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Five Things Retailers Should Ask Delivery Providers for This Holiday Season

When a child wants a certain item delivered for Christmas, it’s a fairly easy process if they ask the right delivery provider – Santa Claus. It's the same with retailers and last-mile delivery, but how do you find the right provider when Santa isn’t available?  It helps to know exactly what you should be asking for from potential delivery partners.

The biggest lesson for retailers from last year’s so-called “Shipageddon” peak season is that you don’t want to put all your eggs in just one delivery basket.  A smarter approach is to go all-in on omnichannel, offering delivery at various speeds through various methods, including same-day delivery, curbside pickup and BOPIS.

When it comes to delivery, having more than one provider creates a belt-and-suspenders backup system in case one of your partners starts struggling with peak-season volumes, or starts imposing holiday surcharges you don’t want to pay. And of course, that's in addition to the obvious benefit: offering the kind of optionality that your customers are used to experiencing with retailers like Amazon. That means easily getting what they want, when and how they want it. 

Your mix of external delivery providers might include traditional carriers and couriers as well as on-demand crowdsourced delivery platforms. Here are five things retailers should be asking as they head towards the holidays:

1. Unlimited capacity
Americans sent an estimated three billion packages last holiday season – up 800 million from the previous year. With the COVID pandemic having accelerated the trend towards online shopping, you’d better have your holiday shipping boxes ready in 2021!

You don’t want to lose sales or disappoint customers, so when demand spikes, you’ll need to have at least one delivery solution that doesn’t come with limits on the number of packages you can send.  

Even if you’ve made a big investment in your own fixed-asset delivery system, there’s only so much room on the truck. It’s wise to have an on-demand delivery provider on standby to deliver any excess holiday orders that your vehicles can’t handle.

2. No holiday cut-off dates
For a package to arrive in time for Christmas, traditional carriers’ 2021 holiday cut-off dates range from December 9 to 23, depending on service type. But what if you’d like your customers to be able to shop right up to Christmas Eve with same-day delivery?

Some crowdsourced delivery platforms have no holiday cut-offs, and their same-day delivery is still cost-effective for retailers. That’s because there are always independent drivers who want to earn extra holiday cash.

3. Transparent pricing
Another reason why a growing number of retailers are turning to crowdsourced delivery solutions is that they offer completely transparent, upfront pricing. Customers may be willing to pay more to get some items quicker, but nobody likes getting a nasty surprise at checkout.

The best providers are also less likely to impose surcharges for handling, fuel costs, evening and weekend deliveries, big-and-bulky items and hard-to-reach destinations. In addition, crowdsourcing is generally an out-of-the-box delivery solution, which means you can avoid the material and labor costs of expensive packaging.

4. On-time performance
For holiday gifts and supplies, which are mostly time-sensitive, on-time delivery might be the difference between winning and losing a customer’s repeat business.

To help inform your choice of which provider(s) to use for upcoming deliveries, there are multiple ways you can monitor on-time performance. Some providers now offer a real-time tracking feature, and you should pay attention to any positive or negative feedback you receive from customers about arrival times as well. You might also want to check out platforms like Convey or Shipmatrix, which track major carriers’ on-time performance. Sometimes, the strongest performers might surprise you!

5. Nationwide delivery footprint
For chain retailers, it can be more efficient and cost-effective to mostly use a single provider for certain types of deliveries, such as same-day or urgent delivery. That means you’ll likely want a carrier that has national reach, including in smaller towns and rural areas.

When it comes to larger cities, you can also reach more customers by being able to offer same-day and scheduled delivery beyond the 10-mile radius to which some providers restrict themselves.

If you’re not already working with a delivery partner that offers a nationwide footprint (plus on-time performance, transparent pricing, unlimited capacity and no holiday cut-off dates), it’s not too late to add on. The best providers can onboard a retailer quickly – often in days, not weeks.

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