In many organizations, shipping processes have been well established based on years of routine. In visiting and working with a range of businesses — from small to large — I often hear managers responsible for shipping and fulfillment operations express frustration that they don’t have the power or support to change. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a common expression that I hear. This default setting is enabling inefficient and outdated processes that are rooted in the past to live on far too long.
    I encourage you to take a fresh look at your shipping environment. With variable rate structures, stringent carrier requirements, and different delivery and pickup schedules, shipping is becoming more and more complex. Also, those managing this critical process often have other responsibilities so it’s no wonder there is a growing feeling of overload. You could also be missing out on opportunities to save money or better serve your customers.
    The good news is there are many tools and technologies available today that can greatly enhance your shipping and fulfillment operations as the shipping landscape continues to evolve. As a result, now is the time to challenge the norm and consider new ways to drive efficiency, boost productivity, and manage costs.
    Meeting Customer Expectations
    In today’s world, customers expect better service, including faster and more flexible delivery options. While businesses are sometimes reluctant to consider changes to their carrier mix, many are finding it imperative to adjust their strategies to respond to customer preferences. After all, shipping matters when it comes to buying decisions so options for direct and same-day delivery can make a huge difference in building customer loyalty.
    In addition to major carriers, the USPS and regional carriers, many small- and mid-sized shippers of low-weight parcels are adding local couriers to their delivery mix to increase efficiency and offer same-day delivery for time-sensitive materials.
    For example, I recently met with a pharmacy in Minneapolis that is using local courier services to help deliver prescriptions to its customers. By adding these services, the pharmacy was able to significantly increase efficiency, improve service levels, decrease shipping delays, and improve overall customer satisfaction and repeat business.
    If you work with several major carriers, consider using a multi-carrier shipping management system, which can significantly ease the challenges of dealing with multiple providers by automating and managing carrier and service selection. These solutions can streamline processes and increase customer convenience by automating carrier selection for each parcel based on the most up-to-date pricing, service options and business rules.
    What’s Next?
    Three intriguing delivery methods that could also be game-changers on the way packages are delivered and received:

    1. Crowdsourced delivery – Several online retailers and marketplaces are experimenting with mobile applications for crowdsourced delivery that would use services like Uber and Deliv to deliver packages to customers. When online retailers, businesses and other shippers request a pickup electronically, the software can tell which delivery company is nearby with an available driver. Some companies are even considering using a crowdsourced delivery program that would turn customers into package carriers.
    In cities like Seattle, Austin and Memphis, Yellow Cab also provides 24-hour package delivery services for time sensitive materials. Most delivery orders are performed within one hour from the time of the taxi request.
    1. Delivery by drones – The Federal Aviation Administration is working on finalizing proposed rules for small unmanned aircraft systems to deliver packages. The regulations would clear the way for companies like Amazon to use commercial drones to deliver packages less than five pounds in 30-minutes or less. The concept of package delivery by drones will continue evolving over the next year and may shape the future of our distribution and shipping models.
    2. Lockers – Some carriers and small businesses like pharmacies, dry cleaners and cafes are also experimenting with lockers or small on-site storage areas that serve as package pick-up points. This would give customers more flexibility to collect their orders and would cut down delivery time and costs for carriers.

    While these delivery methods may never really challenge traditional major and regional carriers to ship packages, new services and technology are changing every day. As a result, you should challenge the norm in the way you think and your company manages shipping. Instead, consider new solutions and best practices that can optimize your operations, deliver greater efficiency, and manage costs, all while better meeting the needs of your customers.
    Christoph Stehmann is Chief Operating Officer, Digital Commerce Solutions, Pitney Bowes.