B2B wholesalers occupy a unique position in the supply chain. They operate within a vertical, specialize in certain products, and leverage that expertise to become authorities in an industry. But a second expertise is required of them.
They’re not only required to have industry-leading knowledge in their space, but to efficiently deliver their products to buyers. That means they have to master something else entirely: logistics. Depending on volume, number of clients, and regions served, it can be a monumental task.
That’s why a multi-stop route planner is so important. It digitizes and automates deliveries and route planning to such an extent that they almost become afterthoughts. And what do B2B businesses have to give up for such a luxury? Nothing.
In fact, they save time, money, fuel, and wear-and-tear on their fleet. There is no good reason not to find a route planner app and run with it.
In this post, we’ll cover what a multi-stop route planner is, some features to look for in one, and why it’s so necessary.
What is a Multi-Stop Route Planner?
If you’ve ever used a service like Mapquest, Google Maps, or Waze, you’re familiar with consumer-focused trip-planning apps. These apps shine when they’re used by individuals to get from point A to point B. Going from your apartment to an airport, for example.
Well, a multi-stop route planner app is a more powerful version of that. A route planner app like that is designed specifically for two parties. The first, individual delivery truck drivers out on the road. The second, fleet managers in charge of planning the routes for a team of delivery truck drivers. The fundamental difference between consumer navigation apps and a multi-stop route planner is the ability to add multiple stops along a route. But there are other substantial differences that we’ll get into later in this post.
Let’s illustrate the utility of a multi-stop route planner app with an example. Let’s say you’re a wholesale food distributor and you want to optimize the delivery routes your fleet of trucks use. You’ll use a multi-stop route planner to ensure your drivers make all their deliveries on time while driving the fewest miles possible. One study found that route planners make routes, on average, 35% shorter. That saves time, gas, and vehicle wear-and-tear.
Sounds good, right? But that’s not all. There are other features of a route planner app that you should be aware of. Because they’ll make your business more money and they’ll give you an edge of your competition. Read on.
Multi-Stop Route Planner Features
Before you start looking for solutions, consider your business’s pain points and unique needs. There are dozens of these apps out there, with various levels of complexity and price points. Once you have a good handle on the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll be able to look at the feature list below. And decide which features are must-haves, nice-to-haves, and overkill for you. There’s no point in paying for features you don't need and will never use.
That said, whether you have half a dozen trucks or a fleet of a hundred, being able to plan a route with multiple stops is just the basics.
In the case of a wholesale food distribution business, for example, you can't simply input a list of addresses and rely on an output of the most efficient routes for each vehicle. You have to account for delivery times requested by your clients, pick-ups, vehicle sizes and capabilities (refrigerated vs. non-refrigerated), and more.
That said, here are some features of multi-stop route planner apps you’re bound to see as you do your research:
- Integration with mobile and smart devices. Many delivery truck drivers still love printing out their directions, old-school style. On the flip side, some rely almost 100% on their phones to interact with their delivery route. For those, a route planner app that fully integrates with mobile devices and provides driver guidance and turn-by-turn navigation is a godsend. In fact, it’s often known to convert the paper drivers into mobile users.
- Manual override. For any changes you have to make on the fly—canceled drops, changes to itineraries, or emergencies—being able to manually override the optimized route is a huge help.
- Print paper routes. Any fleet manager knows they’ll run into some pushback if their route management is 100% digital. 99% digital is usually acceptable. Just make sure the route can be printed for the drivers who prefer that.
- Ability to avoid traffic. Like Waze, some route planning apps are able to course-correct based on particularly disadvantageous traffic conditions.
- Comparison of planned routes with driven routes. Being able to compare a route a driver drove with the route the route planning app mapped is important for two reasons. First, you’re able to maintain some quality control on your fleet. If a driver isn’t following the optimized route, you’ll be made aware and be able to figure out why. Second, a route planning app doesn’t always know the exact conditions on the ground in real-time. Sometimes, because of weather, traffic, or other unforeseen conditions, a planned route may be suboptimal. Things on the road can change fast. It's helpful to know what your route planning software is missing or overlooking, if anything at all. That'll help you understand how to better engage with your software in the future.
- Custom delivery information. Some deliveries require specific knowledge of a location or process to efficiently make the drop. A route planning app can help by including any relevant notes about each stop, all accessible as drivers interact with the routing software during the trip and upon arrival.
- Current vehicle position tracking. Real-time GPS tracking for every vehicle in your fleet is the best way to get a high-level view of your distribution mechanism. You’ll be able to troubleshoot problems in real time and make accurate delivery predictions for buyers should they inquire.
- Round trip and one-way routing. Most multi-stop route planners will offer two types of routes: round-trip and one-way.
- Integration with up-to-date mapping data. This is an absolute necessity. Ideally, the route planning software integrates seamlessly with Google Maps. Though, there are other acceptable mapping APIs, like Bing.
- Totally online and cloud-based. Route planning software is often cloud-based, which means it lives online completely. That makes it easier to install and maintain (because the service provider is responsible for it). It also makes it easier to plug into up-to-date mapping information that also lives solely online.
- Integration with a B2B ecommerce platform. The best B2B ecommerce platforms not only offer digital storefronts, digital catalogs, and the ability to transact. They also offer route management functionality.
- No or few stop limitations. A lot of free routing software out there has a limit on the number of stops per route. If you have that many deliveries, or think you will at some point, beware of any stop limits. Your route planning app should be able to grow with you.
- ETAs updated in real time. Based on weather, traffic, and other conditions your buyers are provided reliable and accurate estimated times of arrival.
Using a Route Planner App to Reduce “Windshield Time” & Save Money
Even for the smallest of delivery operations, a route planner app has instant return on investment (ROI). Part of the reason why it’s important to start your decision making process by assessing your business needs is that for a SMB, you can get a multi-stop route planner for as low as a few dollars a month. Or even included as part of your B2B ecommerce platform subscription. It’s one of the best benefits of B2B ecommerce.
Therefore, it won't take much for your “investment” to be profitable.
However, even for the largest delivery operations, the case for route optimization software is airtight. UPS, for example, saves millions of dollars on gas, wear-and-tear on their trucks, and insurance premiums by using route optimization software. They use it for trip planning and ensuring safe driving habits for their delivery truck drivers.
Delivery truck driver salaries and fuel costs account for almost 60% of the total cost per mile incurred by your delivery operation. Even a marginal reduction in mileage—and therefore fuel consumption—saves you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And by optimizing your routes and reducing “windshield time” for your delivery truck drivers, you can enable your existing team to service more customers. That reduces your delivery and servicing costs on a per-customer basis.
If you’re a B2B distributor and you haven’t streamlined your logistics with a route planner app, it’s time. They’re easy to find, easy to use, and they make an immediate impact on your bottom line. Conveniently, they’re also often included in all-in-one B2B ecommerce platforms like BlueCart. If you have even a passing thought that multi-stop B2B route planning software may benefit your business, book a demo. We’ll show you exactly how it’ll help. And stop by our B2B route optimization guide for more info.