It’s no secret. Consumers are buying a lot of stuff online. And they’re getting comfortable with buying big — and high-value — items, too. Take online purchasing of furniture: According to Internet Retailer, this area of ecommerce is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 15 percent through 2019. That’s confidence. For retailers and manufacturers, this translates to greater demand, orders around the clock and deliveries across a wider geographical area.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Fulfillment and delivery strategies for big and bulky items are very different from those of smaller, more lightweight parcels. This is particularly true when it comes to receiving, inspecting, storing and moving them. How do your processes — and those of your supply chain partners — stack up? Are they helping to ensure a consistent, branded experience and complete customer satisfaction? Are they helping you effectively manage transit times and costs?
CONTROL COSTS AND SATISFY CUSTOMER NEEDS
As supply chain management experts, particularly in the area of big and bulky consumer product and business equipment deliveries, we have direct insight into some of the most common challenges. Check your processes against them to determine if it’s time to re-evaluate your strategy(ies).
For fulfillment and delivery functions, investments made in — and processes implemented around —trucks and other delivery vehicles, warehousing and equipment, scheduling, distribution networks and labor pools were once geared toward handling smaller packages. Big and bulky items, however, require specific capabilities and the assets and resources that go with them. Updating assets can be costly; large capital expenses can also take time to get approved and rolled out.
JOURNEY OF A SOFA
To illustrate just how challenging a big and bulky delivery can be, consider the journey of a sofa — from the manufacturer, to a regional distribution center (DC) or last mile facility and then on to your customer. And not a normal-sized sofa, which typically measures 105" in length. The product is an oversized sofa at 140".
From an operational standpoint, the goal is to get the product out and in as quickly as possible. The business goal is to do it at the lowest possible cost. The most efficient and cost-effective approach, when you’re moving a large amount of goods, would be to use a full truckload (FTL) freight carrier. With limited items, lower shipping costs might be realized with a less than load (LTL) carrier (where space is shared with other companies’ products to offset the price).
A last mile facility specializing in big and bulky items would have processes in place for special handling — something you would need with a large, heavy sofa. They can also provide end-to-end warehousing, deluxing and delivery, as well as inspections in the warehouse and cross-docking for high-priority shipments.
Special handling for this product, due to its size and weight, would include an accurate inventory item file that identifies height, length and width measurements as well as weight — to help flag the order for certain handling. Communication with the carrier via special handling notes on packing lists and bills of lading plus advanced shipping notices (electronic data) would also be necessary.
When it’s ready to be delivered, a three- versus two-man team would likely be needed, due to the weight/girth of the item. Then there’s the reduced load factor; a 140″ sofa will not stand up in a truck. A dedicated or mostly dedicated truck solution may be required.
White glove delivery helps you extend your brand image and promise, offering a delivery experience that is aligned with luxury, high quality and value-added service. Drivers who are trained to set up and/or install the product in the home or business and then leave the premises clean and well cared for help you leave a positive, lasting impression.
When scheduling oversized and heavy materials for delivery, the item should be in stock before scheduling it for delivery. Big and bulky items can create big and time-consuming headaches when it comes to the environment to which they are being delivered. For example, if the sofa is being delivered to a customer on the 24th floor of a high-rise building in a high-density area, the customer would need to be contacted about securing a delivery time so he/she can reserve the elevator. You’ll need to measure not only the space the item is going into but also the doors it has to go through — and get the weight restrictions of the elevator. Also, are there any street parking restrictions?
If the item is assembled at the warehouse before delivery, versus in the home, protection is needed for that item in transit.
MULTIPLE ORDERS FOR THE SAME CUSTOMER
If you offer a wide assortment of big and bulky items, it's likely you'll generate multiple orders destined for the same customer. Maybe those orders were created on the same day, or perhaps over a couple of days.
When it comes to scheduling and dispatch, your goal is to get the items together for a single delivery and meet the customer’s expectations for convenience and service. To group multiple items together requires visibility — of the inventory received in the warehouse and/or with the multiple suppliers from which the items are being sourced. You’ll also need the ability to hold items until they’re all ready to be shipped.
Situations can arise where an item doesn’t arrive in inventory as scheduled, or is missing. You’ll need a process in place to make sure the customer is made aware of missing pieces, delays or partial deliveries.
Returns are inevitable. In an omni-channel world, they’re complex. Your goal, from a business standpoint, is to extract as much value as you can from the returned item. If you have a comprehensive inspection strategy before the item is sent out for delivery, you can flag any problems before the item is loaded onto the truck. On-site repair services, such as a furniture medic, can help bring the item back to factory quality and minimize returns and unrecoverable losses.
The goal for any return is to be responsive and efficient. You want to get the item from the home or business and back into inventory as quickly as possible — and in one trip. Having good delivery density in the zip code area of the pickup is key.
When the item returns to the last mile facility, it needs to be triaged to determine if it requires repair or discarding or if it can return to inventory. Note: Storing items of this size can get expensive, so be aware of any extended storage fees.
DON'T JEOPARDIZE YOUR FUTURE GROWTH
The consumer is driving a lot of changes in the marketplace. Expectations (and a low tolerance for waiting or being disappointed) are on the rise, no matter how he/she engages with you and purchases your products. Getting the product to the customer in an efficient, cost-effective and value-added way has become as important as the product itself.
When did you last re-evaluate your fulfillment and delivery strategies?