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Retail and E-Commerce

Last-Mile Delivery Logistics Behind Black Friday

It’s time to start the final preparations for Black Friday. In this post we take a close look at the last-mile delivery logistics behind Black Friday 2020.

It’s almost Thanksgiving (in the US at least). For everyone else in the world, that means Black Friday is near.

And this year, Black Friday will be different. Like everything else in 2020.

Perhaps we won’t see people camped in front of stores from 4 AM. Or the miles of queues. Or fights over a 50% discount. Or perhaps we will?

With the COVID-19 outbreak gathering strength for a second global wave, it will surely hit retailers, their customers, and sales this Black Friday.

Still, a New Normal is upon us. People and businesses are adapting. And they will have to continue adapting all through November whatever happens next. But one thing is sure:

People will shop on Black Friday. And more than ever before, the majority of those sales will happen online.

Retailers can see their sales soar through the roof. Maybe it won’t be like last year, but it will be a giant leap forward from the rest of 2020.

But if Black Friday was a logistical nightmare before the coronavirus, this years’ sales spree will be hell on Earth. At least for warehouse, delivery, operations, and supply chain managers.

And with little over a month left to go, we think it’s a good time to start the final preparation.

That’s why in this post we take a closer look at the last-mile delivery logistics behind Black Friday 2020.

Let’s get started.

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When is Black Friday 2020?

Black Friday is on 27 November 2020.

But like everything else this year, things are different.

Black Friday 2020 is less of daylong shopping madness and more a shopping frame of mind.

Many retailers plan to extend their deals beyond 27 November. And even beyond November. All through to December, until Christmas Day 2020.

So everything is a bit of a blur. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, and Cyber Month will merge into Cyber Season.

Amazon’s decision to move Prime Day to 13-14 October can mean that the winter sales season has already begun.

But Black Friday is a critical date in the sales calendar. One both you and your customers have come to expect.

With the second wave of COVID-19 to trigger another round of lockdowns, you can’t risk disappointing more customers or missing out on a chance to fatten up your revenue for the long winter ahead.

So, now that we’ve established when is Black Friday (27 November 2020), let’s see some predictions about how exactly it will be different this year.

Black Friday Predictions for 2020

To show you just how the coronavirus has affected things this year, we have to shed light on key predictions about Black Friday 2020.

That’s why we’ve collected the most frequent questions retailers (including some of our clients) had about it.

Here are the most asked questions and the main predictions for Black Friday 2020:

Is Black Friday 2020 Cancelled?

No, Black Friday is NOT cancelled.

In a bestblackfriday.com report, most major retailers in the United States have decided to close their stores for Thanksgiving. But only their physical locations.

That doesn’t mean they have cancelled Black Friday.

In fact, many retailers (including Walmart, Best Buy, and Target) will open their stores on 27 November.

Still, many more will host online shopping events that will kick off on Black Friday but extend throughout the winter sales season.

Should you avoid Black Friday this year?

Definitely, NOT.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday remain terrific chances to pump up sales’ revenues in a year where many continue to struggle in keeping up with the New Normal.

With that said, many countries around the world are taking new measures to tackle the second wave of coronavirus.

A new round of lockdowns is a possibility you have to consider.

This Black Friday, focus more energy on promoting offers on your website and create deals that entice customers to stay home and shop online.

Should you extend Black Friday deals?

It depends.

The biggest factor you have to consider is your supply chain.

If suppliers can’t keep up with your demand, or you lack the capacity to consistently fulfil orders, then don’t. Only plan those two 24-hour sprints on 27 and 30 November.

Read this article if you want to know how to improve last-mile delivery when demand exceeds your capacity.

At the same time, you also have to take into account what your competitors are doing.

Amazon’s delay of Prime Day has prompted many retailers big and small to push their sales events earlier.

For example, Walmart created a shopping event called Big Save that took place from 11 to 15 October, while Target hosted its Deals Day during Prime Day (13 and 14 October).

What many smaller retailers are also doing is creating deals around their best selling products and extending them beyond Black Friday.

This is helping them move past the problem of a static supply chain, making them competitive even with giants like Amazon, Walmart, and the rest.

