How a few rides with couriers changed the way I think about parcel delivery

December 15, 2021

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the delivery market has seen tremendous growth, which was initially predicted for the years to come. The pandemic has accelerated the transition towards a more digital world and triggered changes in online shopping behaviors that will have lasting effects. Home delivery has shifted from an amenity to a necessity.

At Mily Technologies, we are developing analytics software for the optimization of last-mile delivery processes. In order to build something that brings value, understanding the entire delivery flow is a prerequisite. Therefore, every now and then, we also spend time delivering parcels with couriers. After all, they were affected the most by the rise in parcel volume, and we need to know how things look from their perspective.

It was my turn, and I was very interested in the thought process of a courier: what are they optimizing for, how do they make tradeoff decisions, and how much of what they do can be automated or simplified. As a disclaimer, this was not a scientific study, and takeaways present a personal reflection. To make this an extensive study, many factors would need to be considered, like the type of area (urban or rural), time of the day, peak day or not, the driver’s experience, etc.

After several rides and hundreds of delivered parcels, I rounded up a few reflections.

Courier’s job can be very stressful.

This doesn’t come as a surprise, I guess. Being a courier has its benefits: driving to different areas and meeting new people provides a great deal of diversity in your day. Also, people are usually pleased to see you because you’ve delivered that parcel they’ve been eagerly expecting. But if you get stuck in traffic, can’t find the address, or spend too much time backtracking on your route, the stress can build up.

Most unsuccessful delivery attempts are because people don’t know when a courier is coming, which is a waste of time and an unnecessary hassle for everyone involved. Increasing transparency of the delivery process can make everyone’s lives easier: for recipients to know exactly when a parcel is arriving and for couriers to spend less time per stop and have significantly higher first delivery attempt successes.

Parking is a pain.

Finding a parking place, especially in busy urban areas, is a major headache for couriers. That is why we regularly witness that couriers bend parking rules if there’s no legal parking near where they are delivering. In most cases, they are paying for the ticket, which is another factor that causes them to rush.

Furthermore, plenty of research has documented the great toll circling for parking takes on traffic congestion and air pollution. Commercial vehicle loading zones or short-term parking places clearly cut down on circling – as well as the traffic and pollution that comes with it. There’s certainly a case for more such zones.

Incorrect addresses cause delivery mix-ups.

Looking through the delivery lists, I was shocked at how poor some delivery addresses were, and it even made me question whether these people wanted their package. The courier shouldn’t be forced to solve an address-riddle to deliver a parcel.

This is something technology can help prevent, but it’s a complex problem to solve.

“Cash on Delivery” (COD) is slowing down couriers.

Some online shoppers prefer COD because they want to avoid digital payments. There might be a variety of reasons for this, including a lack of faith in the seller and their payment systems. This is also tightly related to the general acceptance of digital payment systems.

However, the side effect of COD is that it requires more courier time at the location. Although this may appear to be a short amount of time, it can quickly accumulate as the day goes on, causing extra delays.

Parcel lockers and shops are a great delivery alternative.

One of the primary benefits of parcel shops and lockers is that recipients do not have to commit to being at home when the parcel is delivered. This is a very convenient alternative which also benefits couriers as they can deliver multiple packages at a single location.

Check out our previous blog to learn more about the benefits of parcel lockers.

Final thoughts

Successful last-mile delivery orchestration requires a holistic approach incorporating people, processes, and technology. Synergy is needed from all participants in the process to ensure smooth delivery. So at least what each of us can do every time we purchase something online is to double-check the delivery address, phone number and ensure our flat or house number is clearly marked. It will make couriers’ day a lot easier.

Lastly, remember: before anything else, couriers are people. Technology can help facilitate more transparent communication, but a bit of kindness and cooperation can take us a long way.