Supply Chains: How to stay ahead in the era of unpredictability

The last couple of years have seen the supply chain hit hard, with challenge on challenge faced.  

From the pandemic, to the Suez Canal blockage and HGV driver shortages, delays receiving goods from ports, not to mention the increased cost of living. 

These factors have combined to cause a sharp decline in stock availability, which ultimately impacts the customer experience and the bottom line for retailers, who have been hit particularly hard since the beginning of 2020. 

Temporary changes within the global supply chain soon became a longer team reality for retailers, who when faced with the pandemic, needed to manage their business until the situation went back to normal.  

However, when faced with such a perfect storm, like we face now, retailers need to look for longer term solutions, which may include restructuring their operations, to permanently adjust to the new circumstances. 

And it’s not just happening in Australia. Analysis of the UK’s retail position from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) highlights that the challenges referenced earlier caused significant shifts in consumer shopping habits. 

Retailers, take note – supply chains can be expected to re-align and become smooth again, however the shift in consumer behaviour may be permanent.

Restrictions on movement saw traditional high street customers moving online. Supply chain stress exacerbated this, causing problems with retailers’ stock levels. At least some of the customers who tasted the online option, won’t come back to the high street. 

Ultimately, this left retailers unsure of their supply and demand, as industry stock levels grew by £380m in Quarter 3 2021, compared to £2,361m in Quarter 3 2020. 

This is a global issue, captured in US strategic think-tank’s ‘Geopolitical Futures’ article, showing how supply chains, driven by Covid, expected a reduction in demand and production, however demand shifted, pressures were placed on recreational goods, motor vehicles, furniture, and appliances – at the expense of other goods, leading to retailers having many out of stock items, ultimately impacting upon their customers’ experience.  

Prolonged and repeatedly changing public health restrictions disrupted movements of goods and materials, impacting manufacturing, shipping, and retail. Shifting demand patterns, inflation, accelerated retirements, and fears stretched the labour market to its limits, and at present 60% of retail job vacancies in the US remain unfulfilled. 

Retailers must accept the fact that we have entered a long period of uncertainty. The advice for retailers remains unchanged: the days of reliable and responsive supply chains have passed, and retailers must redesign their processes to become more resilient and hold more inventory throughout their enterprises. 

Retailers should consider two key actions to help overcome supply challenges, which will help to keep stock available, and working smarter to deliver what their customers want, when, and how they want it. 

Harness the benefits of connected retailing

Connected retailing helps retailers to handle the shift in customer buying behaviour, with less stress on available resources.  

A great example of this is the introduction of customer order fulfilment, by shipping directly from stores. This delivery method is being adopted by a growing number of retailers thanks to the many benefits it offers, such as increasing the available stock pool, to satisfy demand. 

The use of stores as micro-distribution hubs allows retailers to get closer to their customers than ever, enabling rapid order fulfilment and delivery when required, helping to avoid customer disappointment. 

Shipping of customer orders from stores not only reduces pressure on traditional warehouses, where resources may be stretched at times, but it allows for larger volumes of stock to be collectively carried by the retailer.  

It also brings other efficiencies, such as allowing the retailer to also make better use of store team members’ time during quieter periods due to the demand shifting to online.  

 

Gain a holistic view of your supply chain 

As the times of predictable unpredictability continue, retailers should ensure that they have intimate knowledge of their entire supply chain, to ensure they have a complete understanding of their supply chain’s strengths and weaknesses.  

By having visibility of supply chain performance, from source of supply right through to sales channels, the knowledge and insight gained will help the retailer play its part to make supply chains better, faster and cheaper. Not just for the individual, but the collective industry. 

This approach will also help retailers and their partners find ways of improving sustainability that deliver genuine environmental impact throughout the whole supply chain.  

A collaborative relationship will also facilitate innovation, which is crucial for achieving growth and improving resilience. Ultimately, it may help to lessen the impact of future disruptive events, which will not only help to keep the retail sector alive, but may increase the reputation of a retailer, which is a key factor in customer choice. 

 

Are we going to see a resolution anytime soon?

Nobody knows how long the problems with supply chains will last, as new disruptions continue to challenge retailers. Irrespective of current and potential future scenarios, current challenges with supply chains is presenting a clear risk to a retailer’s brand reputation – and retailers must be prepared for anything. 

However, by carefully examining existing resources and using technologies to drive greater efficiencies retailers can make permanent improvements, without spending large amounts of money and putting their business at risk.  

The journey towards easier retail continues! 

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Retail Directions provides a unified retail management software platform that enables retailers to simplify retail operations, reduce operating costs, and deliver seamless experiences for consumers and staff.  

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