The last move of freight to your customers is far from last in importance — final mile logistics poses unique challenges and requires close attention to get it right.
Also called “last mile,” final mile is the end link in your supply chain, getting your finished products to store shelves or customers’ homes.
These special deliveries can have unique requirements, including:
- Vehicles used
- Type of delivery location
- Number of delivery locations
- Tracking requirements
- On-time performance requirements
Looking to sharpen your final mile strategy? Use this guide to ensure you know all your options and how to make them work for you.
Navigate the Final Mile Logistics Guide With These Links
Your 4-Step Final Mile Logistics Guide
First things first — where does your freight need to go?
In the final mile logistics space, there are two main types of delivery scenario:
This is when your product is shipped to a brick-and-mortar retail location to be sold in the store. This can be either delivery of new product or replenishment of existing product.
The freight you ship to a store may be limited to your product, or it could also include merchandising assets for in-store display.
This is when your product is shipped directly to a customer who has purchased it. Home delivery had been trending up for years but really accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Home delivery requires a final mile provider who can service multiple discrete delivery locations — and with today’s consumer expectations, one who can offer real-time tracking as well.
Within each of the delivery scenarios outlined above, you have some further choices to make.
You need to determine what services your customers expect — in the final mile space, this often goes well beyond simply dropping a package off at the door.
Store Delivery Service Options
- Non-Dock Deliveries: For stores that do not have docks; lift gates are required for box trucks.
- Store Distribution and Replenishment: Transporting product to replace stock at stores that already carry it.
- New Store Delivery: Transporting product to a store that has not carried it before; may include setting up a display, merchandising and/or updating point of sale systems.
- Pool Distribution: Driver picks up product from multiple facilities for delivery to one or more locations.
- Forward Stocking: Moving your product from one distribution center to another to help it get on the shelf sooner.
Home Delivery Service Options
- Curbside: The most basic delivery option. Product is dropped off outside the domicile.
- First Dry Area/Threshold: Delivery driver will carry the product into the home, leaving it in the first available safe place.
- Room of Choice: Delivery driver will carry the product to any room in the house.
- White Glove: Includes a moderate amount of assembly or installation assistance, but no promises to complete challenging tasks.
- Assembly: Delivery driver will fully assemble the product.
- Installation: Delivery driver will install the product in the home.
- Debris Removal: Delivery driver will remove product packaging and assembly/installation debris from your home.
- Returns: Driver will pick up bulky product from the home for customer returns.
You also might be on the hook for accessorial fees, some of which are treated a bit differently for final mile than they are for truckload or LTL:
- Wait time is billed more aggressively than the standard for truckload carriers.
- Additional labor (an extra person) may be required for some deliveries.
- Delivery attempts can cost you, especially for home deliveries if the recipient is not home.
- Storage of freight, either short or long term, will cost you, as final mile carriers usually don’t want to do it.
- Cancellations/TONU if inventory isn’t ready to process.
- Palletization of floor-loaded freight that needs to be palletized before delivery.
- Lift gates/pallet jacks are necessary for the final mile destinations that don’t have docks.
Most final mile carriers are small local or regional companies. Because final mile distances are generally short — freight has already made its long-haul transit by this point — final mile drivers typically deliver freight throughout the day and return to their domiciles at night.
This market is extremely fragmented, but you have some options to help you navigate it.
These are some larger national companies that contract with smaller final mile carriers to help them access freight through the size of their footprint.
Third party logistics providers often offer final mile delivery service through their freight brokerage. If you already ship truckload or LTL with a 3PL you trust, they may be a natural fit to take on your final mile freight as well.
Whichever route you go, you’ll be able to find carriers that offer a variety of vehicles to meet your freight needs. These can include:
- Box trucks or straight trucks, which can either be equipped with a lift gate or not
- Sprinter vans or cargo vans, which are great options for delivering large products to locations without docks
- Passenger vehicles for smaller home deliveries
How Do You Know if You’re Working With a Good Final Mile Carrier?
Many of the same standards you’d apply to truckload or LTL carriers can be used to determine if a final mile carrier is a good fit, with a couple additional wrinkles:
- Communication and visibility are particularly important for home delivery, as the “Amazon effect” has many consumers now accustomed to fully real-time tracking.
- Service and professionalism are key for final mile drivers; they are representing your brand in interactions with your customers, after all.
- Flexibility matters more for final mile, as volatility is felt more strongly in a space with smaller vehicles and carriers.
How do you want to find capacity for this link in your supply chain?
Most final mile portfolios will include a mix of both approaches. If you send freight to retail points of sale, you likely on a regular schedule that lends itself to dedicated coverage. But if you’re shipping to new customers — and especially if you do a lot of home deliveries — you’ll need to be sourcing spot capacity to make sure every shipment gets there.
Many larger shippers also choose to manage final mile with private fleets. If you have the resources, private fleets are a great way to ensure you have drivers and equipment positioned to deliver to your customers promptly and regularly.
A 3PL Can Help With Both Spot and Contract Procurement
If you need a final mile truck, van or anything else for a spot delivery, you can leverage a 3PL’s extensive connections to find you one in the right area.
And if you have consistent final mile freight such as a regular store replenishment schedule, 3PLs have a lot to offer as well.
A 3PL is a great choice for helping you with your final mile logistics needs because you can:
- Pair final mile deliveries with a provider who understands your long-haul freight.
- Keep your number of vendor relationships to a minimum.
- Manage tracking for all your freight through a single point of contact.
- Minimize your billing complexity.
- Get help running RFPs for your dedicated final mile capacity.
- Get access to carriers you wouldn’t find otherwise.
Let Us Help You Go the Final Mile
If we already manage some of your truckload, LTL or intermodal freight, you might be ready to level up and enjoy the benefits of servicing more links of your supply chain with the same reliable provider. And if you’re new to us entirely, we’d love to show you how we’ll gain your trust.
Get in touch with one of our final mile logistics specialists to learn more.