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Winning The Last Mile

Crowdsourced parts delivery taps into an on-demand network of independent drivers.

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By Valerie Metzker

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When a customer comes into their neighborhood repair shop needing work on their vehicle, their top two questions usually are: “How much will it cost?” and “When will it be done?” As shop owners know, the availability of parts is a significant factor in the answers to both questions. 

Although OEM dealerships, retail stores and warehouse distributors put tens of thousands of car parts within reach of independent repair shops, it sometimes can be difficult to get a specific part delivered in time to complete a repair by end of day. Most parts stores make daily deliveries, but not every auto shop is easily reachable, and parts stores might impose early cut-off times when they have more orders than usual.

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Repair shops then must decide whether to send a skilled tradesperson to pick up a part, costing them time that could be spent fixing other vehicles. When a part can’t arrive quickly enough, the vehicle has to stay overnight and the shop can’t free up that bay for a new job. Plus, the car’s owner has to make do without their primary source of transportation into the next day, leaving them increasingly stressed and frustrated the longer the repair process takes – something that’s never good for business.

Traditional shipping options for auto parts are inefficient, and they’re not cost-effective. This can limit a shop owner’s ability to expand their business. Especially when transporting large parts such as fenders, mufflers and radiators across town, the combined costs of weight surcharges and oversized handling fees can result in lower margins for shops. This discourages them from building up their on-site inventory and also limits their ability to move items among multiple shop locations.

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Customers and businesses ultimately want the same thing: a reliable method of same-day delivery that isn’t unreasonably expensive. Recently, some auto shops have started confronting this challenge with a new technology-based solution called crowdsourced delivery.

USING VEHICLES ALREADY ON THE ROAD

Crowdsourced delivery is a nimble, cost-effective method that taps into an on-demand network of independent drivers for same-day, scheduled and urgent deliveries. This model simultaneously solves several problems that exist with other delivery methods.

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First is the ability to reach repair shops that are located a bit off the beaten path. Parts stores might take longer to deliver to these shops, so a part might not arrive until crunch time at the end of the day. But because crowdsourced delivery draws from a network of vehicles already on the road, including in small cities and rural areas, parts can be delivered directly to repair shops in much less time, no matter where they happen to be. 

Also, the cost of crowdsourced delivery is frequently less expensive than traditional shipping for car parts, which can cost between $12 and $60 depending on size and distance. Because crowdsourced drivers are chosen for a delivery based on their current route, there’s no extra shipping charge for them to transport an item in the direction that they’re already headed.

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SMARTPHONE VS. STUPID PAPERWORK

Crowdsourced delivery uses a smartphone-based interface, which simplifies the process for booking available drivers and allows a shop manager to keep tabs on the progress of a delivery – a huge benefit when it comes to scheduling work throughout the day. There’s none of the time-consuming paperwork that traditional freight companies demand. And because auto shops can be confident that an order will arrive quickly, crowdsourcing eliminates the need for the common industry practice of ordering the same part from multiple couriers at the same time and then using whichever part shows up first. Plus, with thousands of potential drivers on the road at any given time, a shop can request any number of deliveries per day without straining the network’s capacity. 

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Small, independent repair shops and parts sellers haven’t been the only industry players to recognize the benefits of crowdsourced delivery. Major national retailers such as Advance Auto Parts have successfully adopted this model as well.

Even before COVID-19, some of Advance’s stores were offering same-day crowdsourced delivery for customer orders. But when the pandemic started forcing shutdowns across the United States, many in-store customers went online – a change that happened almost overnight. In response, Advance launched same-day home delivery, among other services, and swiftly added more than 200 additional stores to the footprint of its crowdsourced-delivery provider. The flexibility and scalability of the crowdsourced model helped Advance seamlessly adapt to its customers’ changing needs.

This delivery method also is being used by home tinkerers and classic car collectors, allowing them to easily receive online orders of excess inventory or hard-to-find parts. Real-time tracking and photographic chain of custody keeps buyers in the loop of where their items are, at any point in the delivery process, making for a stress-free experience. The best crowdsourced delivery providers also offer no- or low-cost insurance options to give you peace of mind.

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According to a recent poll conducted by UpSwell Marketing, consumers’ top deciding factors in choosing an auto shop included convenience (No. 3), good reviews/reputation (No. 2) and pricing/value (No. 1). By switching to a delivery model for parts that maximizes flexibility, cuts costs and increases speed, auto shops can streamline their ability to serve customers, ensuring that they’ll return the next time they need repair work done.

Valerie Metzker is head of partnerships and enterprise sales at Roadie, an on-demand delivery provider with more than 200,000 drivers covering 90% of U.S. addresses. Roadie works with consumers, small businesses and corporations to provide a faster, cheaper, more scalable solution for scheduled, same-day and urgent delivery. 

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