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Going the Extra Mile

By Susan Bloom

As Amazon gears up to hire another 50,000 packers, shippers, and sorters nationwide to ensure even speedier delivery through “the last mile,” industry spokespeople weigh in on what fast delivery means to them.

This week, Amazon hosted an HR event of epic proportion—a large-scale open house/job fair through which the online giant hopes to fill tens of thousands of jobs at its fulfillment centers nationwide.  According to Amazon Corporate Communications Manager Nina Akerley Lindsey in an interview with tED magazine, “Amazon is hiring for more than 50,000 available roles across our U.S. fulfillment network and hosted the nation's largest job fair on August 2 at 12 locations.”

At Amazon distribution centers from Baltimore, Maryland to Fall River, Massachusetts and Kenosha, Wisconsin to Kent, Washington, Amazon's pending employment opportunities include roles at its fulfillment centers for employees to pick, pack, and ship customer orders as well as at sortation centers where employees will sort and consolidate customer packages “to enable superfast shipping speeds and Sunday delivery for customers,” the company shared in a press release.  The August 2nd open house event offered onsite tours and informational sessions related to how the retailer “fulfills customer orders at superfast speed and the technology it utilizes in its operations.”

Miles Ahead
While the vast majority of electrical distributors aren't necessarily positioned to operate at the warp speed Amazon has demonstrated, many are well along the way in their own markets.  According to a spokesperson within the corporate logistics department at Turtle & Hughes in Bridgewater, NJ, fast delivery ranks as a “very high” priority by management and the company has long been rising to the challenge.  To support customer demands for same-day and even within-the-hour delivery, “we employ such measures as same-day trucks, after-hours deliveries, and couriers or Hotshot carriers and have added more company delivery assets as well, plus we have all the latest routing and optimization software for real time tracking/signature capture,” the spokesperson said.  “We've always counted on our 'last mile' T&H company drivers and extended carrier pool—they're the face of the company and often the last line of customer service.”

Following, tED magazine interviewed Warren Cohen, President of Last Mile Logistics, a Boca Raton, FL-based full-service provider of logistics and freight management services throughout North America, for insights on the real (and often perceived) importance of fast delivery in today's competitive business environment.

tED magazine:  How does your company view or define “the last mile?”
Cohen:  We provide that final mile of delivery to customers in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  The key for us is to be proactive—we often say that “every minute matters” and we pride ourselves on giving customers an exact-time window of delivery because people and jobs are waiting on it; every minute that we're late represents a cost to our customers.

tED magazine: What are the most frequent concerns customers voice relative to getting items delivered?
Cohen:  By far, the biggest complaint in the industry relates to communication.  Things are never perfect, but having technology that gives customers visibility to what's going on is key and will often determine the success or failure of a delivery.  The onus is really on the driver to communicate so that the customer knows what's going on; we know that if a driver calls to say they'll be late, the customer won't necessarily be happy, but they'll be happier than if the driver or company didn't communicate at all.  The mode of communication used depends on the customer—we employ everything from electronic signature and full tracking to the availability of our web portal, which offers visibility to the driver's status and schedule, as well as real-time tracking of the delivery via scanner.

Another issue the industry is facing now is reduced truck capacity based on a decline in the number of physical truck drivers over the years; an increase in the number of female truckers entering the carrier industry has helped to offset that trend a bit, but because of fewer drivers, truck capacity this year is expected to be 3-4% tighter than last year, which is significant and creates grounds for delivery delays.

tED magazine: What types of things are companies willing to do today to ensure that products are delivered (B2B or B2C) on time, in the right condition, and without delay?
Cohen:  In addition to implementing a range of web-based tracking and tracing software to give greater visibility to the status of a delivery, driverless vehicles are being tested/introduced and Amazon is in the process of developing drone-based delivery in order to someday remove people from the process.  Companies are also looking to electric and alternative-fuel vehicles to help reduce fuel costs (in Britain, there's already a movement to ban the sale of new diesel and gas-fueled cars by 2040), though battery technology will need to support longer distances in order to be a viable option in the large-scale logistics sector.

tED magazine: Amazon is a big proponent of “the last mile” concept and has made large-scale investments to continuously set the bar on that front. Do you feel they have a valid point—e.g., is the 'last mile' that essential to business today?
Cohen:  The parcel-oriented Amazon model is amazing and Amazon does continue to set the bar.  In many ways, they created a lot of the need for and expectations of faster delivery and have driven consumers and businesses to a model that's much more time-sensitive such that everyone wants things now, now, now.  Certain types of time-sensitive businesses, like banks and medical labs, have always been relying on fast delivery and the use of couriers, but Amazon created a new sense of urgency that has since permeated all consumers and businesses.  Interestingly enough, many studies I've read confirm that the option of free shipping often has greater value and takes priority over the option of fast delivery for many consumers and businesses.  Electrical distributors are well aware of the importance of getting product to a jobsite quickly, as the cost of delays can be crippling to a job.  In the end, all businesses want to reduce the time it takes between picking an order to getting it to the customer or on the shelf, but few have the sense of urgency and investment commitment that Amazon does—these companies find a cost-effective way to get product to its ultimate destination in an acceptable time frame to keep the customer happy.

Bloom is a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.



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