How retailers can optimise supply chains despite external pressures

optimise supply chains

18 months ago, I wrote about the need for independent retailers to diversify their supply chains and develop contingency plans to cope with the disruption caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately, since then, the supply chain agony has continued practically unabated. 

From HGV driver shortages and escalating customs paperwork to ships stuck outside ports and shipping containers MIA, UK retailers have entered peak demand season hamstrung by a perfect storm of supply chain issues. Lest we forget, Christmas is the one time of year that consumers absolutely will not tolerate shipping delays, lost items or cancellations. 

But while many of the current supply chain pressures lie outside the influence of the typical retailer, there are still plenty of ways in which they can optimise their supply chain to avoid or mitigate potential issues and deliver on customer promises. 

Connecting your tech

Supply chain optimisation can take various forms, but the best place to start is by taking a holistic look at your end-to-end supply chain and identifying areas in which marginal gains (or indeed, more-than-marginal gains) can be made.

For example, using simple API-enabled integrations between your online sales platforms and inventory management systems (IMS), you can create an early stage order management process that’s faster and more efficient than your current approach. 

With this type of real-time inventory management, you’ll enjoy instant visibility of stock levels across your entire product range and marketplace suite, so that you know exactly which products to replenish and the volume at which to do so. It is also a vital stepping stone towards better inventory management planning, allowing you to get ahead of the curve when anticipating high demand periods. If you know the product types and volumes you’ll need well in advance, you’ll be in a stronger position to work around any external supply chain or logistical pressures.

Right product, right place, right time

By storing products across multiple fulfilment centres in various regions, you can circumnavigate potential delays at borders and customs to allow for consistent on-time delivery, while also lowering the delivery cost to your customer. 

Most retailers struggle to achieve this type of efficiency because their technology isn’t connecting the dots between where products are stored and where the orders are coming from. However, some warehouse management systems (WMS) can now power clever geo-locating of stock so that there’s less friction between purchase and delivery. 

Going one step further, adopting a full-stack supply chain solution can increase a retailers’ access to a global carrier network, thus broadening the last mile delivery choices available in each market. The business of physically getting your products into customers’ hands can now be determined by the priorities they (and you) prize the most – for example, speed, reliability, or eco-friendly options like EV fleets. Access to a global carrier network via an integrated supply chain software platform gives you the best chance of meeting every customer preference on every delivery.

Talking technologies

A fully optimised supply chain relies on technologies talking to each other throughout the end-to-end journey, which is why most recent tech platforms on the market support a wide range of API integrations. 

For example, integrations between online stores and marketplaces and software-driven fulfilment can now be implemented quickly and seamlessly to connect product listings, stock levels and locations straight into the order fulfilment process. Every integration will save time and create behind-the-scenes efficiencies, with minimal human intervention. In fact, it’ll most likely make your humans more efficient too, freeing them up from logistics admin and giving them more time to focus on higher-value activities.

Getting your technology right can drive real positive change in your eCommerce proposition, so retailers should look for an affordable solution that connects the right channels with the right systems and carriers. 

Reaping the benefits

All retailers can benefit from supply chain optimisation. The question is: which areas should be your first priority? Fully mapping the end-to-end supply chain will help calibrate your focus on where technology can supercharge performance and make the most significant impact. 

What’s clear, however, is that technology has the potential to positively affect and enhance multiple aspects of ongoing operations and logistics, reducing manual task management, enhancing forward-planning and, ultimately, increasing customer delight to drive repeat business. 

The upshot is top-line growth through repeated, regular custom (and a better chance of customer referrals), and bottom-line margin protection through greater automation and effective planning. Beyond this, a winning global supply chain solution can also help to position your brand in new territories quickly and impactfully, by immediately extending your coverage and eliminating the logistical teething pains so often encountered when serving new customers in new markets.

But perhaps most important of all, particularly as we enter the festive season, is the gift of time. Retailers that optimise their supply chains will all benefit from time given back, letting staff focus more on driving business growth, or perhaps affording them more opportunity to relax with their families this Christmas.