Retail store managers and logistics executives responsible for direct store distribution may have different spheres of responsibility, but in the end, their concerns revolve around similar questions: What percentage of direct store deliveries were on time this month? What impact did that have on store operations? Was stock available when customers wanted to buy it? Did late deliveries disrupt store efficiency? Did you know the deliveries were going to be late in advance?

That last question is, often, the point at which real improvement is possible. Because, if we could single out one factor that is crucial to successfully managing waves of multi-temperature deliveries direct to stores, it would be communication. Deliveries are sometimes late; that’s life. But knowing they’re going to be late (or even early), and by how much, makes all the difference.

When communication goes wrong, inefficiencies begin, quickly escalating as one late delivery has a domino effect on the multiple ones that follow. Without accurate information about estimated times of arrival (ETAs), it’s easy to start wasting valuable resources. Either staff are hanging around waiting for the delivery, unable to do anything else, or the driver has to wait for staff to be ready, waiting to unload when he or she should be on the way to the next delivery.

If you’re a large format store, this may result in delays in receiving the next delivery vehicle. For smaller convenience stores that are staffed by just one or two people who are also working front-of-shop duties, there’s inevitably an impact on customer service if they don’t know when a vehicle will arrive.

Supporting retailers’ need for a more data-driven store delivery operation is part of Paragon’s “live planning” vision, which combines robust route planning discipline with real-time data. Live planning allows you to manage deliveries in real-time on the day, and then analyse performance for KPI reporting and continuous improvement.

For example, John Lewis & Partners found they could make better use of their in-store partners in each shop, and provide a better experience for customers by implementing Live Management software to share up-to-date arrival times with all its 51 stores nationwide.

When vital information about deliveries generated in live planning is communicated across the business, it greatly improves operational efficiency. Readily available, real-time data of this kind enables anyone within the organisation to access the latest status of an inbound truck, and reliable updates of arrival times.

Accurate ETA data brings benefits across a retailer’s organisation

Using route planning integrated with vehicle tracking software, allows planned ETA data to be communicated to the necessary people a day or week in advance, and then updated at practical intervals, e.g. 4 hours before a delivery and 1 hour before a delivery.

Stored in a SQL database, this updated ETA data can easily be shared in multiple formats. In bigger stores with large back-of-store areas, it might be useful to display the Arrivals Boards on a large screen for everybody to view. Alternatively the store manager or other members of the team can access the same information via a phone or tablet, or receive alerts by email or SMS.

Information can be filtered so that an individual store manager can get updated information about that store’s arrivals and no others. Beyond ETAs, the information shared can include other data useful to in-store delivery teams, such as the vehicle ID, type of delivery, and delivery volume on board.

The benefits of improved communication – having access to this accurate data and then sharing it across the organisation – touch many, many parts of a retail operation, including:

  • Managers of large stores, who can have the staff with relevant skills ready to unpack deliveries
  • Staff running smaller format, convenience stores, reducing the amount of time they spend away from customers
  • Drivers, who don’t have to wait for staff to be ready to receive deliveries
  • Customer services staff, who have to field fewer inbound calls, and meanwhile have a much more accurate view of what’s happening
  • Subsequent delivery locations, which benefit from keeping all deliveries on time throughout the day

Bonus: More accurate ETAs allow wider windows

You might think that this functionality would lead to planning to tight time windows and then keeping to them. But, in fact, for some of our customers, it is working out quite differently. Several have found that, if you’re giving stores accurate ETAs, you can actually plan to wider delivery windows, which saves money. When store service is king and the retail director is dictating delivery schedules, he or she might insist on very narrow time windows, because of the need to know what’s going on. But when logistics efficiency is the guiding principle, the goal is to create wider time windows to reduce costs.

With real-time data feeding arrival-time updates, there’s a win-win situation, because the logistics manager can plan to wider windows but give more accurate ETAs on a daily basis, so the individual store managers are able to plan better. Wider time windows give you the flexibility to save as much money as possible on a daily basis, while real-time updates mean you still know when a delivery is coming and everyone is happy.

Advanced route planning should include the ability to manage deliveries in real time

As experience tells us, there’s no point producing a plan that the drivers can’t carry out. The plan needs to work on the day, because customers – whether they be your own stores or other retail locations — need the drivers to visit at the time you’ve promised them. Store managers don’t want missed or delayed deliveries, and logistics managers don’t want the drivers to start going into costly overtime.

It’s also important that the results are measurable. You want to produce an accurate plan, then measure how you executed it, so that planning can continuously improve. The same real-time data that feeds ETA alerts and arrivals boards is also used to feed in to Analytics tools that track important KPIs.

Tools to communicate real-time delivery data can be critically important for retailers in managing direct store distribution. They bring a level of precision to store receiving operations that often, even today, involve more guessing and hoping than actual planning.

Live planning is a great use of the huge amount of information generated by advanced route planning, not just to plan, but to execute the plan – in real time.

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