For carriers and retailers alike, shipping solutions no longer simply encompass a cardboard box and a few strips of tape. Increasingly complex customer demands and the advent of innovations like the data-driven IoT have essentially eliminated the one-size-fits-all approach to shipping goods; the carrier is now as much "on the hook" to vary their offerings as the retailer is to vary their SKUs. Thankfully, these brave new (and complicated) worlds in fulfillment services have quite a few intersections, allowing smart supply chain partners to team up and make the most of shared opportunities.
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.
The supply chain as a whole is a series of connected modules - raw materials to components, components to manufacturing and so on. When the initial approach amounts to what is essentially a collection of moving parts, it seems only reasonable to apply solutions the same way: piecemeal. However well this may work for each individual node, that success is at the cost of a greater supply chain strategy, one that embraces a top-down approach and encourages that all-important trait of transparency. Considering today's increased demand for transparency from both the consumer side and that of your trading partners, it's not a facet your company can afford to let slip.
When stockings and Christmas trees go up each year, so do the expectations and workload of e-commerce retailers. Customers may clamor to receive their products before the unspoken deadline of December 24, but third-party logistics providers inevitably experience overload from the increased volume. What's a retailer to do when their shipping solutions suddenly look a little less sure than they did a few months prior? The answer is to learn which shortfalls are most likely to be inevitable, and support weak points in the fulfillment process before profits start to spill out.
Technology has closed the gap between the supply chain and the customers that it caters to, compelling logistics professionals to revamp their supply chain strategy to a data-friendly one. The numbers produced by customers engaging in purchasing behaviors have given supply chain teams and marketing teams alike a virtual treasure trove of indicators, allowing them to shave off layers of uncertainty and hone their respective strategies. Are you looking to incorporate customer data in your own supply chain planning? There are a few practical strategies that can help you make that first step just a little bit easier.
A train conductor needs to know not only how his movements control the engine, but what their impact will be throughout the entire train. Supply chains are similar—a long line of interconnected vendor "cabooses" that can stay on track or go off the rails, depending on how the manager at the head reacts. A supply chain professional who doesn't have a comprehensive grasp of their entire supply chain is due, sooner or later, for some uncomfortable stumbling over reports in a C-suite meeting. Are you able to relay the value of your supply chain without glossing over some of its more contentious aspects?
Gathering, analyzing and manipulating data is the lifeblood of the modern business, and in recent years it has virtually revolutionized shipping, logistics and warehousing. No longer relegated to merely shipping and receiving, the supply chain is the backbone of corporate planning as much as day-to-day operations. The shipping solutions and methods selected on the warehouse floor translate to direct value for the rest of the company, automatically optimizing dozens of different profit aspects as they work. This value chain power manifests in three main areas:
The shortage of qualified truck drivers is affecting the entire logistics industry, nationwide, and it's frightening enough that options like teenage and robotic drivers are being considered as stopgaps. Thankfully, there's a less worrisome alternative on the table: intermodal transport. While intermodal shipping solutions still incorporate trucks in their plan, the relay race-like handoff to boats and trains takes a great deal of stress off a formerly truck-dominated route. It isn't to say that intermodal options don't come with their own headaches, but with some work on infrastructure, they hold the potential to solve one of the largest problems in supply chain movement today.
Years ago, the various departments of a business were once separate and distinct, almost like foreign countries that would send emissaries running back and forth between them. In the constantly moving, 24/7 world of today's operations, those borders have come crashing down in favor of cross-training initiatives and collaboration. Supply chain strategy is no stranger to borrowing ideas from other fields, and one of the richest harvest opportunities comes in the form of financial planning and implementation. What may be commonplace on balance sheets in an accounting department can revolutionize efficiency found in the supply chain.
Warehouse innovations march on, whether or not there's a specific person at the helm—inventions, tweaks and upgrades can all be created off-site and incorporated as needed. When it comes to logistics, however, the individuals who move stock and components from A to B have always been a static need, outside of this circle of improvement. With the current shortage of qualified drivers showing no signs of relenting, stressed supply chain professionals are looking to change that, formulating new shipping solutions that turn traditional trucking methods on their ear.
