5 May 20238 minute read

First-Mile Delivery: What It Is and Why It's Important


Manage drivers and deliveries with ease using Circuit for Teams.

Are you running a business that involves delivering goods to your customers? If so, you know that the first leg of the delivery process, commonly called first-mile delivery, can make or break your entire logistics operation.

In fact, the success or failure of first-mile delivery can have a major impact on the rest of the delivery chain.

But what exactly is first-mile delivery? Why is it so important? And what challenges do businesses face when trying to optimize this shipping process?

Fear not, because we've got you covered. This article will dive into the world of first-mile delivery, exploring what it is, why it matters, and how you can improve it.

Keep reading if you want to streamline your logistics operations, cut delivery times, and keep customers happy. 

Understanding the ins and outs of first-mile delivery is the first step to delivering excellence to customers every single time.

Key takeaways:

  • First-mile delivery is the critical first leg of the supply chain. It involves transporting goods from the point of origin to the next stage of the delivery process.
  • Optimize first-mile delivery by focusing on reducing inefficiencies and streamlining processes. This includes optimizing routes, automating tasks, and reassessing packaging and labeling.
  • You must prioritize first-mile delivery operations to give customers a seamless delivery experience.
  • Key first-mile delivery challenges include a lack of focus on the first-mile experience and reliance on manual processes.
Track any package in the world, in seconds, with Circuit Package Tracker. Click here to start tracking.

What is first-mile delivery?

First-mile delivery is the critical first leg of the supply chain. It sets the foundation for the entire delivery process.

It involves transporting goods from the point of origin, such as a manufacturing facility, to the next stage of the supply chain process.

But here's the thing: The first mile can look different for different industries.

For retailers, it could mean delivering items from a regional warehouse to a local distribution center or store.

For logistics services, it could be a same-day or on-demand service. For example, when they pick up goods from the shipper and deliver them to the consignee (the person who gets the goods).

For moving and storage companies, it involves collecting inventory from the customer's home or store and bringing it back to the warehouse.

Regardless of the industry, the first-mile delivery process can be complicated. It involves loading and unloading shipments many times, managing different drivers for the same items, and coordinating shipments from multiple retailers.

 First-mile delivery vs. last mile delivery 

First-mile delivery and last-mile delivery are two critical components of the supply chain. They are responsible for getting goods from the point of origin to the final destination.

Yet, they have some key differences.

First-mile delivery involves the transportation of goods from the point of origin to the next stage of the delivery process.

This could be a local distribution center, store, or even a logistics service warehouse. The focus is on getting the goods out of the starting point and onto the next leg of the journey.

Last-mile delivery is the final leg of the delivery process that gets goods to their ultimate destination, such as a customer's home or business. 

This is the most critical phase of the delivery process, as it involves getting the goods into the hands of the end customer.

Both first-mile delivery and last-mile delivery are parts of the supply chain. The first mile is about getting goods out of the starting point, while the last mile is about getting them to the consumer. 

If your business specializes in last-mile delivery, we can definitely help. Our tool, Circuit for Teams, can help you manage multiple drivers and routes easily. All while helping you save time and money!

Why is first-mile delivery important?

first mile delivery importance

The first mile of the delivery process is like the foundation of a house. If it's strong, the rest of the house can be built on top of it with ease. But if the foundation is weak or faulty, the entire house can collapse.

Similarly, first-mile delivery is the foundation of any supply chain. Optimization and efficiency can lead to a smooth and successful delivery process. 

But first-mile delivery mistakes and inefficiencies can affect the rest of the supply chain. This results in delays, increased costs, and frustrated customers.

Companies prioritizing their first-mile delivery operations can give customers a seamless and positive delivery experience

This leads to customer satisfaction and can give courier services a competitive edge in the cutthroat world of eCommerce.

Key challenges of first-mile delivery

Companies must overcome a range of obstacles to make sure their first-mile delivery operations are running well.

Let's take a closer look at some of these challenges.

Not prioritizing the first-mile experience 

While companies often focus on the last-mile delivery experience, the first mile is just as important. Neglecting the first mile can lead to delayed shipments, mistakes, and, ultimately, a poor customer experience.

Take the example of a customer who orders a product online and is promised a two-day delivery. They may experience frustration if the carrier doesn’t pick up the product within the promised time frame. 

Circuit for Teams lets you track driver movement, so you can keep customers in the loop on the delivery ETA. They’ll know about package delays in advance (instead of being disappointed at the last moment).

Reliance on manual processes

The first mile of delivery is often characterized by manual processes and paperwork. This can lead to inefficiencies and errors. 

Digitizing the first mile lets companies improve their speed and accuracy.

For example, using electronic signatures instead of paper-based ones can speed up the first mile of delivery. It can also reduce errors associated with manual data entry.

Circuit for Teams also gives electronic proof of delivery. This reduces manual processes while still ensuring customer satisfaction.

Lack of visibility

The first mile of delivery can involve many parties and transfers, leading to a lack of visibility into shipment status and location. 

This can lead to delays and frustration for both companies and the end users.

