Despite the speed at which they move products along the supply chain, some fulfillment centers have been slow to adapt to the changes that are reshaping the entire ecommerce industry. Setups that were created when catalog shopping still held court may still limp along, but, ultimately, they're hurting efficiency potential, if not direct operations. Supply chain strategy should and must take today's trends into account, both in the ordering and warehouse workflow organization. When the busy holiday buying season ramps up, getting caught flat-footed isn't an option if you want to emerge at the top of the pack.
Cyber Monday is a Big Deal
The usual explosion of business in the weeks prior to Christmas is no surprise to anyone in the retail game. However, as consumers grow weary of 3am Black Friday line-waiting and ever-earlier doorbusters that interrupt family time on Thanksgiving Day, Cyber Monday emerges as a siren song to retail spending.
According to Think With Google, a mid-year poll found that a surprising 40% of consumers reported doing their holiday shopping on or before Cyber Monday, while a whopping 25% admitted to doing "some shopping" prior to Halloween. This means that fulfillment teams need to gear up their high-capacity plans well before they've had to in years prior, stretching that "go time" by several weeks. In short, you need to be ready for the holiday rush by mid-October at the latest. While you might be able to reorganize on the fly if you wait later than that, your competitors are going snag some of your market share by outperforming your logistics.
Devices are the New Store Window
Look around nearly any retail store, and you'll see at least a handful of shoppers peeking at the cell phones as they shop. 2014 saw 26% of holiday purchases made through cell phones and tablets, and polls in 2015 suggest that there will be a 60% increase in that behavior this year. If your fulfillment processes aren't properly (and seamlessly) connected to your brand's e-commerce experience, you risk losing that lucrative, growing market segment. Your customers should be able to browse and buy online without even considering the "logistics of logistics" that delivers those goods to their doorstep. Your role should be an invisible one that performs efficiently and dependably to cover the proverbial last mile in the supply chain.
The Customer is the New Expert
Many industry publications, such as Kabbage, are touting the increasing authority of the customer-as-reviewer scenario as a potential leverage point to drive sales. What does this mean for your supply chain strategy? With unboxing videos, on-site reviews and other public feedback taking a center stage, the "little things" involved in packaging and shipping are more important than ever before.
Sturdy packaging materials that arrive to the consumer in the same state they left your warehouse, attention to detail with padding and securing items inside a box, and transparent digital connections for real-time shipping information will all play a big role. How would you feel if you received one of your own packages and were "grading" it on appearance, contents, and so on? Remember, for these consumer reviewers, it's about the entire ordering and receiving experience, not just the product. Make sure what you're sending out of the warehouse reflects your brand's ideals and image, or you could end up with dissonant negative reviews from end consumers.
Your supply chain strategy has likely experienced its fair share of growing pains in the wake of incredible industry-wide innovations in the last few years alone, but now it's time to stretch out and dig in. The holidays are coming, and with these tips you'll be better poised to "sleigh" the competition—once and for all.