Top challenges in middle mile vs. last mile logistics

Today’s shippers face a constant bombardment of challenges and disruptions. The continuous need to do more with less is absolute, especially as e-commerce grows beyond control. Yet many shippers still ponder the age-old difficulties of how to do more with less and how to get it all done without breaking the bank while still sourcing capacity in an ever-tightening market.

The answer is simple: shippers must understand the challenges inherent within the middle mile and last mile of logistics. While middle mile logistics and last mile logistics bear similar characteristics, the middle mile is unique with a set of elements that require absolute transparency and planning for all downstream supply chain movements. Meanwhile, the last mile movements, especially with the last mile to a residence delivery, will inherently mean planning around that customer’s experience. However, there is another factor to consider.

What if a shipper cannot identify or fully understand the challenges of middle mile logistics? In such a case, problems within the middle mile inherently will translate into issues within the last mile and affect the end-user experience. And that’s true whether it’s a retailer receiving an item or load from a distribution center or supplier or whether it’s an end-customer accepting delivery at their residence.

Fortunately, Warp is well poised to handle the increasing pressures and help shippers understand where their weaknesses lie, source capacity, track loads in real-time, and avoid potential disruptions as they occur. The world always has and always will depend on shippers to move goods across the country and globally. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top challenges in the middle mile vs. the last mile and what shippers can do about them today.

The Top Challenges of the Middle Mile

There are many challenges in any part of logistics, but the differences between the middle mile and the last mile are highly similar. Yes, they’re different forms of transportation in nomenclature, but their similarities are almost mirror images with slight imperfections. Here are those top three challenges and the differences between those challenges in the middle mile vs. last mile.

1. Cost of Middle Mile vs. Last Mile Delivery

It’s easy to think that the best area for potential cost savings in transportation is could be the last mile, but there’s a massive opportunity for middle mile efficiency gains. The middle mile is the distance between two points before a shipment enters its true last mile leg.

Putting it simply, it’s moving goods from a DC to DC / to final urban fulfillment centers. However, the middle mile is much more complex, involving multiple stops, concerns over traffic congestion, and figuring out how to navigate all that without increasing cost.

By contrast, the last mile is significantly more expensive. Insider Intelligence found that freight delivery expenses comprise 53% of the overall freight transport cost. Technically, this report speaks to the last mile, but the middle mile is still the last mile for goods on their way to stores, retailers and urban distribution centers. Regardless, when comparing the middle mile vs. the final mile, additional costs may arise from the other challenges in both.

2. Congestion and Improper Routing of the Middle Mile vs. Last Mile

Due to construction, business relocation, and population growth, U.S. city roads are constantly changing. These situations create challenges for delivery drivers. Outdated online maps and malfunctioning GPS apps cause middle mile freight delivery drivers to waste valuable time finding a drop-off location and rerouting to avoid potential problems.

While the middle mile freight delivery covers the most stable and reliable miles between many of the transcontinental lanes, middle mile logistics is usually the slowest and most tedious. Backtracking, dead miles, and idle time are especially devastating to efficiency when it occurs. Throughout the entire delivery process, there exists only a small margin for errors and inefficiencies within middle mile logistics and transportation.

The last mile is generally many more miles because it involves movements across hundreds of potential drop-off and even pick-up points within a localized delivery area, depending on the unique SLA in place. As a result, congestion and improper routing in the final mile are more likely to result in late or missed deliveries than in the middle mile.

3. Improper Matching of Carrier and Loads in Middle Mile Transportation

Carrier partnerships are vital to improving on-time delivery rates for better middle mile deliveries. Shippers with poor middle mile delivery success often lack the innovation and technology to match carriers and loads.

Much like the last mile, the middle mile is often unpredictable, don’t you agree? The massive growth of e-commerce puts even more pressure on efficiency in the last mile. And challenges in the middle mile translate into problems in the final mile.

Couriers or carriers in the last mile will dramatically impact the customer experience. Until the last mile, customers only perceive that the company is in charge and sending the item. However, the last mile is when the direct handoff to the customer occurs, and it’s also subject to the highest risk. What happens if the shipment gets stolen from the customer’s doorstep?

What happens if it is a last mile delivery stolen from the receiving area at the back of a facility that doesn’t have a traditional loading dock? Instead, do they simply have a regular-sized door to accept deliveries? Those differences define the challenge and importance of proper matching between the carrier and the load in both the middle mile and the last mile.

How Warp Solves the Challenges in Middle Mile Versus Last Mile

In a digitally-based world, technology reigns supreme, and the same holds true for transportation service providers specializing in middle mile delivery. Technology improves operational processes, overall performance, sustainability, productivity, and customer satisfaction across the entire industry. Technology has improved middle and last mile logistics and services, from individual tracking of loads and containers to real-time data collection and notifications. Despite all the growth and improvement over the last decade, it’s not enough. There is still room for improvement and much more that technology has to offer shippers, carriers, and logistics providers.

Figuring out the needs of middle mile vs. last mile logistics also means understanding where automation and technology can solve core challenges. As reported by Inbound Logistics, “Current middle mile driving involves non-organized shipping schedules between carriers that result in time delays and inefficient transportation. Not only will autonomous trucks benefit truckers, but they will also contribute to more structured routing schedules.” Still, autonomous trucks are too far off to be a reliable source of automation and efficiency gains in the middle mile. Therefore, shippers need to better understand the middle mile vs. last mile costs and where they derive.

Like the last mile, middle mile logistics is subject to repetitive moves that can lead to a feeling of monotony in transportation. Thus, the middle mile vs. last mile challenges can indeed be similar, requiring multiple stops, dropping off many LTL loads, and the like, but have shippers gone far enough to squeeze efficiency from every step, not just every mile?

The short answer is no, and it’s important to realize the truth of the challenges to ensure they’re not playing a constant status quo game and can evolve in tandem with the industry and customer demand.

Overcome the Most Common Middle Mile Logistics and Delivery Problems in Freight Transportation With the Right Industry Partner

The rapid growth of e-commerce and online sales have added variable options in freight delivery, but the quality is not always consistent. Bringing together disparate data to overcome unpredictability and transportation volatility is a significant challenge for shippers. Finding the best middle mile vs. last mile delivery solutions comes down to predictive planning and foresight and leveraging industry partnerships and relationships focused on enhanced middle mile logistics in tandem with last mile needs.

While many opportunistic software developers have jumped on middle mile transportation and delivery’s need for automated assistance, not every third-party logistics company is the same. The right middle mile delivery solutions flow out of the correct methods starting in the middle mile and continue to add value well through the last mile. There will always be a debate about where the best opportunities lie for middle mile vs. last mile cost savings. We welcome that discussion, embrace it even. As experts in this space, we at Warp can help you gain peace of mind that all deliveries will be successful and create the best customer experience possible. Learn how to optimize your logistics strategy with a connected platform that can set your shipping operations apart by contacting Warp today.

Troy Lester
Co-Founder and CRO

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