Suppose you're a company shipping essential and perishable items, such as medical supplies. You'll need real-time visibility into each shipment’s location and status. This helps you make sure that they are delivered on time and in the right condition.

Circuit for Teams lets you track driver location. You can use this information to give your customers visibility.

5 tips for optimizing first-mile delivery operations

tips to optimize first mile delivery

We've compiled five top tips to help you optimize your first-mile delivery operations right away.

These include:

1. Map out your existing process and check for inefficiencies 

Imagine your company relies on a third-party logistics service (3PL) for first-mile delivery. 

You notice some issues while mapping out your existing process. These include a lack of communication between your team and the logistics partner when it comes to pickup times and delivery windows. 

So you experience missed pickups, late deliveries, and unhappy customers.

To optimize this process, you might consider implementing a digital platform like Circuit for Teams. This will allow for real-time communication between your team and the 3PL. 

This can help everyone stay on the same page about pickup times and delivery windows. It can improve overall efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Mapping out your existing process and identifying areas of inefficiency means you can take targeted steps to optimize first-mile delivery and improve your entire supply chain.

2. Collect relevant data

When it comes to optimizing your first-mile delivery operations, data is your friend! 

Collecting and analyzing relevant data can help you identify areas of improvement in your supply chain and streamline your logistics processes.

Think about it this way: If you don't understand how long it takes your suppliers to ship orders or how often products are damaged in transit, how can you possibly make informed decisions about optimizing the first stage of delivery?

Collecting and analyzing metrics data (like time to ship, time to stock, and transit damage rates) can help you identify bottlenecks in your supply chain and make data-driven decisions to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

And with tools like inventory management software and warehouse management systems, collecting and analyzing this data has never been easier.

3. Look for processes to automate 

Do you know the key to optimizing your first-mile logistics management? It's automation!

With the right technology, you can transform expenses into funds for growth. Automating your first-mile operations means you can achieve greater efficiency in truck loading and faster delivery times in last-mile logistics.

Forward-thinking manufacturers are always on the lookout for opportunities to optimize logistics and enhance delivery speed. 

They collect data across multiple operational phases and inter-logistically to improve product quality and offer products at a lower cost. This helps them gain an edge in the cutthroat competition.

One way to automate processes is by auditing your company's workforce tasks and finding ways to reassign some of the human tasks to automated ones.

This generates operational savings, boosts employee satisfaction, and reduces high turnover rates. 

You can do this by manually auditing people's hours, asking your team for feedback, and searching for repetitive processes. You can automate most repetitive processes today.

Assigning employees new and more complex tasks makes them feel valued, making them more likely to contribute to the company's growth.

In addition to cost savings and increased efficiency, automation also helps to reduce errors and improve delivery service quality. 

For example, Circuit for Teams can help you reduce manual data entry, like noting the pickup time and calling drivers to ask where they are on their route. You can automatically track all of this through the platform.

Ultimately, this translates into better customer experiences. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved!

4. Optimize your warehouse receiving process 

Optimizing your warehouse receiving process is crucial for a seamless first-mile delivery operation. 

Without an efficient system, inventory tracking becomes a nightmare and orders get mixed up or lost. This can lead to delays and unhappy customers.

Here are some additional tips for optimizing your warehouse receiving process:

5. Reassess your product packaging and labeling 

Packaging and labeling are critical factors to consider for the optimization of your first-mile delivery process.

Improper packaging can result in damaged inventory, while inconsistent labeling can lead to inventory management issues.

Here are some ways to reassess your product packaging and labeling:

  • When selecting a supplier, evaluate the quality of their packaging to make sure inventory arrives at your warehouse undamaged.
  • Utilize ample dunnage, top and bottom load protectors, corner/edge boards, and stretch wrapping to prevent breakage, weight distribution issues, and load shifting during transit.
  • Consistently label your products between your supplier, warehouse, and distribution center. This will allow you to easily track your inventory levels and reorder products when necessary.
  • If you work with a 3PL, follow their labeling guidelines to streamline the warehouse receiving process.

See how Circuit for Teams helps you manage drivers and routes quickly and easily

Remember, whether you're a small business just starting out or a large enterprise with multiple locations, there's always room for improvement in your delivery process.

Following best practices — like using technology to automate tasks, optimizing your warehouse receiving process, and reassessing your product packaging and labeling — can help you stay ahead of the competition so you are successful in the long run.

And if you're looking for a tool to help you manage your delivery operations, consider Circuit for Teams

With its latest product updates, Circuit for Teams offers even more features to help you optimize routes, manage drivers, and streamline your first and final-mile delivery logistics. 

These include proof of delivery (POD), dynamic stop status icons, and the ability to modify routes in real time.

Try Circuit for Teams today and see the difference it can make for your business.

About the author

Heather Reinblatt
Heather ReinblattContributor

Heather Reinblatt is a managing editor currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. She spends her free time reading, trying new recipes, and cuddling her cat Paisley. You can find Heather on LinkedIn.


Easily manage deliveries and drivers

See how Circuit for Teams makes it possible!

Try it free