10 Tips For Delivery Route Planning | Descartes Routing UK

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10 tips for delivery route planning

Delivery route planning


Regardless of the customers you serve, investing in and optimising delivery routes is crucial for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  

In this post, we'll explore what delivery route planning entails and reveal Descartes' top 10 tips to streamline your fleet operations and ensure timely deliveries.  


Our top 10 tips for delivery route planning


What is delivery route planning? 

Delivery route planning involves the strategic organisation and optimisation of the paths taken by vehicles to deliver goods or services efficiently, considering factors like distance, time, traffic, and delivery priorities. 


How to plan a delivery route

To plan delivery routes efficiently, compile a list of all delivery locations with their time windows and specific requirements.

Important factors:

  • Package size/weight
  • Histroical traffic patterns and speeds
  • Vehicles available in your fleet
  • Vehicle capacity and driver availability.

Utilise route optimisation software to automate the planning process, generating optimised routes based on input parameters like traffic conditions and delivery priorities. Decide whether shortest route, fastest route or most economical route is most important and review at regular intervals. Adjust parameters to accommodate changes and ensure optimal efficiency for on-time deliveries, reduced operational costs and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Choosing the right approach to route planning

The best approach for planning delivery routes depends on the size and complexity of your delivery operation. For smaller fleets with a manageable number of deliveries, manual planning might suffice. However, for fleets larger than 15 vehicles, or operations with complex delivery schedules, route optimisation software can significantly improve efficiency and cost savings.


1. Map Data for delivery planning of routes

How accurate is the map data you use for route optimisation

Using the latest road maps and traffic flow data is critical when planning your delivery routes. Will the routing solution you use also take into consideration the time of day and the direction of travel along a certain road? 

How often are your base maps updated and how current are they? Having the very latest map data will help to ensure that the delivery times you provide to your customers are accurate and that the best, most efficient delivery routes are planned.  


2. Account for time at stops

10 tips when planning delivery routes: Two man home delivery

When planning your delivery routes, where you stop and for how long will need to be taken into account and adequate driver rest periods should be factored into the drivers’ working day. 

The availability of suitable parking is especially important for urban deliveries. Walking distance for delivery drivers from the vehicle needs to be kept to a minimum to reduce the time taken for the delivery, but equally, sufficient time also needs to be allowed when calculating the delivery plan for the type of goods that are being delivered. Allowing a few minutes for a two-man delivery of a sofa and two armchairs is unrealistic, and planning will cause issues later in the schedule. You may also need to consider whether the delivery is to a property on a floor higher than the first floor or whether the goods' packaging also needs to be removed and returned, a service increasingly offered by retailers.  

Read more about Multi Drop Route Planning


3. Use the right transport for your deliveries 

Both the size of the vehicle and the type of drive train should be considered when planning your delivery routes. A large HGV in a dense urban residential area with narrow streets and parked cars or even a tight, narrow country lane will be unsuitable. 

Clean Air Zones (CAZ’s) are springing up around the UK alongside congestion and emission zones, so choosing the best delivery vehicles to enter these zones will minimise the associated charges and become increasingly important as the tolls increase. 

Read More about UK Clean Air Zones


4. Where are your depots?

10 tips when planning delivery routes: Delivery depots

Your depot locations are important when planning delivery routes. 

Are all your deliveries from one location or warehouse? 

Or do you have multiple locations?  

This will make a difference as to how you cover various areas of the country, especially the areas between the depots. With multiple depots you will need to decide which will be used  to make the delivery, so are you choosing the location to deliver from?  

If you are considering buying an additional depot knowing the difference it will make to your capacity and delivery route efficiency is critical before it’s purchased and could make the difference over which location you choose for the new depot. Having a strategic routing solution where you can trial new depot locations in a “sandbox” scenario will stop you making expensive mistakes.


5. Track your vehicles

Tracking your delivery vehicles in real time enables live updates and accurate ETA (estimated time of arrival) notifications to be sent to your customers. Tracking the route your vehicles are actually travelling also enables you to assess planned routes against the actual routes taken to determine why it wasn’t possible to make that last delivery of the day. Was it because your vehicle took too many “alternative routes” for other deliveries during the day instead of sticking to the recommended routes?  