Here’s our free guide if you want to know more about how to compete with Amazon delivery.

What sales numbers can you expect?

Unfortunately, this is an answer no one can predict.

Based on recent delivery statistics, there is a definite increase in online sales and orders from across the world. So, you can expect significantly more online orders in 2020.

However, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy is much worse than the 2008 financial crash.

In an interview for digitalcommerce360.com, a financial editor from Bloomberg had said:

“Retailers also should prepare for a sluggish holiday season overall–online and offline. So, this is a good time for retailers to talk with landlords, bankers and suppliers about contingency plans in case they hit a serious cash crunch.”

Many people are without work and because of that spending-power has dramatically decreased when compared to last year.

So despite the history and hype around Black Friday, don’t expect your sales’ numbers to swell in 2020.

But even so, you will still need to take this opportunity and generate at least some gains from this year. Let’s take a look at how to set up your delivery for Black Friday 2020:

How to adjust delivery for Black Friday 2020?

This year, a big chunk of Black Friday sales will take place online. So it’s safe to assume that delivery will be a critical battleground for winning over customers and their wallets.

Your goal has to be to provide value with every order and to raise customer experience with every delivery to new heights.

Of course, it isn’t going to be easy. If you take a look at statistics, most shoppers buy from a marketplace (like Amazon) because of:

  • Better prices (67%)
  • Free and discounted shipping (63%)
  • Speed of delivery (45%)

So, two out of three factors have something to do with delivery.

Here is what else makes customers choose a marketplace over your retail business:


Source: digitalcommerce360.com

But Black Friday is a little different.

Unlike the rest of the year, on the fourth Friday of November people shop more because of great deals. If you give them a better deal, your customers won’t mind paying for delivery since the value is already there.

But to take full advantage of all the potential around Black Friday, you should give customers what they want. So, let’s start by going over your delivery options.

Here is what customers expect to see in the 2020 holiday season when it comes to delivery:

Same-day and next-day delivery

Fast delivery is the new expectation, thanks to Amazon.

Customers no longer want to wait more than two days for their purchase to arrive. The good news is that they are willing to pay for faster delivery.

Even as a small retailer, you can offer next-day or even same-day delivery and cover the cost of fulfilment if you put the right price on those options.

It’s worth having faster options open to customers at a price if they are already getting a discount on their purchase.

Free delivery

Free delivery is rarely free. Someone has to cover the cost of fulfilment. And it’s either you or your customer that bears the cost of free shipping.

Here’s our free guide on how to offer free delivery to your customers without breaking the bank.

However, keep free delivery locked for Black Friday deals and keep it open on your regular sales offer.

This way, you might entice some customers to purchase goods that don’t fall under the Black Friday label.

Curbside pickup

The state of delivery during the coronavirus has changed how things work. Following the lockdown and social distancing, new modes in last-mile delivery have appeared, like curbside pickup.

What is Curbside Pickup?

Curbside pickup is a delivery method where a customer buys an item online or over the phone, the store packages it and delivers it by placing it in the customer’s car or leaving it in front of the house (in front of the curb).

With many countries in Europe already under some kind of mini-lockdown, including the United Kingdom, you should consider introducing curbside pickup to protect your customers and staff during Black Friday.

Click & collect

In case you plan to keep your physical stores open on Black Friday, you should consider adding click and collect to your offer.

Click & Collect can remove some of the pressure from your delivery teams during the spike in order volumes while increasing sales and reducing the need for fulfilment.

What is Click & Collect?

Click and collect is a method of delivery where customers purchase an item online or over the phone and come to the physical store to collect their purchase over the counter.

If you decide to keep physical locations closed, having this option available might entice local customers to take advantage of your online bargain deals and collect them when you re-open.


Biggest challenges in delivery logistics for Black Friday 2020

Fulfilling large order volumes and managing delivery logistics is tough in normal circumstances. What’s more, it’s twice as hard during the holiday season (and in a typical year).

But 2020 is fraught with concerns and obstacles, and that makes last-mile delivery a hopelessly difficult task this year. It’s almost a bridge too far to cross.

