Since 1997, Sears delivery workers have been driving trucks filled with new washers, dryers, refrigerators, treadmills and other oversize home appliances to buyers' homes using a homegrown database application that routed the trucks and provided needed delivery information.
But as updates lagged and demands and deliveries grew, the then state-of-the-art system began to get overwhelmed, said Joseph Macro, director of supply chain solutions for Sears Holdings Corp., the parent company of Sears.
"It was very robust," using maps from mapping leader ESRI to route delivery vehicles, he said. "The problem was that, as things aged, we probably didn't keep up with the technology as much as we should have internally. We ended up with an outdated system."
A new infrastructure was desperately needed to cope with the 4 to 5 million home deliveries the company makes each year using about 1,000 drivers and trucks a day to customers across the nation. The trucks operate out of 11 distribution centers encompassing 7.5 million square feet of product storage space, 106 delivery centers and 85 larger Sears stores each day.
By 2010, the company began looking at replacing the homegrown application—the Enhanced Home Delivery System—which still used lots of paper forms and receipts that drivers had to carry, get signed by customers and then turn back in each day. It was a paper nightmare for drivers, the logistics staff and for accounting and inventory workers.
In April 2013, the approval was received to move forward with a replacement technology that would update the company's delivery processes. After narrowing down the pool of vendors to three, Sears chose Descartes, which provides logistics, delivery, routing, transportation management and other systems.
In September 2013, deployment of the Descartes Route Planner application began and a pilot project launched that November. By December 2013, a second pilot began, which was followed in February 2014 by the start of a national rollout of the routing system that was completed that July.
The next step was an app-based system that drivers received to allow them to make deliveries without carrying folders and clipboards filled with papers as in the past, said Macro.
The mobile app, Descartes MobileLink, is an Android app that was brought in as a pilot project in September 2014 and then launched in January 2015, with completion of the deployment by May 2015.
MobileLink has transformed the way that Sears delivery drivers get their jobs done, said Macro.
"Before Descartes, we would show up with a sheet of paper" that had to be signed and then filed and processed, he said. "The technology has really allowed us to have a really improved [customer] experience."
The Sears delivery drivers, who work for third-party companies, now just have to show up at a customer's home with any Android device to process their deliveries, without any paper being handled. The customers can sign for the delivery right on the device through the app and a receipt can be emailed to the customer.
The Descartes app allows Sears to customize the workflows to meet the needs of the drivers and to adhere to Sears' policies, said Macro. Using the custom workflows, the app lets drivers report when they are heading to a customer's home, estimates the amount of time the delivery will take and gives drivers special instructions if they are removing the customer's old appliances as well. It also allows the driver to take a photo of the old appliance so Sears personnel at the other end will know which product will be returned.
"The number of trees we've saved has been huge," said Macro about removing the need for paper forms. "It's been working very well from the beginning. Now the driver comes in with the app to the customer, they sign it, and away we go. Everything is digital."
Another boon is that by using the app and the logistics software, the drivers and the delivery process are much more efficient, he said. "Really, that gets us much more visibility about where the team is in the day, including where the driver is in the route."
That means that customers can get more up-to-date information about when their delivery will arrive, including a text to let them know the truck is on the way. Customers are also sent an automatic thank-you text after the delivery is completed.
The process has meant a 3 percent increase in per-truck delivery productivity, said Macro, while the number of miles driven per delivery stop has dropped by about 5.4 percent, which means gas savings for the fleet. It also provides improved mapping technology, which means fewer addresses that need manual intervention to find the correct house address on the routes.
The system also helps Sears better meet its next-day delivery promise for customers who buy their appliances by 3 p.m. daily.
"Overall, it's worked out really well," said Macro. "It was a big win for us."