The last mile – notoriously the most difficult part of an order’s journey – is being transformed by the wave of e-commerce shopping in the last year.

“E-commerce is not slowing down,” said Sean Whitehouse, Managing Director of Strategy & Consulting, Supply Chain & Operations, Retail Lead at Accenture in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We’ve talked about this for a while now and it was accelerated by COVID. As we get back to more traditional work settings, where that order is delivered may change from home to work and other places, it might become more flexible as we start traveling and moving, but they’re still going to want delivery.”

Retailers will feel the most pressure of increased e-commerce volumes during the holiday season when orders will likely exceed capacity and maintaining accurate delivery windows will become even more essential. That is why now is the time for retailers to strategize and adapt their last-mile experiences for the short- and long-term future of e-commerce.

Building a last-mile ecosystem that meets consumers’ demands and improves the bottom line comes down to four key imperatives:

1. Meet new last-mile expectations

Elevated e-commerce levels combined with a tight labor market can make it difficult to adhere to delivery windows, so retailers must develop accurate, transparent operations that can manage spikes in demand.

2. Optimize the entire delivery ecosystem

Retailers’ last mile operations span suppliers, warehouses, third-party partners and internal capabilities. Maintaining fast, efficient deliveries means finding the right balance to utilize all these options in tandem.

3. Build delivery density to fuel efficiency

Retailers have more granular insight into demand than ever before, which gives them the opportunity to dig into neighborhood-level data, shrink delivery windows and create more efficient routes.

4. Use AI and ML to their full potential

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming an everyday part of retail operations, and their last mile applications are essential to bringing the entire operation together and ensuring it runs smoothly.