But cross it, you must. And to get a better sense of what lies ahead, take a look at these seven challenges in delivery logistics and how you can overcome them:

1. Too few employees to handle higher workloads

Typically, Black Friday is the start of the peak sales season. Usually, this means higher order volumes and more work for your staff.

In situations when stress levels are through the roof and productivity has to be 100%, it’s easy to get short-handed in one area of the last mile and remain idle in another.

The solution: Cross-train your staff.

Cross-training allows you to prepare employees and teams to fill essential roles, so no area of operations is lagging.

Businesses tend to cross-train their workforce all year round, but there is still time left on the clock to do it until 27 November.

And if you plan to keep your physical storefronts closed on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s a good idea to start training and regrouping your salesforce first.

2. Lack of communication with staff and customers

How do your teams communicate with each other?

Do planners and dispatchers talk to drivers? Or can they speak to other teams, as well? And how easy is it for drivers to talk to others after setting off on their delivery routes?

Can all your delivery managers order new supplies? Or do you have a dedicated person who works only with suppliers?

And what about your customers? Do you even communicate with them after following an order confirmation?

Lack of communication is among the top reasons why some of the biggest mistakes in delivery management and planning occur.

And when you can’t speak well with customers or staff :

  • supply chains fail to replenish inventory;
  • orders get misplaced;
  • operators dispatch drivers to wrong locations;
  • deliveries don’t reach your customers;
  • order accuracy rate crumbles, and;
  • you lose money.

If you’re like most of our clients, you probably use several different channels to communicate with staff, as well as customers.

That can include everything from calls, emails, and text messages, to a variety of devices (like phones and telematics), systems (like dispatch and two-way radios), or specialized apps (like task managers and work chats).

The problem with all these channels is that most of them are disconnected from one another.

At the same time, the need for consistent communication between teams means that they have to check them constantly. That can cut productivity in half.

And that’s without counting the conversations that they have to have with your customers.

And with high order volumes, the lack of productivity due to poor communication is a serious problem you have to address before Black Friday.

As it turns out, the question of streamlining communication quickly becomes a question of whether to centralize or not to centralize delivery.

The solution: Open a centralized channel of communication

Besides its many features and capabilities, last-mile delivery software functions as a centralized system of communication.

The software has two main components: a dashboard and a delivery app.

The dashboard provides task-to-task visibility for static teams. The driver app is an access point for your mobile workforce to communicate with staff and customers.

That limits the need for direct communication (over the phone or via text). At the same time, it provides all of the necessary information when handling day-to-day operations.

The software also works in real-time. Your teams can access the whereabouts of every delivery throughout its lifecycle.

That means you can send tracking links to customers, keeping them in the loop about their orders.

Streamlining communication using last-mile delivery software is the first step in building an agile delivery operation. (A keystone step to dominate delivery on Black Friday)

3. Maintaining suitable inventory levels

With so many orders during the holiday shopping season, it’s easy to slip up and have too many or not enough inventory. In both cases, the wrong amount of stock can gut your revenue.

The solution: Demand forecast and cross-docking

Take this time before Black Friday to forecast demand based on historical data analysis.

Audit the numbers from previous years. Check how many supply orders you’ve made in each year, and compare it to your sales. That gives you an average estimate of your inventory needs.

Keep in mind that this year’s numbers won’t be so close like in previous years. So use stock and sales numbers from 2020 (Q1 and Q2) for a more accurate forecast.

To reduce the risk, even more, speak to your suppliers. Work together to create a return deal, if you think that you won’t sell goods fast enough to make quick returns.

At the same time, prepare your inventory teams for cross-docking before Black Friday.

Cross-docking allows you to route goods from the supplier to your storage (or store), or between your multiple depot locations.

That makes it easier to quickly stock up or down depot sites according to the demand of last-mile delivery while keeping inventory carrying costs low.

4. Scheduling pick-ups and drop-offs

Scheduling pick-ups and drop-offs is hard under normal circumstances:

You have to ensure that drivers collect and complete orders at the right time so you don’t create a bottleneck at a depot site or miss any delivery windows.

You also have to ensure there is enough time to attend to each customer and add contingency time in case something unexpected does happen.

