As retailers rethink their delivery models in response to changing consumer preferences, the last mile remains an especially difficult challenge. Even before COVID-19, companies struggled to get this piece of their logistics puzzle in place. When e-commerce sales spiked during the pandemic, any preexisting last-mile issues became monumental almost overnight. 

Companies continue to experiment with new logistics approaches to fill these gaps while also increasing their shipping volumes and expediting deliveries to keep customers happy and grow their bottom lines. Although a persistent challenge, the last mile offers one more link in the supply chain where crowdsourcing can have a significant positive impact. 

Last-mile roadblocks companies are grappling with 

The last mile is challenging for a lot of reasons, from cost and capacity to transparency. In a world where customers want to know where their order is at all times, the last mile often becomes a “black hole” for supply chain visibility. Once a package leaves the warehouse or store, it may fall off the radar until it lands on the customer’s doorstep. And unpredictability to the last mile — driven by traffic, weather events or other outside forces — can interfere with timely same-day delivery.

The good news is that the retailer that works through these and other last-mile challenges can win the order and the repeat customer. The not-so-good news is that mastering the last mile can rack up costs and resources, and it’s not always foolproof. 

A collaborative delivery mode like crowdsourcing with Roadie helps retailers meet demand when and where it occurs. That means scaling up when order volumes exceed fleet capacity, fulfilling rush orders that come in after a contract carrier’s daily sweep or even providing a same-day delivery model for the company that doesn’t want to maintain its own same-day delivery fleet.

5 ways crowdsourcing conquers the last mile

With McKinsey & Co. forecasting delivery times of two days or less as the minimum for retailers in the next three to five years, the race is on to solve current last-mile challenges and get out in front of new ones. And with nearly 90% of retailers expecting to use crowdsourcing to manage specific orders by 2028, those already using this model can gain an edge over the competition. 

As the largest local same-day delivery network in the nation, Roadie helps companies fill these and other last-mile logistics gaps without the need for larger fleets or drivers. With crowdsourcing, we give retailers the flexibility and scalability they need to manage same-day deliveries at a predictable cost.  

Here are five ways crowdsourcing can help your company conquer its last-mile challenges: 

Manage same- or next-day delivery from the store, warehouse or distribution center. 

This ability offers up one of crowdsourcing’s fundamental strengths, and it’s a powerful one for retailers that must offer flexible delivery options measured in hours, not days. Pressured into a frantic search for a delivery solution on a national scale, retailers can leverage crowdsourcing without building out additional infrastructure, increasing fleet size or adding more staff to handle this business channel. That’s empowering.

Move big and bulky items faster, cheaper and easier. 

As more consumers warm up to buying large, bulky items online, they expect those orders — be it appliances, mattresses or kayaks — to arrive within the same one- to two-day delivery windows they’re used to for smaller goods. For companies without vehicles sized for the job, this customer need typically meant outsourcing to couriers with strict operating windows and inflexible solutions. Because crowdsourcing taps into unused space in vehicles already on the road, retailers have a flexible, cost-effective and greener way to manage oversized shipping options.

Reposition inventory and manage returns.

With more retailers using their stores as distribution hubs, inventory and returns management have become critical last-mile activities that not all companies are set up to handle. For example, the customer that wants a luxury handbag in stock across town can get that item delivered same-day if the retailer can quickly tap into that inventory. Retailers dealing with high online return rates also need a way to get those goods back into the sales channel quickly versus letting them pile up in their stockrooms. Crowdsourcing helps companies overcome these last-mile challenges by ensuring inventory is always in the right place at the right time.  

Handle hot shot shipping runs for special deliveries. 

Hot shot shipping often hauls time-sensitive, less-than-truckload shipments within specific timeframes and usually to a single location or recipient. With more delivery options opening up, companies no longer have to negotiate with different couriers across multiple markets to cover their hot shot shipping runs. Crowdsourcing enables streamlined coordination of one-off or express deliveries, nimbly moves inventory across hubs and improves speed to market. 

Supplement existing fleets. 

Whether you have your own fleet, use traditional carriers or a mix of the two, demand will outstrip capacity at some point. This challenge usually happens during peak seasons (like the summer, back to school and year-end holidays). But it can also happen at more unexpected times, like when an influencer mentions a product on social media. In these situations, crowdsourcing serves as the partner that helps your company scale up quickly to meet the demand for same-day delivery and then resumes its usual role when order volumes normalize.

Turning the last mile into a competitive advantage

As e-commerce sales continue to climb, customer expectations also keep rising. According to Forrester’s research, nearly half of consumers and more than half of business buyers would pay a higher rate for a better buying experience, and 80% would switch retailers if they found the buying experience challenging to navigate. By embracing these realities and using crowdsourcing to offer buyers choices on how and when they receive their orders, retailers can turn the last mile into a competitive advantage. 

Ready to learn more? Check out our case study about how Roadie helped ScriptDrop speed up the last mile to get time-sensitive orders to customers fast.

ScriptDrop increases delivery volume in hard-to-reach areas