Tracking also enables the easy re-routing of vehicles to avoid congestion or traffic accidents. Knowing precisely where your vehicle is makes it easier to plan and suggest alternative routes.

Read more about vehicle telematics   


6. What delivery options will you offer?

10 tips when planning delivery routes: Customer delivery options

Are you offering your customers the delivery slots they really want, what you think they want or what you think you can do? 

In recent years we have seen increased demand for next-day delivery, with some retailers now offering same day delivery, but not everyone wants that. When given the opportunity to select a a narrow delivery window time, some consumers will select a lower cost delivery with a wider window. Retailers need to cater for their consumers’ different needs. Some will prioritise low cost or speed and others convenience or security.  ,  

Allowing customers to select the delivery service they want influences buyer behaviour and minimises abandoned baskets at checkout. However, you can only offer consumers choice if you have an automated delivery scheduling solution that continually optimises your deliveries and considers each order at the point of sale. This method ensures your fleet is never over committed as delivery slots are only offered to the consumer if they are achievable. This also allows for incentivises such as a reduced cost to increase delivery density with “green slots”.  


7. Consider all your delivery orders

By considering all the deliveries in your system it is possible to identify potential deliveries that could be brought forward a day or two and delivered quicker – if the customer agrees. These deliveries can then be delivered alongside others in the same area, saving on fuel and avoiding visiting the same area on two different days.  

Considering all the deliveries in your system can also work the other way, by allowing a delivery to move back a day to make the latter day more efficient. Some retailers are offering this as their “green” or “environmental” option, with consumers selecting the option to, deliver goods when another delivery is they area. 

This optimisation of deliveries can only be done if the optimisation process is real-time and continuous. The ability to recalculate all deliveries as each individual order is taken requires complex algorithms and significant computing power.   


8. Postcode management

10 tips when planning delivery routes: Last mile delivery

When planning your delivery routes, it is best not to assign deliveries by postcode areas. In the UK a postcode typically accounts for 15 properties but can be anywhere between 1 and 100 properties. In urban areas, these properties will most likely be very close together, while rural properties could be much further apart but still covered by one postcode. Planning your delivery routes by postcode might mean some drivers covering much greater distances and being unable to complete their scheduled deliveries. Or even worse the driver breaking drivers’ hours regulations to make all the deliveries.  

Selecting a routing solution that takes into account the exact location of a property and the accurate travel time between deliveries will ensure a fairer work split between drivers and that the allocated deliveries for each driver will be possible in the allocated time and within drivers’ hours rules.  


9. Delivery data

While map data has already been mentioned, detailed data about your deliveries is important to highlight.

The collection of your data, as you make deliveries, will enable you to compare days and deliveries. This in turn will enable you to adjust your parameters for the future. Look for delays in the system and work out where and why they happen, then allow or adjust for these issues in the future, this will result in a more accurate delivery process.  

Look to select delivery route planning software that has analytics built into it, this will help you analyse your deliveries and make improvements for the future. Ideally, the software will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve results as you go.  



10. Choose the right software 

You should consider all the points 1-9 when creating your delivery route plans, but using the right software will make planning delivery routes even easier. 

Will your software take into account and solve all the above factors and still provide optimised delivery routes quickly? 

Can it cope with multiple stops for deliveries and collections? Will it optimise routes continuously as orders are taken? (read batch v. continuous optimisation). 

Will it help to reduce the miles you travel, increase delivery density and easily allow you to add on additional solutions such as Telematics for monitoring driver behaviour or offer digital Proof of Delivery to reduce the paper and ink required while enabling customer ETA notification texts to be sent? 

Will it enable you to maintain full compliance with drivers’ hours legislation?  


Are delivery routes a good investment? 

In conclusion, delivery routes represent a valuable investment for businesses in the transportation and delivery sectors.  

By optimising routes, companies can improve operational efficiency, gain competitive advantage, achieve cost savings, and enhance customer satisfaction. While challenges may arise, strategic investments in delivery routes can yield significant long-term benefits, positioning businesses for success in an evolving market landscape. 


If you’d like to take a look at the Descartes solution for planning delivery routes and compliance management then contact us today to discuss your delivery route problems and how we can help you solve them.