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There are many cogs that make up the supply chain process. Some areas that are less discussed include the first-mile sorting centre and first-mile delivery

Today, we’re going to shine a light on these incredibly important aspects of the supply chain, and discuss why, and how, optimising them both is so important for eCommerce businesses. The first-mile process begins with order fulfilment, supply chain planning and warehousing receiving optimisation.

As opposed to the last-mile process, first-mile delivery and sorting is often not as talked about, but it’s critical to the delivery procedure. Keep reading to find out more! 

What is a first-mile sorting centre?

A first-mile sorting centre is a warehouse, distribution facility or fulfilment centre. It’s the place where goods arrive once they’ve been manufactured, and they’ll usually be stored there until they’re purchased by a customer.

We refer to this first leg of the journey (where new products are sent to the first-mile sorting centre) as first-mile delivery, and it’s an incredibly important part of both the supply chain and the order fulfilment process.

In reality, the definition of first-mile delivery is slightly different depending on whether it’s for a retailer or an eCommerce business. In retail, it’ll usually be the journey in which goods go from the point of manufacture to the retailer’s distribution centre. 

In eCommerce, it’s the point in which the goods travel from the seller to the warehouse or fulfilment centre.

The importance of first-mile sorting and delivery

The importance of first-mile delivery cannot be overstated. As the first stage of the fulfilment process, poorly run first-mile delivery has a knock on effect on everything that comes after it. 

An inefficient first-mile delivery process or first-mile sorting centre can have far reaching consequences to your fulfilment process, customer satisfaction and bottom line.

If your goods aren’t shipped to your warehouse or fulfilment centre effectively, you may find that you don’t have enough products to keep up with customer demand. On the other hand, overordering certain products can result in unnecessary storage and shipping costs.

First-mile, middle-mile and last-mile: what’s the difference?

As mentioned above, first-mile delivery is the journey goods take from the seller or manufacturer to the warehouse. Middle-mile delivery refers to the transfer of goods from a distribution centre to a fulfilment facility. Finally, last or final-mile delivery is the part that customers are much more familiar with; the journey of goods from the warehouse to the customer’s door.

There’s considerably less awareness and emphasis on first-mile delivery when compared to last-mile. After all, in today’s eCommerce landscape, apps and tracking codes give customers a tonne of information about where their order is once it’s being processed and en route to them.

An unfortunate side effect of the first-mile delivery process being lesser known is that it’s generally much less efficient than the last-mile logistics stage. A customer’s eyes are closely following an order once it’s been placed, and they’ll tend not to think about the route the product has taken before they bought.

However, for businesses who are keen to optimise each leg of their supply chain, first-mile delivery holds too much weight to be ignored. And, although customers might not necessarily know it, an inefficient first-mile can negatively impact their experience.

4 Steps to optimise the first-mile 

Once you realise the importance of first-mile delivery and your first-mile sorting centre, there’s a number of steps you can take to make the first-mile process for your business much more efficient.

Step 1. Understand your supply chain logistics

A good first step is to analyse your current first-mile delivery process and identify rooms for improvement. It’s best to look at the bigger picture, starting with the first-mile delivery and ending at the last-mile delivery stage.

Once you’ve mapped out the entire supply chain, you’ll be able to identify the biggest cracks and weaknesses, and you’ll be surprised to find how much can be alleviated by optimising the first-mile.

Step 2. Track inventories 

Through inventory tracking, we can ensure that our first-mile operation is making optimal use of capacity. Accurate inventory tracking ensures that the right amount of goods travelling to the first-mile sorting centre, and that inventories are replenished at the right time.

Step 3. Embrace technology 

Use inventory and warehouse management software to automate much of the first-mile process and eliminate human error. Good technology will accumulate useful data and present it to you in a digestible format, allowing you to make informed decisions on how to improve efficiency.

Step 4. Outsource 

Leaving your first-mile delivery and sorting in the hands of experts can often be the best option. At J&J, our first-mile sorting centre is powered by custom-built technology and industry expertise, saving you time, money, and allowing you to get on with growing your business.

First-mile sorting centre FAQs

1. Who operates first-mile sorting centres?

Depending on the company, first-mile string centres will be operated either by employees of the company or an external organisation. Most modern first-mile sorting centres combine warehouse staff with warehouse technology to run a smooth operation.

2. Can you outsource first-mile delivery?

Absolutely; it’s very common for SMEs and even larger companies to outsource their first-mile delivery. Common carriers in the UK include DPD, Hermes, and DHL.

3. What are the costs associated with first-mile sorting centres?

Costs associated with first-mile sorting centres include:

  • Costs of running the centre (labour / energy)
  • Storage costs
  • Picking and packing
  • Shipping to and from the centre

4. What kind of services do first-mile sorting centres offer?

There are many different first-mile sorting centres to choose from, each offering different levels of service. J&J Global Fulfilment is a first-mile sorting centre that also manages the entirety of the order fulfilment process.

J&J offer the following services to all clients:

  • Goods in – We process your goods as they enter our fulfilment centre, adding barcodes, weights, dimensions, photographs, and tracking information to our system. This ensures speedy and accurate fulfilment later on.
  • Storage – We store your goods carefully and securely until an order is placed by a customer.
  • Picking and packing – When an order comes in, we pick the item from the shelf. We then pack the order with the most suitable packaging so it doesn’t get damaged in transit.
  • Shipping – We work with all the major carriers to ensure cost-effective shipping and speedy delivery.
  • Returns management – If a customer wants to return an item, they’ll return it here where we’ll process it and put it back on the shelf to be sold.
  • Award-winning technology – Everything is tied together and powered by our cloud-based software, ControlPort™.

5. What are the challenges of first-mile delivery?

There are quite a few challenges when it comes to the first-mile delivery process. These include: 

  • Lack of resources – Having untrained personnel can delay the movement of goods, as they get acquainted with first-mile tracking and logistics. 
  • Lack of technology – Not using technology and automated machines can cause inefficiencies and increase the cost of moving goods. 
  • Labelling and packaging goods – Manually labelling products can cause issues with delivery. 

Want to learn more? Get in touch!

First-mile delivery is an essential part of the order fulfilment process. At J&J, we can help scale up your business operations, improve your supply chain and lower your storage costs. 

If you’re considering hiring somebody to take care of your first-mile operation, we’d love to discuss our fulfilment services with you. To get in touch, please fill out this form and we’ll be more than happy to discuss what we offer, next steps, and more.

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