The on-demand economy is in full force, and it’s pushing distributors to deliver orders faster than ever. Here are five ways to get your company ready for the 2-hour delivery windows that one technology provider is expecting by 2028.
Most distributorships are already familiar with those 11th-hour calls from frantic customers who need orders delivered within extremely short timeframes – as short as an hour. Knowing this is bound to happen, companies reserve some of their energy and resources for these mad scrambles, knowing that their best customers will appreciate the extra effort and come back to place more orders in the future.
But what happens when it’s not just an emergency call, and when most orders have to be fulfilled and delivered within a few hours or less?
Where just 5-10 years ago this would have been inconceivable in business-to-business (B2B) distribution, Amazon and the other companies that have followed it down the quick-delivery rabbit hole are focusing on the final mile—that critical gap between the warehouse and the end customer. As they master that part of their supply chains, that same-day/next-day frenzy has moved into B2B, where customers expect to be able to hit “buy now” on their mobile devices and have stuff delivered to their job trailers the same or next day.
“Amazon has made same-day delivery an expectation. Netflix has made on-demand streaming a nightly activity. Google has made information of any kind readily available at the tap of a button or the voice command of a user,” marketing firm Brafton points out. “The ‘customer’ is satisfied only when these networks function exactly and in real time, customs that carry over to the B2B habitat as well.”
That “habitat” isn’t getting any more hospitable for distributors. In fact, it may get more difficult if Zebra Technologies Corp.’s predictions are correct. According to the mobile technology provider’s recent Future of Fulfillment Vision study, 40% of all parcels will be delivered within two hours by 2028.
The study also revealed that 78% of logistics companies expect to provide same-day delivery by 2023 and that 87% plan to use crowdsourced delivery (or a network of drivers that choose to complete a specific order) by 2028. “89 percent of survey respondents agreed that e-commerce is driving the need for faster delivery,” Zebra’s Jim Hilton said in a press release.
“In response, companies are turning to digital technology and analytics to bring heightened automation, merchandise visibility and business intelligence to the supply chain,” he continued, “to compete in the on-demand consumer economy.”
We Want it NOW
If that 2-hour delivery window does come to fruition in the B2C space, it won’t be a matter of if it will bleed over into the B2B arena; it will be a matter of when. That will create challenges and opportunities for electrical distributors.
On one hand, having to take an order, fulfill it, get it on a truck, and get it to the church on time will require a ramping-up and/or overhaul of existing fulfillment and delivery systems. On the other hand, the distributor that embraces the 2-hour delivery window reality now (versus later), can position itself for success in an environment where competitors may be scrambling to catch up. Here are five ways to make sure your company lands in the second bucket:
- Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Robert Sollars, author of Unconventional Customer Service: How To Break the Rules and Provide Unparalleled Service, says the electrical distributor that wants to get out in front of the trend simply needs to put itself in its customer’s shoes. “We’re all customers in one way or another,” Sollars says. “So how would you feel if one of your preferred suppliers said it couldn’t get you the products the next day, and that you were just out of luck? You’d probably go elsewhere to find what you were looking for.”
- Focus more on relationships, and less on delivery times. Right now, 2028 may seem like a pretty long timeline to prep for 2-hour delivery windows. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that these types of prognoses usually come true sooner rather than later. Instead of waiting until 2025 to do something about it, Leanna DeBellevue, owner of Legacy Marketing Agency, says distributors should start making small moves in the right direction now. “You don’t have to be a huge company with billions in sales to come up with a good plan of action for faster deliveries, you just have to be creative and use your smaller size and strong customer relationships to your advantage,” she says. “Focus on being relationship-based and all of these industry trends that are taking place will have much less of an impact on your distributorship.”
- Jump on the bandwagon early. As we stated earlier, B2B distributors are already pretty accustomed to jumping through hoops at the last minute for their customers. The 2-hour delivery windows that Zebra expects are really just another “hoop” that distributors can and will tackle when the challenge is put in front of them. DeBellevue says a good first move for electrical distributors is to start experimenting with these short timeframes over the next few years. By introducing them slowly, companies can avoid getting caught off guard if and when the 2-hour delivery windows go mainstream. “That way, when a big box or Amazon rolls out the service, you can basically shrug it off with, ‘Oh yeah? Well, we’ve been shipping within two hours for years,’” DeBellevue explains. “By jumping on the bandwagon early, distributors can put themselves in the perfect position to take advantage of these short shipping timeframes before anyone else does.”
- Start talking to your suppliers now. Strong distributor-supplier relationships can mean the difference between success and failure in the quick-delivery arena. Sollars says distributors that want to tighten up their own delivery windows will probably have to do more drop shipping (direct from suppliers) in the future, and particularly if stocking up on more inventory isn’t an option. Fighting the inevitable and “sticking to your guns” on delivery policies probably won’t work once B2B delivery times are whittled down to mere hours, he says, so start thinking about how to turn that trend into an opportunity now.
- Stay small, but act big. “People like working with smaller companies because they’re more personable and because they can form relationships with them, but they turn to larger companies like Amazon Business because they know they can get their stuff same-day or next-day,” says Sollars. “By finding a good balance between these two ends of the spectrum, independent distributors can build good client retention and loyalty by giving them what they want.”