How to Plan Delivery Routes in 2024 [Free Tools Included]

Manual route planning, Google Maps and route optimization software are among the most common route planning methods.

Michaela Ivanova
May 10, 2024
how to plan delivery routes

Retail and e-commerce businesses that deliver with their own fleet face specific challenges. One of them is planning delivery routes.

Fortunately, there are several free and paid ways to address it. Which one is best depends on the volume and complexity of your deliveries.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the different route planning methods, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Eventually, you can decide which route planning method is best for your current delivery operations.

Here's what's included in this blog post:

  1. Planning delivery routes manually
  2. Google Maps for route planning
  3. Delivery route planning software

Let's dive in!

P.S. If you haven't decided whether to outsource to 3PL services or deliver yourself, we recommend checking the 'In-House vs Third-Party Delivery: Pros and Cons' guide first.

1.[Free] Planning delivery routes manually

manual delivery route planning with pins

Manual planning involves planning delivery routes using physical maps with pen and paper or basic digital tools such as Excel or Sheets. This method relies on your logistical acumen and decision-making skills as you determine the routes, stops, and sequences.

Who is manual route planning suitable for?

Manual planning is most suitable for small businesses serving:

  • low volume of deliveries
  • minimal logistical complexity
  • simple geographical areas
  • areas with light traffic

Also, it’s free so it’s the primary method for businesses that can’t afford to pay for route planning software (although some vendors like Ufleet have a free plan for small businesses).

How to plan delivery routes manually?

More often than not, manual route planning follows these steps:

  1. Data collection: You start with compiling a list of delivery addresses, customer contacts, time windows, and other specific instructions.
  2. Route mapping: Next, you plot out each delivery point via a physical map.
  3. Route sequencing: You determine the order of the stops based on proximity, priority, or other relevant factors.
  4. Time allocation: Then you assign the estimates for each stop, considering loading and unloading times, distance, etc.
  5. Documentation: You finalize and document the routes on a digital file or a piece of paper.
  6. Distribution to drivers: Finally, you assign the routes to your drivers and make sure that drivers fully understand their routes along with any special instructions.

What are the downsides of manual route planning?

Manual route planning has many downsides and can serve you for a limited period. Here are the most common challenges:

  • Lack of scalability
  • High-prone to human error
  • Time-consuming
  • Suboptimal efficiency

2.[Free] Google Maps for route planning

google maps for delivery routes

Google Maps is a widely accessible and free tool for route planning. Although it’s not a route planner but a navigation app, it can do the job pretty well. With it, you can optimize up to 10 stops at a time.

How to plan delivery routes with with Google Maps?

  1. Compile data: Collect all delivery information - addresses, time slots, etc.
  2. Add starting point: Enter the address or location where the delivery route will begin.
  3. Add stops: Manually add each delivery stop by entering addresses into the search bar and selecting "Add stop."
  4. Optimize stops: Click and drag to rearrange the order of stops to your preference.
  5. Create a shareable link: Click on the "Share" option within the route details and copy the link provided by Google Maps.
  6. Distribution to drivers: Send the link to your drivers via their preferred communication method – email, SMS, messaging app, etc. This allows drivers to open the route directly in their Google Maps app on their mobile devices.

What are the downsides of Google Maps?

While Google Maps is user-friendly and accessible, it has significant limitations:

  • Up to 10 stops per route
  • No variables such as time windows, priority, etc
  • Not suitable for growing delivery volume
  • Time-consuming

3.[Paid/Free] Delivery route planning software

ufleet route planning software

Route planning software is the most robust method for route optimization. It uses complex algorithms to find the best delivery routes, considering delivery destination, time window, priority, traffic conditions, vehicle capacity, and more.

Usually, vendors offer a desktop version for dispatchers and back office staff, along with a mobile app for drivers.

Who is route planning software suitable for?

The benefits of route planning software can please everyone. However, not every business can justify the financial and time investment. Here's when it makes sense:

  • high delivery volumes
  • complex delivery operations
  • demand for operational efficiency
  • need for reporting and analytics
  • reducing costs is a key priority

How to plan delivery routes with route planning software?

  1. Import data: Load all relevant delivery data into the software, including addresses, customer preferences, and specific time windows.
  2. Optimize routes: Allow the software to process the data and calculate optimal routes based on the set criteria and constraints.
  3. Dispatch to drivers: Assign the routes to drivers and they will automatically get them via their mobile app.
  4. Monitor and adjust: Route planning software allows you to monitor the status of deliveries and make real-time adjustments if needed.

What are the downsides of route planning software?

While highly effective, route planning software has a few downsides:

  • Initial cost*: A software requires an upfront investment and usually takes 6-9 months for most businesses to start seeing a return on your investment.
  • Disruption of current delivery process: Route planning software will eventually make your process more efficient and simple but it might be difficult for some businesses to make the transition.
  • Training and adoption: Most software solutions are rather intuitive and user-friendly. But even in these cases, users need initial training to fully understand the software's features and get used to the workflow.

*Some vendors like Ufleet offer a free pricing tier for small businesses. If eligible, you can ditch the downside of the initial cost.

FAQ about delivery route planning

🚚 What is delivery route planning?

Route planning involves determining the most efficient path a delivery vehicle should take to reach multiple destinations.

🚚 Why is route planning important for businesses?

Effective route planning helps reduce delivery times, lowers fuel costs, improves customer satisfaction, and increases overall operational efficiency.

🚚 Can I use Google Maps for delivery route planning?

Yes, Google Maps can be used for basic route planning needs, particularly for small businesses with a limited number of stops. However, it lacks advanced features needed for more complex logistics.

🚚 What are the main advantages of a delivery route planner software?

Route planning software offers advanced features such as automatic optimization of routes, real-time traffic updates, integration with other business tools, and capabilities for handling large volumes of deliveries.

🚚 Is manual delivery route planning suitable for large businesses?

Manual route planning is generally not recommended for large businesses due to its time-consuming nature and high potential for error, especially as the scale and complexity of operations increase.

🚚  How do I choose the right delivery route planning method for my business?

Consider factors such as the volume of deliveries, logistical complexity, available budget, etc. Smaller operations may start with simpler methods like manual planning or Google Maps, while larger enterprises require route planning software.

🚚  Are there any free delivery route planners?

Yes, several route planning tools offer free versions or affordable plans suitable for small businesses or up to certain usage. Some of them include Ufleet, Circuit, and RouteXL.

Key takeaways

Picking the right method for planning your delivery routes is key to enhancing operational efficiency, reducing costs, and improving customer satisfaction. The right choice depends on your business needs, delivery volume, and operational complexity.

For smaller operations or those just starting out, manual planning or Google Maps might be good enough. These methods are useful for businesses with a manageable number of deliveries and those operating in less complex environments.

However, as your delivery operations scale, these methods may no longer serve you. Then, you'll need to consider implementing a route-planning software solution – the key to timely deliveries and high customer satisfaction.

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