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Voice of the customer: On time rules in big and bulky last mile

DispatchTrack survey finds nearly 50% of deliveries must be rescheduled, consumers prefer providers honor promises

3PLs will see double-digit growth in big and bulky last-mile deliveries, report says (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

In the world of last-mile delivery of big and bulky items, timing is everything. A new survey has found that customers value on-time deliveries, and that doesn’t mean early. It means on time. And failure to follow that simple edict can mean losing a customer.

“Customers want control and flexibility around their schedules and they want retailers to make it happen. Gone are the days when retailers say the furniture is going to arrive six weeks from now, [so] just be there,” explained Shailu Satish, co-founder and COO of DispatchTrack, which conducted the survey. “People don’t schedule their lives around their delivery. They live their life and schedule their delivery.”

DispatchTrack, which was founded in 2010 and offers dispatch and routing software for last-mile delivery, conducted the survey of 1,606 Americans through Survey Monkey on March 1-2. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed had recently received a home delivery of a big and bulky item. The company released results of the survey Wednesday morning.

Satish said the survey had a few surprising results, but also validated some of the hypotheses the company has developed over the past 12 years.

“When you are doing something for 12 years and in the last two years with COVID, things changed so much,” she said. “All of us around the world have had good experiences and bad experiences.”

The company, which is headquartered in Silicon Valley and has global operations and offices in several countries, facilitates over 180 million deliveries a year. It works with global retailers including Coca-Cola, MattressFirm, J.B. Hunt, Walmart, and Ashley.

On time is never early

Satish said the survey resulted in some interesting findings, including that 66% of respondents rated on-time delivery as the key to a positive delivery experience, ahead of order accuracy (57%), item condition (41%), quick delivery (47%) and courteous delivery team (38%).

Yet, delivering early was a problem for 31% of consumers who considered it an inconvenience. Forty-four percent said their item was delivered outside the scheduled delivery window, with 52% of those saying the item arrived late and 35% early. Six-in-10 consumers said they were unlikely to purchase from a retailer again when a previous order misses the scheduled delivery window.

Scheduling was problematic for many, with 58% of deliveries rescheduled. Of those, 47% were rescheduled once, 32% twice, 15% three times and 6% of deliveries were rescheduled four times or more. When rescheduled, 47% were pushed back by days, 27% by weeks and 8% by two months or more.

The constant rescheduling of deliveries led to a negative delivery experience for 58% of consumers, with 24% saying they had to call the retailer to reschedule.

“The seamlessness of the purchase experience is spilling over into the delivery side, but the complexities of big and bulky remain,” Satish said. “I think in general people want to control their schedules. They want more flexibility. They want more control and [retailers to] just make it happen, and the retailers that can make it happen have an advantage.”

Throughout the results of the survey, the theme of communication arose time and again. From scheduling to tracking, customers want to know what is going on with their deliveries.

“It’s not just about being nice. … What’s the point of all this communication if you are only going to say you [won’t be there on time]?” Satish said.

Customers want tracking

Nine-in-10 consumers want the ability to track their order, the survey found, with 41% interested in knowing in real time where their item is. Despite this, 35% of consumers were unable to track their delivery and 37% could track it but could not see the truck location.

When it comes to communication, 80% want to receive delivery status updates, with 39% indicating once-a-day updates are sufficient and 27% wanting updates as often as possible, including multiple times a day. How that communication should take place was varied, with 70% favoring text message, 50% saying email was appropriate and 38% preferring phone updates.

The takeaway is that while communication is important, it is really a customer preference, and retailers need to identify what each customer expects.

Satish said it is “being intelligent about all the different events that happen during the delivery process and communicating that in a timely fashion.”

“If there is technology that is aware of the delivery process and is able to anticipate what does the customer want to know and then send out the right information, including if the customer doesn’t want text messages but prefers email, [that is what has to happen],” she added. “Yes, customers want a lot of communication, but we need to be aware of what they want.”

Satish said retailers and/or their delivery partners need to assess those needs up front to ensure a smooth delivery experience. This includes delivery options, delivery times and any special requests or notes about the delivery.

“If you ask the customer what do they want, they will tell you,” Satish said.

Sustainability matters

Two other takeaways from the survey involved sustainability and signatures. Satish said 49% of customers say the environment and sustainability factor into their purchasing decisions, and 71% stated they would consider these items “more strongly” if retailers made it easier to understand the impact of various delivery options on the environment.

“An informed customer will make better decisions for the planet,” Satish said.

The other item — signatures — is a bit of surprise and could be due to the COVID pandemic and push to social distance. The survey found that 74% of consumers are frustrated when a signature is required for delivery, and 53% find it especially frustrating when they haven’t been notified ahead of time that a signature is required.

The exact reasoning behind this is a bit unclear, but Satish said a couple of factors could be at play. One is the COVID experience and more people being unwilling to be touching and handling unknown devices such as driver signature pads. A second reason could be more of the Amazon Prime experience seeping into big and bulky delivery. Amazon drivers rarely ever require a signature, simply leaving the customer’s items at the front door. The third reason could be technology.

“There are more precise ways to getting that kind of information [rather than signatures],” she said. “I really think it is technology and the other ways we are able to get confirmation. A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Unlike the typical Amazon order, big and bulky deliveries require special care and instructions. But like that Amazon order, a poor delivery experience can cost the retailer a customer. Communication becomes the differentiator.

“I do think consumers are giving brands some slack because they know the supply chain is in crisis and delays happen,” said Satish Natarajan, DispatchTrack co-founder and CEO. “However, the data strongly signals consumers aren’t as forgiving when it comes to communication, including order tracking. Retail customers want to know where their order is and when it’s being delivered — and they want it delivered on time, which isn’t early. Brands that can deliver on that promise are much better positioned to retain customers and win market share.”

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected].