilment process.

Last-mile delivery needs investments but Sarda said brands should also push the envelope and be obsessed with the fact that, if your customer is not able to come to you, you reach out to them and if you don’t address this, someone else will and you will lose your customer.

Lloyd Mathias

Most brands have enabled online effectively, though a handful are still struggling with it.  Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor, said that for some categories such as automobile and high-touch services, the switch is not very easy. The brands that have missed out on this aspect were perhaps constrained by various factors such as the inability to lend themselves to online sales, e.g., real estate and automobiles. Then there are some who may not have been able to manage effective online partnerships.

The Senior Director at Enrich said the very traditional offline players may be hesitant in exploring this part.

As far as customer derivatives are concerned, he added, “Data hygiene is important not only for delivery reasons, and all companies need to work to get that right. I think these investments will stand organisations in good stead in the coming years, so it is well worth the pain and expense today.”

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