But with all the precautions you have to take due to COVID-19, not to mention the Black Friday level order volumes, this is almost a herculean undertaking.

The solution: Increase visibility over last-mile operations.

**Better delivery schedules **help you provide a better service to your customers. To do that and maintain a high fulfilment rate necessary for Black Friday, you need greater visibility over last-mile delivery.

Technically, visibility equals control. Control over your drivers. Control over your inventory. And control over your delivery schedules.

Delivery management software can raise visibility over the last-mile. It allows you to integrate all the moving parts in your operation and manage them from one central hub.

And since the software can integrate with other digital solutions (including order management and inventory management systems), you can use one tool to track, monitor, and organize the entire process from start to finish.

At the same time, the system is live. It uses geo-targeting to keep activities up to date, which gives you real-time visibility, as well.

So, even if you experience a hiccup during the Black Friday rush, you find and solve it immediately before it disrupts your well-planned schedule.

5. Efficiently routing delivery drivers

Routing delivery vehicles isn’t only about getting them from point A to point B.

What many retailers fail to see is how better routing of their delivery fleet can raise key metrics in delivery logistics.

In doing so, you can inadvertently raise efficiency and reduce the cost of fulfilment at the same time.

The solution: Optimize your routes.

Route optimization is a method of planning, managing, and mapping multiple routes based on critical factors.

(Keep in mind that there is a difference between route planning and route optimization)

If you’ve ever mapped multiple routes with multiple stops, then you know that finding the best one isn’t always about distance. Sometimes you have to analyze other parameters like:

  • Types of roads
  • Traffic patterns
  • Pick-up locations
  • Driver schedules
  • Vehicle types
  • Delivery windows
  • And more.

All of this makes planning manually routes difficult. That’s why we suggest route optimization software.

It’s a way to automatically plan multiple routes with multiple stops and factors for all drivers in minutes.

And when delivery orders start piling up, having a system that saves time can make it easier to streamline operations.

6. Keeping staff and customers safe during drop-off

We’ve already mentioned several times that Black Friday 2020 will be different. And it will.

Thanks to COVID-19, health and safety are now at the forefront of employee and customer concerns. And it’s up to you to keep them safe.

If you want to harness all the opportunities behind this sales season, you have to stick to these guidelines:

  • Follow the updates from the World Health Organization
  • Follow your countries’ health and safety regulations
  • Follow any legal documents that you need to operate under a lockdown
  • Comply with social distancing and keep crowds at a minimum
  • Issue safety masks and hand disinfectant to all employees
  • Respect all of the measures and hold others accountable to do the same

If you want to protect your employees and customers, even more, consider adding curbside pickup and click & collect as part of your offer.

7. Handling return deliveries while fulfilling large order volumes

Returns can happen at any moment.

It’s especially common during the holidays since most purchases are gifts. And people tend to return gifts that they don’t like.

But for you and other retailers, returns are a hassle. It is an arduous task during sales sprints, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In situations when order volumes build-up by the minute, handling returns isn’t a top priority.

But a solid return policy is the keystone of a quality customer experience.

In fact, 96% of online shoppers say that the right return policy can influence their decisions to shop again with a retailer.

So you have to deal with customer returns as painlessly as possible.

The solution: Plan reverse logistics ahead of Black Friday.

When eCommerce return costs go down, profits go up. But that requires you to focus on the main components of reverse logistics:


Source: Cerasis.com

To make reverse logistics as painless as possible, create frictionless returns policy, set up a standard practice for handling returns, and automate ahead of Black Friday.

Here’s an in-depth look at the relationship between reverse logistics and eCommerce returns.

All of this, together with cross-docking and cross-training, will help you manage returns while maintaining a high fulfilment rate. (Despite working near the breaking point of your capacity)

A chance to reinvent Black Friday

From Black Friday and Cyber Monday to Christmas, it’s time to rethink holiday sales. And all you need for that to happen is a smart plan and the right tool to get the job done. (Like delivery management software)

With that at your disposal, you’ll have everything you need to overcome all of the trials and tribulations of this holiday season.

The challenges will be massive. But the rewards will be even greater if you can meet them head-on and power through.


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