The impact of the pandemic on the labor market and the resulting continued financial uncertainty has affected sales trends in almost all sectors. While economists point to multiple factors driving inflation (fiscal policies, labor shortages, etc.), they focus on improving supply chain struggle is a crucial part of the solution.
Blasted by the onset of Covid-19, companies already struggling with a compromised supply chain were further challenged, especially those in the earlier stages of digital transformation. Manufacturers were forced to stop and reduce production, creating a scarcity of supply and higher prices, with no magic solution to reverse these events. Canceled container ship voyages cannot be rescheduled as only a limited number of ocean voyages can be made each year, contributing to lost economic output. While the pandemic has also pushed consumers to buy online in record numbers, the surge has slowed recently — and now retailers are trying to excess stock.
Infographic created by Track Your Truck, a fleet GPS tracking company
Prioritize the customer experience with a sound supply chain
Warehousing managers aren’t the only ones experiencing the frustrating consequences of unforeseen supply chain complications. Keeping customers happy is still number one in the pursuit of success, regardless of the industry, and there is a minimal margin of error. Consumer Research found the following:
• “93% [of customers] want to be kept informed throughout the delivery process, from the status during the transport to the final arrival date.
• 47% no longer order from a brand with poor delivery visibility.
• 44% said brands don’t create positive delivery experiences, while 98% said delivery is an important part of their brand loyalty.”
Overall transparency is essential for creating delivery processes that satisfy customers.
Driving the supply chain into the future
A federal pilot program focused on the supply chain, Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), promises to reduce inefficiencies and disruptions by improving information sharing across the supply chain. The program calls for “bold improvement of a digital infrastructure to connect the supply chain.” The first feedback shows that the approach works.
This emphasis on the need for technological innovation reflects the supply chain industry’s most serious weakness: the fact that the transportation and logistics industry still relies heavily on manual processes. Research into modern material handling reports that 45% of supply chain managers still rely on mostly manual operations.
Retailers offering home delivery, especially of large items such as furniture and fitness equipment, need to build processes that start with a technology foundation to improve productivity. I believe the days of successfully improvising with traditional manual editing are over.
Absorbing uncertainty in logistics
It is clear that traditional supply chain and logistics processes are insufficient to meet today’s challenges. In an economy where capacity utilization counts more than ever, half-full trucks have harmful effects. Approaches such as optimizing routes to the mile and revisiting the warehouse organization make financial sense and align with the current logistics model. By improving logistics agility and flexibility, companies can meet customer demand as it inevitably fluctuates.
Imagine someone driving a car without being able to see through the windshield – how well would people manage without looking ahead? When it comes to logistics, a solid warehouse or transportation management system (WMS or TMS) is an important part of that “windscreen,” but the industry’s digital transformation slowdown means such systems may not be enough.
In the MMH report As mentioned above, 63% of respondents revealed plans to implement a new management system or upgrade their existing software, indicating that even those who have installed the systems can identify room for improvement. Managers are looking for a comprehensive view of their supply chain operations so they can optimize spending, manage both warehouse and transportation operations in real time, and drive sound decision-making. This is especially important as the supply chain keeps moving for a variety of reasons.
Just as the FLOW program increases data sharing to improve supply chain performance, companies must work with partners to support and improve efficiency. Continuing to innovate new solutions and linking existing management system technologies are important steps.
Many important solutions are already available
The complexity of the supply chain and logistics sector calls for advanced technological solutions. Consolidating WMS and TMS weaves together relevant data and provides insights that provide opportunities for entrepreneurs for more informed decision-making. Integrating analytics helps identify operational issues and uncover hidden opportunities. Any decision that maximizes a company’s use of time and space helps reduce waste, and therefore costs.
Another emerging option is platforms that allow companies to consolidate their merchandise with that of another company supplying in the same area. Likewise, there are now platforms that work like ride-sharing but on a much larger scale, allowing businesses to contract the last mile with local delivery franchises that are familiar with the area and often have lower prices based on smaller local economies.
Innovations like these provide warehouse managers with a roadmap to success. The right technology makes it easier to schedule labor and gives transport partners insight into, for example, optimal times for the delivery or collection of goods, even if the circumstances continue to shift.
According to Gartner Vice President Tom Enright, 53% of shipping costs and 41% of total supply chain costs are tied to the last mile, but the solution is actually not as complex as the problem. Leaning on technology to streamline supply chain operations and optimize last mile operation is critical as long as the issues with the last mile are understood. Agility, flexibility and real-time agility all play a role in lowering costs and meeting customer demand.
Streamlining the flow of information reduces manual work, human error and costly delays – issues that affect both the delivery company and the end customer. Benefits extend to a reduction in returns, hassle-free assembly with more satisfied employees, and even less damage, all achievable by simplifying communication between customers, carriers and supporting AI-powered technology.
For many companies, the first step is the most daunting. Where to start? Fortunately, innovation is becoming more sophisticated and more and more leaders are seizing the opportunity to improve not only in their day-to-day operations, but also in their readiness and preparation for the future.