What is last-mile delivery?

Every Friday, we answer a common question about fulfillment, shipping, or business. Today we will answer the following: “what is last-mile delivery?” 

Packages don’t travel in straight lines.

We’ve said it before, but it’s really important to mention it again here. Packages don’t go straight from Point A to Point B. They work their way through a system of stops around the country (or world) in a way that sometimes seems counterintuitive.

You’ve probably ordered something online at some point, watched the tracking information, and marveled as the item takes a route to your house like this…

As strange as it may seem at first, postal carriers do this for a reason. FedEx and UPS both use a “hub-and-spoke” system to bounce packages from hub to hub until they’re close to your home. The hub-to-hub transit process, though not always a straight line, is really efficient.

The tricky part, however, is actually getting a package to your house or business. That’s where last-mile delivery comes in.

Last-mile delivery: what it is and why it’s important

At its root, last-mile delivery is used to describe the process of delivering packages from hubs to their final destinations. Because final destinations differ so much from one another, this is one of the most expensive and difficult parts of the shipping process to get right.

Yet you can’t avoid it! Last-mile delivery is really important, because without it, package delivery would involve people going to transit hubs and picking up packages that way. It would be a mess!

Last-mile delivery is the USPS truck that drops off a package at your doorstep. It’s also the delivery driver who delivers your pizza and the grocery shopper who delivers your groceries.

COVID-19 and last-mile delivery

Last-mile delivery is having a moment right now, to put it lightly. According to McKinsey, last-mile deliveries have surged “more than ten times over” in 2020. This is an absolutely mind-boggling statistic! It’s hard to think of any niche in any industry that has experienced tenfold growth in a single year.

Much of this is happening because places that people have previously gone to in person – hardware stores, grocery stores, and so on – are now acting like hubs. Drivers, on behalf of an app like Instant Cart or on behalf of the company they work for, are now delivering goods more than ever.

Before 2020, it didn’t look like there was an obvious solution to the old problem of how to best handle last-mile deliveries. Now, it’s looking like the coronavirus pandemic is changing this. Only time will tell if the trend will last.

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