What is Last Mile Delivery?

As consumers increasingly turn to ecommerce for all their shopping needs, speedy fulfillment is the expectation of every online shopping experience. With the prominent threat of Amazon Prime dominating the marketplace, speed needs to be a priority for all ecommerce businesses. As a result, businesses have begun developing new technologies and supply chain fulfillment models to increase parcel volume, expedite deliveries, and enhance the customer experience all while trying to cut costs. One of the biggest expenses and challenges is the aspect of last mile delivery.

Last Mile Delivery Explained

Last mile delivery is defined as the movement of goods from a transportation hub to the final delivery destination. The final delivery destination is typically a personal residence or a commercial business. The focus of last mile logistics is to deliver items to the end user as fast as possible. Last mile logistics has become a popular area of interest for ecommerce businesses due to the growing demand for integrated omnichannel fulfillment. Changing omnichannel fulfillment needs have forced businesses to evaluate current transportation network capabilities and make adjustments accordingly.

An increased focus has been placed on last mile logistics because, in many cases, this is a key differentiator for businesses. Because consumers can easily change where they choose to order from, ecommerce businesses and their supply chain partners must provide exceptional service to gain market share and build brand loyalty.

Last Mile Delivery Challenges

The last leg of this logistics process is one of the most challenging aspects of ecommerce fulfillment. Because of this, it is important to identify the challenges that you face to be able to handle them in the most efficient and cost effective way possible.


Due to its inefficiency, the last mile delivery section of the whole logistics process can be expensive in terms of operational cost. With the huge undertaking involved to send each package to its end user, this is easily one of the biggest challenges of last mile delivery.


The nature of last mile delivery itself has proven to be a challenge mainly because of the sheer volume of end users the parcels need to be delivered to. This service requires a massive fleet of vehicles each driven by trained personnel.


Consumers want to know exactly when their orders will arrive, and track them every step along the way. In the logistics industry companies originally started using tracking codes to give their customers information on the status of their delivery, initially just a date that it was expected to arrive. Now the standard procedure includes providing the end customer with information on where their delivery is in real time so that they know when it’s going to arrive. This includes any hiccups that might occur along the way, as when well as when their order is actually out for delivery. In some instances, Amazon for instance can show a map of where your package is in relation to your location, as well as how many stops the driver has before reaching you.


A smooth overall delivery experience is ideal to boost efficiency and cut costs, but there are still errors that occur that prevent this from happening 100% of the time. Improvements in the ecommerce fulfillment process such as utilizing robots as part of the process have taken some of the human element, and the errors that naturally occur because of it, out of the equation. This has led to creating a more efficient process from the moment a customer checks out from your online store. Amazon is even currently experimenting with using drones to deliver packages up to five pounds in less than 30 minutes to help execute a more efficient last mile delivery system. These technological breakthroughs are also helping businesses execute their last mile delivery service with increasing efficiency.

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Partnering With a 3PL for Last Mile Delivery

Last mile delivery service providers are challenged to meet the needs, demands and expectations of both customers and merchants. Third party logistics providers (3PLs) are now increasingly offering last mile delivery and compete with shipping carriers. These last mile delivery service providers use technology to improve the efficiency of routing, and rely on inventory management software, proprietary supply chain monitoring that provides visibility to both the company they are providing ecommerce fulfillment services for as well as the end customer who is waiting for the order to arrive. This helps to ensure the seamless flow of real time intelligence across the supply chain. Use of technology solutions has helped providers to successfully manage peak times, routes, and costs. 

A third-party logistics provider, also known as a 3PL, is a vendor that fulfills orders for ecommerce companies. The 3PL often stores the products in a warehouse that serves a specific region of customers. When orders are placed, the 3PL is responsible for final transportation and fulfilling last mile delivery. 

Partnering with a 3PL offers significant benefits including:

Distributed Inventory

If your company is located on the West Coast yet a large portion of orders are destined for the East Coast, shipping costs will significantly cut into your revenue stream. A 3PL that has multiple fulfillment centers located across the country can help save on costs as less time and mileage is required to deliver the product.

Decreased Overhead Cost

If you experience a sudden influx in sales volume, successfully meeting that demand in a timely manner can be a challenging task. Because they have the facilities and the necessary manpower as well as technology to scale up, a 3PL will allow you to expand quickly to meet the increased demand.

Route Optimization

Route planning can highly impact the speed of the last mile deliveries – as the delivery executives make several stops at customer doorsteps. It is crucial for a company to optimize the delivery route, resulting in faster deliveries, better resource utilization, higher productivity at optimized costs.

Expedited Shipping

Fast delivery times are now the norm expectation from your customers. Utilizing a 3PL to outsource order shipping and fulfillment can add services that sellers wouldn’t be able to offer if they fulfilled orders in house—services like  offering discounts, multiple shipping options, and leveraging increased technology for greater accuracy. A 3PL can help sellers meet customer demands around expedited shipping and costs and help grow their sales.

Reverse Logistics

Ecommerce businesses see high volume of product returns, and managing them is a significant task when it comes to time and expense. A 3PL will assist in making the reverse logistics process smooth and cost effective, in addition to giving you customer insight and product feedback.

Customer Satisfaction

There is nothing more important than making your customers happy. Faster deliveries, product packaging, and prompt pickups all have an impact on customer satisfaction. 3PLs specialize in ensuring that these all occur as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.

Bottom Line

The solution to last mile delivery challenges is not one-size-fits-all. In fact, an online retailer or third-party logistics provider may find that a combination of improved technology and analytics could be the solution to fix unnecessary last mile delivery costs. Regardless of what your fulfillment strategy is, the importance of optimizing last mile delivery is undeniable. 

If you are looking for a 3PL to help with your logistics support we would love to hear from you. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support.