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Forging the Future of Last-Mile Delivery

With the 2014 holiday season safely behind us, retailers can look back on this critical time of year to see how efficiently they were able to meet their goals and generate customer satisfaction. The 2013 holidays were tough for delivery services companies, with bottlenecked deliveries showing organizations just how drastically online shopping and the e-commerce evolution have changed that special (and critical) time of year.

The 2014 numbers relevant to the success or failure of retail delivery haven't been released yet, but there's no doubt that improvements can always be made. Conversations regarding same-day/last-mile delivery and how retailers are transforming their services to meet customer needs, whether during the holiday season or any other time of year, have been ongoing as delivery technology ramps up.

What is the future of same-day/last-mile delivery? Will we ever see retailers delivering on the same day effectively and cost-efficiently on a large scale? Customer demand and new technologies will drive the continued evolution of shipping services, and this will affect logistics companies across the country. It's just a question of how effectively those companies will respond.

Here are a few of the issues facing delivery companies today:

Do brick-and-mortar stores still have the advantage?

There's truly no replacement for interacting with a live salesperson while trying out a home improvement product, right? This is one of the areas brick-and-mortar stores have the advantage over their online counterparts. However, with more and more shopping taking place online, how much of an advantage do these brick-and-mortar companies still have over their online competition? One advantage they do have is that they can source product from existing locations in addition to distribution centers. But will that be enough?

Delivery services are becoming more mobile-driven…can delivery companies keep pace?

As delivery services become increasingly driven by advances in mobile technology, new applications are required. And with that come additional real-time response needs. Food retailers are starting to develop apps where customers can place their orders exclusively from their smartphones. Is this an area brick-and-mortar stores selling electronics can dominate? Or can online retailers put same-day delivery into action effectively enough to wrest the advantage away? And can brick-and-mortar and online stores both leverage mobile in order to deliver to their customers an omnichannel retail experience?

The future of delivery technology

Advances in technology have made same-day delivery possible. What else is coming down the pike that could revolutionize delivery services? The driverless car on the open road is getting closer and closer to reality. The potential benefits of autonomously-operated vehicles being used as a delivery service are up for debate, but companies such as UPS and FedEx will likely be looking into the possibilities, if they aren't already. Just this month, Ford Motor Co. chief executive officer Mark Fields said that he believes somebody will soon be introducing autonomous vehicles for the road in the next five years. Will delivery companies be able to take advantage of this when the time comes?

There is no doubt that there are many challenges being faced by the delivery services industry. Is technology the answer? Where does supply chain optimization fit into the conversation? There are many questions to be answered.

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