Delivering on the last mile

Image of Delivery people setting up furniture

As furniture sales increase online, retailers are taking a second look at their delivery service

Brian Grandolf (not his real name) frantically cleaned his new home office, making room for the desk he ordered online to arrive and complete the space. Having already started his new job, and currently working at his kitchen table, Brian couldn’t wait to set up the desk.

When the last-mile delivery company truck pulled up curbside – three days after it was supposed to arrive – the driver quickly assessed the situation and realized that the pallet jack would never climb the three steps to the porch, much less squeeze through the front door. Content that his job was done after unloading the pallet to the front lawn, the driver asked for a signature. Brian argued, “How am I supposed to lift the 200-pound box into the house by myself?”

The driver relented and helped Brian bring the box into the home, where it was then noticed that the box, and part of the desk, were damaged. Noting such on the delivery receipt – Brian was reluctant to reject the shipment after delays in receiving it – the task turned to working with the original shipper to make good on the damage.

In Brian’s case, the shipper stood behind the product and quickly sent out a replacement part, but many Americans are not so lucky. With many online furniture purchases come risks, including damage and the possibility that the manufacturer won’t be as accommodating as the one that assisted Brian. Still, more Americans are turning to online buying for big-ticket purchases.

Online furniture sales growing

Last year, U.S. e-commerce sales topped $605 billion, growing 15 percent from the year prior. Furniture and home furnishings are the fastest-growing segment of e-commerce. According to eMarketer, U.S. e-commerce sales in this category were expected to hit $50.32 billion, a growth rate of 18 percent for 2018. In 2017, Amazon alone reported $4 billion in furniture sales, according to a One Click Retail study.

It is because of this continued growth that carriers are increasingly devoting resources to last-mile furniture delivery. Earlier this year, J.B. Hunt acquired Cory 1st Choice Home Delivery, a New Jersey-based provider specializing in delivery of large and bulky items. The acquisition, just the third in company history, greatly enhanced J.B. Hunt Final Mile’s furniture delivery expertise, adding a great number of contract carriers to its available capacity and broadening its service offerings to meet consumer demand. Services include drop-off and white-glove deliveries where drivers enter a customer’s home and, in many cases, even set up the item.

The reason companies like J.B. Hunt are expanding their last-mile delivery of furniture is the potential, noting that “large format home delivery” is a $13 billion market right now. Its Final Mile business made more than two million home deliveries in 2018. Adding a company like Cory only enhances that business.

“Consumers expect the right balance of service, speed and price, so we’re building our furniture delivery program to help customers meet that demand,” Nick Hobbs, executive vice president and president of Dedicated Contract Services at J.B. Hunt, said. “The right experience can lead to a consumer, and possibly their friends, purchasing more merchandise from a particular vendor, ultimately generating more business for all of us.”

Transparent ordering and delivery process

The key to successful last-mile delivery of large items such as furniture is the ease and simplicity of the entire process, from the efficiency of scheduling delivery to the transparency of tracking the shipment. Brian only knew his desk would arrive within a three-day window. Thanks to Amazon, though, customers expect more visibility into their delivery.

This process starts with how the delivery provider presents itself. Are drivers uniformed? Are they properly trained to make the delivery, to assemble and install products if needed, and, most importantly, to treat customers and their homes with care and respect? Is the equipment clean and clearly labeled?

In terms of the delivery itself, does the delivery company provide track-and-trace capabilities? Does it offer value-added services such as deluxing and repair? Does it arrive when it says it will?

The aforementioned delivery driver checked off very few of these boxes, and while the retailer ultimately made good on the sale by sending replacement parts, the entire experience soured Brian on ordering from that company again. Furniture retailers need to be sure they work with companies that check these boxes, because most customers shopping online might never set foot in your store. The only contact they see is the delivery person. A positive ordering experience can be ruined by a bad delivery experience. When that happens, it’s not the delivery company that takes a hit. The customer will likely not shop with you again.

Follow-up should be standard practice

Most consumers will receive a follow-up survey after a delivery by J.B. Hunt Final Mile and other reputable last-mile delivery companies. This gives the provider an opportunity to atone for any missteps made in the process, correct concerns going forward, and be recognized for a job well done.

It’s easy and certainly tempting for furniture retailers to go with the lowest-priced delivery provider, especially when free shipping is promised to the consumer, but the lasting effects of a bad experience due to an unprepared delivery company will do more long-term harm than simply paying a slightly higher cost.

Last-mile delivery companies are now working to differentiate themselves based on service offerings. With millennials making up 37 percent of furniture shoppers, and increasingly shopping online, last-mile delivery is only going to increase.

Make sure that whoever is providing your store’s deliveries is keeping up.

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