How much control do you really have over your supply chain? When problems arise, do you roll up your sleeves to find a solution, or do you defer exclusively to vendors to handle problems that, while they may not be "yours," still impact your logistics? Supply chain strategy is a lot like technology. There's really no option for "set it and forget it" anymore. The battlefield of business has gotten too competitive, customer expectations have gotten too high, and stakeholders have demanded too much growth for supply chain managers to rest on their laurels. Should strategy be any different than operational innovation? Here's three reasons why you need DIY spirit in your warehouse:
Almost every company would love to have their innovation plucked from thin air; to set all the trends and lead their industries in every way possible. In reality, however? Supply chain strategies often borrow ideas and learn from the mistakes of their competitors, rather than slogging through everything the hard way. No single company's supply chain nails all the bullseyes across the board, but some come close enough to warrant a mix of awe, study and emulation. Here are three worth keeping notes on when it comes to your own supply chain strategy:
The globalization of business and the expansion of foreign supply nodes, even in domestically-based companies, have long been cited by analysts as an earmark for the greater cultural shift currently happening. Less familiar, but no less true, is the idea that an international presence of any sort isn't a just a matter of good supply chain strategy, but a reality of doing business.
Decision-makers who are staying on the forefront of their industry are the ones who embrace not only the components and trappings of the culture of targeted buyers, but the true spirit and authentic voice found within its members.
Omni-channel is a concept that's been dominating so much of the fulfillment conversation these days—it wouldn’t be a stretch to image supply chain managers muttering it in their sleep. While the simplest interpretation of this all-in-one methodology would put the onus on an efficient fulfillment center to streamline communication and keep up with demand, in reality, omni-channel is much more layered. Successful implementation requires the team work of many more individuals and departments beyond the warehouse.
Every decision you make for your warehouse and your company as a whole, in some way hinges on inventory accuracy. It's vital to hone it for a variety of reasons, such as knowing how many products to order in anticipation, how much effort is needed to stock, ship or pack the largest potential order in your system, or how to determine maximum thresholds of waste. Thankfully, precision today is infinitely easier than in decades past, thanks in no small part to the advanced technology and training available to supply chain professionals.
There's a lot to be said in business about working with a trustworthy fulfillment partner - costs are more or less fixed, pick-ups are reliable and deliveries can be transparently - and often automatically - relayed to the customer to keep them in the loop. If your fulfillment center is putting blind faith in your carrier, however, the associated risks may very well outweigh those benefits. The contingency plan is the most important tool in building and supporting an agile business in the modern market, and putting one in place for your deliveries is a move you need to make right now.
How is your product created? How does it travel from production to customer? With the substantial to-do list most supply chain professionals are faced with during average operations, a top-down view is not always a luxury they can afford to hunt down. If waste reduction efforts are in place, they are typically more geared towards actionable efforts like inventory accuracy as opposed to conceptual find-and-fix tasks.
Strategy is not a tool that should be neglected, however, in attempts to reduce waste. Knowing where it comes from is the first step to minimizing or eliminating the problem.
Putting together a supply chain strategy is something that growing businesses—or ones striving for change—need to worry about, right? Not exactly. Much like a successful product can be reverse-engineered to find new places for improvement and innovation, the supply chain strategy you might not even know you're using can point to compatible opportunities to take advantage of.
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Everyone in your company has likely experienced the difficulty of inaccurate inventory—from the warehouse picker staring blankly at a bin that shouldn't be empty to the customer service rep explaining to distressed customers that their items are backordered. It's a natural part of doing business, right? Not entirely. Inventory accuracy may be a moving target, but it doesn't mean you can stop aiming for it.
Want to know how to get close—or even within—that coveted bull's-eye in your own warehouse? Try these scalable tips, compiled from industry experts.
If shipping, warehousing and fulfillment center services are not your core business, outsourcing makes perfect sense—provided you choose the right vendor. Not all fulfillment centers are created equal. To make sure your company runs smoothly, your brand is well represented and business growth is assured, it's crucial to choose and manage vendor relationships well.
While you are paying the vendor for their services, your relationship must go deeper than that. Why spend time researching your vendor, rather than going with just any service provider?