Rarely, if ever, before have shoppers enjoyed greater choice – whether in-store or online – than they do today. However, with so much competition, from global to local retailers, omnichannel to pureplay, standing out is easier said than done.

Consumers have high expectations – from price point to delivery experience – and if those expectations aren’t met, they’ll turn to another brand. Success isn’t necessarily achieved by the shiniest product, but by understanding what customers want, and how to cater to that.

Cast your mind forward another decade from today and eCommerce could be the default way that we shop. Whether this comes to fruition or not relies on the delivery experience – a critical backbone in enabling the future growth of ecommerce. Alongside Jarden, Shippit research sought to quantify the impact of delivery on shopper loyalty. Roughly two thirds of Australians said that they would avoid purchasing from a brand again if they had experienced a subpar delivery.

Imagine standing at the back of a long, winding queue in a bricks-and-mortar store, which had just one person at the checkout. That experience could easily influence whether you returned to that store again. The same principle applies with eCommerce, from checkout to delivery, meaning reliable delivery isn’t a nice to have, it’s an expectation.

Australian shoppers are becoming accustomed to a consistent post-purchase experience from retail giant Amazon, which is winning the loyalty of millions with its reliable delivery. In fact, our research also shows that a third of Australians said their expectations had actually increased as a direct result of Amazon. So how can retailers optimise their last mile, and turn that into a loyalty- and revenue-driving strategy?

Reliability becomes revenue

Ultimately, online shoppers today want a reliable delivery, with a parcel that arrives when a retailer says it should. If a retailer can consistently fulfil deliveries quickly and reliably, when their customers expect them, their loyalty to that brand will likely increase. In fact, our research also suggests that only price has a greater influence on our choice of where to shop – and only marginally, 55% v 52% – than delivery.

For all of its product choice and price points, Amazon’s delivery experience is perhaps the primary reason that it has made such significant recent gains here, having dominated in the US and UK. While matching Amazon’s volume isn’t realistic for most retailers, there are plenty of ways to offer competitive customer experiences in the context of your own business.

To do so, retailers must take control of every step of the journey. One way of doing that is with a commerce delivery platform; from the second a customer views a product, to the delivery options they receive at check out all the way through to the software its delivery fleet uses to drop off the order. When retailers can unify these often-siloed systems into one seamless flow, they can fulfil orders more reliably and efficiently through the last mile, fulfilling growing consumer demand for better post-purchase experiences.

Turning AI into ROI

Drop density is the concept through which a courier is able to complete more deliveries in a shorter distance and shorter time-frame. This improves the delivery economics for the retailer and the post-purchase experience for the shopper. As it is doing in so many industries, AI is set to drive significant gains in our supply chains, using powerful algorithms to deliver packages not at random but in specific sequences with precision insights.

Shippit’s NowGo technology dynamically optimises delivery routes to improve driver productivity and predictable delivery timelines. It computes millions of decisions daily leveraging machine learning and AI to predict the impact of increased demand in different geographies whilst learning driver behaviours to better determine ETAs. As a result, we’re seeing around 23% more deliveries per hour per driver compared to more traditional solutions.

The potential for AI in the logistics industry is extremely strong, particularly around forecasting and scenario planning, like predicting shopper demand and planning for fluctuations in delivery fleet capacity. It’s about building a more interconnected flow between systems that control demand – such as shopping carts – and supply – such as network management technologies.

In the next five to ten years, we are going to see a significant evolution in the supply chain, powered by AI. Its potential is immense, but it’s by no means the only way retailers are thinking about the last mile. We’re seeing many adopt ship from store and micro fulfilment strategies, to speed up fulfilment and bring products closer to their customers. While through more mobile fleets, like Uber’s bicycle couriers – which have the added bonus of being carbon neutral – many retailers are offering one hour delivery in metro areas.

eCommerce is providing new opportunities for retailers and consumers to connect. For millions of Australians, it’s providing a new level of convenience, but it can only ever be as convenient as the delivery experience that concludes the journey. The retailers who can tap into the right technology and the right data, will be able to optimise their last mile, turning it into their route to improved customer loyalty and increased revenue.

Rob Hango-Zada is co-founder and co-CEO at Shippit.