As the weather shifts into cooler temperatures, you can almost hear the stampede of holiday customers waiting to test the mettle of your supply chain. Now is the time to iron out wrinkles and close loopholes to avoid unpleasant surprises in the middle of what is likely one of your busiest periods as a business. Your vendors—and, subsequently, your vendor management practices—are your first line of defense against the 3 great customer reputation-killers as the holidays loom. Here's why: solid, consistently performing vendors are worth their weight in GPS-tracked gold.
1. Lost Stock? No Way.
You've got the hottest item in your industry; you're selling it at a brisk pace, and when fulfillment starts doing what it does best, your pickers are reaching into an empty bay. Your last shipment didn't have as many items as it was supposed to, and in the rush to take in inventory and get it prepped for sale, your system was populated with higher numbers than you actually had on hand. Poor record-keeping, packing or logistics on your vendor's side of things started this chain of issues, but your unhappy customer will be the one to end it by taking their business elsewhere.
2. Minimized Stock-Outs
Even if your vendor shipments and invoices are correct on paper, they can still cause you a lot of headaches with backed-up fulfillment. "Backordered" is a dirty word in sales, especially during the rush of the holidays, so you need vending partners that are as anti-backorder as you are. Maria Haggerty recently covered the importance of dual-layered sales forecasting in Multichannel Merchant, citing the importance of realistic planning numbers—for both you and your vending partners. How much do you expect to sell? Are your vending partners ready to commit to that level of fulfilment and promise consistent, timely fill rates? If their response is plucky and optimistic in tone as opposed to professionally reassuring and targeted, you might be in for trouble when the orders start rolling in. Your vendor management practices need to treat supply chain nodes as extensions of your own business, rather than a means to an end. That means checking the stability of their supply chain—as much as possible, anyway—before you need to blindly depend on it. If you've got the right supply chain team set up, you'll be able to forge fearlessly ahead into the holiday season.
3. Customer Complaint Reactions
You may already be familiar with that reach-for-the-aspirin moment: when a customer complaint starts to sound familiar, as opposed to an isolated incident. A great vendor partner will see those problems as their problems and will spring into action to minimize the impact of a poorly-packaged product or faulty component. With a proactive supply chain partner and implementation of rapid shipping options, such as the in-store pickup, a potentially huge problem can be worked down to a simple irritating blip on the radar. You don't want to be caught adrift when an angry customer comes knocking at your digital door, so have a candid discussion about the sort of assistance each vendor is willing to provide if their stock proves problematic. Again, the time to discover your company has paired up with an absentee partner isn't in the midst of the holidays, but well before that assistance will be required. Even if you're getting your products or components at an enviable rate, consider the financial impact of vocally-displeased customers on your future post-holiday sales. Is it worth it to risk that for a discount in the short term?
The right vendors will make sure you get exactly what you need for the holidays: high fill rates, excellent shipping practices and support if and when it's needed in the event of an item defect. Don't set yourself up for coal in your logistics stocking this year. Make sure your vendor management practices are ready to combat these 3 concerns for the holidays!