By Daniel Allin, Chief Commercial Officer, Diamond Logistics.
The strange sight of shoppers resembling medical professionals as they go about town in face masks is just the latest in a series of changes to our way of life that will have significant and lasting effects.
If coronavirus has shown us anything, it’s that post-pandemic, consumers’ shopping habits will be changed forever, as we come to terms with a new and acceptable level of anxiety around people we don’t know.
Traditional bricks and mortar shopping was already struggling to fight the onslaught of the internet, but data for online sales in the first half of this year has shown that the death of the high street as we know it is closer than we thought.
At diamond logistics, during the height of the pandemic, we were seeing online orders with some of our clients increase by 1,000%. In fact, although positive, the peak demand brought its own challenges for retailers in meeting such high levels of customer orders.
For some businesses who’ve always relied solely on physical footfall, trade has of course dropped off a cliff and the number of newly empty shop windows makes for a grim reality of the impact of lockdown.
In order to survive, now more than ever high street businesses need to adapt their ways of working. But it can be tough to make the transition into the online space.
Many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) don’t have the option of warehousing, can’t rely on an efficient picking and packing system, and for some there is a technical lack of know-how when it comes to arranging the behind the scenes operation.
So how can SMEs take advantage of the upsurge in online demand?
Experience tells us that running multiple strands of a logistics operation simultaneously, while also offering the best service to clients brings with it unique challenges. Many businesses operating in logistics need to juggle multiple systems, multiple carriers, a fleet of vehicles and premises.
What that leaves is a retailer having to oversee their service delivery, ensuring that their customers receive the goods in the right way, at the right time. The process of managing carrier requests and goods handling, especially in the event of something going awry, is naturally time-consuming and an unwelcome distraction.
When I joined the senior leadership team at diamond in 2011, it was clear that there wasn’t a viable solution that automated the entire process not just for us, but also for retailers, allowing them to concentrate on doing what they do best - selling. Innovation in the technology to bring all the loose strands together was lacking.
In line with diamond’s founding principles of putting people - not parcels - at its heart, we set out to support SMEs in accessing a market that was previously out of reach, smoothing a path to an online presence. And for those already successfully operating online, we wanted to remove the unnecessary headaches and hurdles.
When diamond was founded nearly 20 years ago, it was never the intention to create our own Software as a Service solution. We’ve responded to demand and business need however, and invested more than £1million in building in-house what now represents a bespoke logistics platform - despatchlab.
The software combines classic same day courier, domestics and international express delivery, with online marketplace integration, storage, fulfilment and delivery with national coverage, all in the same place.
The solution was developed from the ground up and because of this we’re continually evolving it to better meet clients’ needs.
We’ve learnt that what has been critical to the success of despatchlab is the managed service element. Diamond has overall operational input and control, which allows retailers to outsource all aspects, including the carrier customer service side of things if there is a problem. This is highlighted by some of our clients as a huge boost to their service standards.
Of course, there are other logistics IT solutions, and many of them. Some retailers may prefer the autonomy of being able to update routing information, using the routing ‘engine’ to choose the most appropriate courier through a courier match tool, and negotiating their own deals. However it can be time consuming and working direct with carriers means an understanding of, and keeping up to date with, their changing policies and rules. Plus, there is the need then to manage multiple invoices and implement multiple connections with carriers.
I think those days are numbered though. As every element of our lives is touched in some way by technology, a managed automated service that enables SMEs to transition their businesses online, while being reassured of continued service standards seems a no brainer.
We’re now looking at the future of despatchlab and are developing an app-based version of the platform, allowing greater flexibility and insight into operations.
That’s the short term, there’s exciting possibilities in the long term development of the technology, by embracing the possibilities of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.
It can be all too easy to fear the march of technology as a threat to the traditional threads of society, but I firmly believe that as it evolves to suit our changed lives, we can harness its power to protect what we hold dear, albeit in a virtual world.