Bryan Ransford, Director of Retail & Fashion at Expeditors, was invited to write an article for Logistics & Transportation Review on technology in retail supply chains. As the retail industry has navigated through challenges in the past few years, retail companies have increasingly looked to technology for advantages in operational efficiency, customer experience, and to create new opportunities for businesses. Read Bryan's article below as he describes the different benefits of platforms and how to use technology in a retail supply chain to your advantage.
Global pandemic lockdowns set off a series of disruptions and delays that put "supply chain" in the headlines and at the forefront of everyone's minds. These troubles exacerbated the operational issues and dependencies already increasingly present in modern-day supply chains.
As a result, many technology companies are zeroing in on the supply-chain sector for opportunities to develop, market, and deploy new applications. However, most of these enterprises lack an operational understanding of how complex supply chains work, in real-world scenarios and circumstances. At a time when teams are already stretched thin, introducing a new platform into your supply chain can stretch resources to the breaking point, even if that new platform might be the key (eventually) to unlocking greater efficiency.
"The retail industry is under immense pressure to deliver goods quickly and efficiently, while also managing costs and complying with regulations."
Which brings us (at least some of us) to digital modernization. You may be asking yourself: "Is digital transformation even necessary for my business?" Recent history has proven the necessity. If you are not digitizing your business, you are already behind the curve and at a disadvantage. A retailer that had no online sales channels in 2020 or 2021 was left questioning if it would even survive extended store closures.
It is estimated that technology initiatives and adoption in the retail industry were accelerated by an average of three years as a result of the pandemic. Encountering issues like supply-chain disruptions, inventory imbalances, and new fulfillment processes, retailers recognized the need to be more nimble and responsive to changes in the market. This level of acceptance gives the retail industry a significant advantage when it comes to adopting new technologies.
The retail industry is under immense pressure to deliver goods quickly and efficiently, while also managing costs and complying with regulations.
To manage these priorities, complex global supply chains have been set up utilizing extensive vendor networks across multiple geographic regions, making them subject to significant regulatory burdens. Technology can provide visibility to products (at any point in the supply chain); measurement of supplier performance; identification of trends; agility to change quickly; and control of compliance to reduce risk.
IoT-powered sensors can provide real-time visibility into the supply chain, helping to identify issues and optimize operations. Trade compliance software can help to streamline customs procedures and avoid delays. Ocean cargo forecasting can be used to design a more efficient supply chain that minimizes disruptions. By taking advantage of these technologies, retailers can improve their bottom line while also providing a better customer experience.
If you have decided it is time for your business to invest in a new digital platform or tool, it can be daunting to know were to start. Maybe you have heard horror stories of businesses that have wasted time and money on pointless technology upgrades. It can be difficult to know which platforms are worth investing in - and even more difficult to implement them successfully. Many platforms require significant up-front investment and it can take years before you see any return on that investment. Plus, who is responsible for implementing the new system? The executives who made the decision to purchase it? The IT department? And what happens if things go wrong?
Before signing a contract with one or more of the several emerging SaaS platforms vying for your business, you should consider the following:
- Is the platform or tool relevant to a specific problem you are currently facing?
- Are you buying software or a service?
- What will the onboarding look like?
- How much effort will it take to implement?
- Will this platform or tool give you an advantage that will be a differentiator for you amongst your competitors?
- What is the rate of change in your industry?
- How will this impact the team?
- Once this tool is implemented, are there any additional, on-going costs?
- Will your data be private?
When considering new technology solutions to support the supply chain, there are many factors to consider. One of the most important is if it was developed with an understanding of the challenges faced in real-world supply chains and how to eliminate or improve your response to those challenges.
Expeditors has taken the first-hand experience in supply chain gained from over 40 years of working with diverse industries across many geographies to develop the platforms in our Digital Solutions group. Whether it is trade compliance management, sensor-based visibility, carrier control and management, or data modeling and engineering, the solutions offered originate directly from the evolving needs of the customers and industries we serve.
Recognizing the importance of building flexibility and resiliency in your supply chain for the next disruption is critical. And having technology built by experts in the discipline will provide greater assurance that the technology delivers what you need.