Shipping's role in the success of commerce cannot be understated. How important is it? One can argue that the adventures of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, and other famous explorers were partly inspired by the search for better, faster trade routes. The Cumberland Gap was critical in the United States' westward expansion because it allowed for the quicker transportation of goods through the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. Faster transportation of goods was the seed that started the transcontinental railroad. More recently, shipping and distribution expertise was critical to Walmart's growth in the 1980s and Amazon's growth from the 1990s to today, a RetailWire article points out. Increased delivery speed was also part of the reason behind Walmart's acquisition of Jet.com last year.
Customers want products as soon as possible and at the lowest possible cost. It wasn't too long ago that shipping to the customer's home took a week or two, with the customer paying for it. But now customers expect delivery within a couple of days in most cases and they don't expect to pay for that privilege.
Faster Speeds Will Continue
How fast will companies be able to make shipments? For many, the ability to send products from a supplier to a customer within two days is commonplace, typically without an additional charge. In some areas, Amazon and other retailers have partnered with local delivery companies so that deliveries can be made within a day, and sometimes within a couple of hours. Sandwich chain Jimmy John's bases its entire marketing campaign on the speed of its delivery.
In December, Fortune reported that Amazon had been awarded a patent for a floating warehouse that would use drones for delivery. But whether the warehouse is in the air, on the ground, or only part of a distributed system that includes multiple suppliers, dropship options, and other business partners, the key to the fastest, least expensive, most dependable delivery will continue to be a comprehensive logistics and supply chain solution.
The floating warehouse is just one example of the new, faster capabilities that are becoming possible. New, high-speed 3D printers can quickly produce anything from a simple nut or bolt to an artificial human limb. A 3DPrint.com article discusses how large firms are looking at using fleets of 3D printer-equipped trucks. In such a scenario, when a customer ordered a 3D-printable item, the order would go to the truck nearest his or her location, complete with printing instructions for the printer and location information for the driver. This could provide the capability of delivering some less complex (the more complexity, the longer the printing time) 3D-printed products in an hour or less within the next couple of years.
To meet consumers' expectations for faster delivery today or in the future, consider leveraging your physical stores as part of a ship-from-store solution or use dropshipping to both increase assortment and delivery speed. Work with a logistics partner that can fill in any areas you need for a complete supply chain solution, be it fulfillment and delivery, dropship options, payments and fraud solutions, omnichannel technology, customer care solutions, or any combination thereof. Your partner must also understand your business, competitive pressures, and transportation costs to not only provide the most cost-effective delivery options but also advise you when delivery should be offered for free.