The Earth’s surface is 510,072,000 km2. 361,132,000 km2 of water and 48,940,000 km2 of dry land.
And yet we claim to deliver consumer goods everywhere, from metropolis to remote hamlets.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find a flat in a 34,490 km2 metropolitan area like New York’s. Try to imagine doing the same in 603 km2 Mumbai, sorting through 13 million inhabitants, 106 zip codes and streets that literally have no names.
In the West we dream of drones, hopping from skyscraper to skyscraper, delivering emission-free goodies by remote control. Something even William Gibson, co-father of the Cyberpunk literary movement, dared not to imagine. In India, logistic companies hire dabbawallahs: an army of 4000 lunchbox carriers who travel on foot and bike, relying on a colour-coded, totally analogue system and yet failing only one delivery every six million.
In such diverse environments, such strikingly diverse cultures, what is the Holy Grail of the Last Mile?
When we think about logistics software we usually envision maps, routes, fleets, numbered parcels on the move, barcode readers, tablets and apps. But we tend to forget something: if there’s one thing that the digital revolution has taught us is that we’re going from a company-centric society to a human-centric one.
Just yesterday you had to be Someone to have your voice heard: you had to live high in the System. Now everyone can post, share and so lay a claim. A disgruntled customer of Federal Express in 1999 could only spend hours on the phone and have a verbal fight with some bored employee. Maybe write a letter to a newspaper and hope to be published in a corner column. Now Shoppers have a whole network of social media to connect with other dissatisfied customers like them.
As the last Customer’s Pulse Report by JDA/Centiro reports: 71% of UK customers is ready to change retailer as a result of a poor online experience. 46% of the 47% who had problems with online orders laments a late delivery.
Last Mile is about People and their Satisfaction.
Whether they’re home or not when the parcel arrives, whether they can afford it, about how much space they have for choosing a customized delivery experience.
As Chris Cunnane writes: “The customer does not care about how front and back-end technologies and business processes are integrated across all channels of operation. They simply want to interact with a brand through a variety of channels, find the product they want, and have the order fulfilled when and how is most convenient”.
Last Mile is about ringing the doorbell and greeting a smiling, satisfied customer. Be a stay-at-home mom in a Texas small town, a rancher in Montana, a CEO in Manhattan, an artisan residing in some European medieval alley or a merchant in bustling Bangkok. And no matter how we get there: be it on four, three or two wheels, on foot or manning a robot, we’ll have to be on the right time for the right price.
How do we do that? Is it possible to tame the whole 510,072,000 km2 of this planet of ours, with its extraordinary geographical and cultural variety? In such diverse environments, such strikingly diverse cultures, what could be the Holy Grail of the Last Mile?
Immense truths lie somewhere inside an uncharted new land: the infinite digital landscape of Big Data. Bazillions of bytes that wait for a prophet: a water diviner who digs petabytes and turns them into information. Surfing it, reading it, is a new form of art. Many programs do that but not many minds are ready to exploit the true meaning of this revolution: data is meaningless unless it can be converted into insight.
The future of retail depends on several tiers of Big Data usage: Shoppers will use it to demand the best prices and outstanding products; Retailers will use it to foresee Consumer habits, enhance the multichannel experience, optimize distribution and logistics.
Big Data is where the insight of the human mind and the sheer power of the computerized one meet and see that Big Picture that waits behind the superficial chaos of humanity. It is like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail: it could lead us home.