Home Delivery World—a conference encompassing every aspect of the retail logistics supply chain process— took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, earlier this month. The event brought together innovators and leaders in autonomous technologies, delivery services, grocery, retail, manufacturing, and warehousing to share solutions and ideas for the final mile.

Many of the themes we heard at this conference echo initial findings from our annual Home Delivery Survey of consumers and executives, which is coming out in July.

In the meantime, here are four major takeaways from our visit to Home Delivery World: 

1. Sights on next-day delivery

With high customer expectations for rapid delivery, retailers continue to focus on delivery speed. Today, only 37% of retailers surveyed for the conference provide next-day delivery. However, over half of the remaining retailers shared plans to offer next-day delivery sometime in the next 2 years. 

Retailers at the conference emphasized a clear focus on operationalizing fulfillment from retail locations to improve their same-day and next-day delivery capabilities. By standardizing this practice across their networks, they aim to reduce transportation costs and emissions while providing greater value to their customers.

2. Rising expectations for big and bulky deliveries

Historically, consumers have expected same or next-day delivery for parcel deliveries but have been more lenient with longer lead times for larger items like furniture and appliances. Recently, however, they’ve begun seeking the same efficiency and convenience for big and bulky that they get with parcel deliveries.

Instead of following the traditional pattern of scheduling bulky deliveries with final mile carriers post-purchase, customers now want to see a confirmed delivery date at checkout. They also want the flexibility to adjust delivery dates and to have visibility into each stage of the order process, from fulfillment to final delivery.

3. Retailers seek value in response to demands for free returns

As customers continue to demand free returns, retailers aim to meet their demands while seeking ways to drive more value out of returns. To find value, retailers are exploring a variety of convenient return methods, such as self-service kiosks, package-free drop-offs, and digital platforms for flexible drop-off and pick-up locations. These initiatives aim to meet evolving customer expectations and streamline the return experience.

Additionally, retailers are proactively collaborating across finance, customer service and operational teams to analyze return trends, prevent future returns, and tailor strategies. They are also beginning to partner with liquidators for optimal value recovery, maximizing re-salability with proper packaging and use of reliable carriers, and, at times, optimizing backhaul logistics with suppliers. 

4. AI is on the scene

AI is increasingly being recognized and employed for its potential to revolutionize logistics by optimizing routes, managing drivers more efficiently, and elevating service levels. Although its adoption across the industry is not yet universal, AI is gaining traction as a tool to enhance consumer satisfaction and lower operational costs for retailers.

AI platforms are bringing a dynamic capability to various factors crucial to logistics efficiency. These include analyzing vast amounts of historical customer delivery data, optimizing driver schedules based on patterns and regulatory requirements across different regions, minimizing fuel consumption and emissions, and adapting to real-time traffic conditions and construction updates. By leveraging AI in these areas, retailers and delivery providers alike aim to streamline operations, improve delivery timelines, and ultimately provide a more responsive and environmentally sustainable service to their customers.

Stay tuned for more on these topics when we release our Home Delivery Survey findings next month.