Analysis

Opinion: Taking control of the supply chain through data

Aoife Oconnell, retail business consultant at Zetes, explains the role of data in optimising the supply chain.

Consumer behaviour changes are regularly charted and seemingly evolve at a rapid rate. However, today’s technology will have a direct influence on the store of the future and can help retailers to meet the ever-increasing consumer demand. From a physical perspective, stores are advancing and will continue to adapt to the introduction of innovative technologies such as AR, VR, AI and robotics. Technologies like this, which will find their place not only on the shop floor but also in the warehouse, will be the ones that truly change customer experience and the last mile. But with the addition of any technology comes data and its data’s influence that will truly mould the successful retailers of the future.

The supply chain network is awash with data, however the challenge is that too few retailers are actually able to utilise the data they capture in real-time to support better, faster and more effective decision making. Many cannot confidently say that they know not only what order has been placed but when an order has been shipped, its arrival time and whether or not the order is complete. Why? Because they have not fully engaged with the digital processes needed within the modern supply chain.

Without a doubt, customer expectations are reinforcing the need for stronger supply chain models. However, 62% of retailers admit that they do not have access to real-time information regarding their products and 72% actually confess they lack the capability to communicate with their customers. Therefore, with new innovations designed to strengthen the supply chain and an increase in customer demand, it is incumbent on industry to bridge that gap.

In the absence of real-time data and end-to-end supply chain visibility there is little or no chance of issues with order quality, quantity or timeliness being highlighted until the problem arises or the sale has been lost elsewhere.

Effective data execution

While many retailers may fear any attempts to create a real-time data model would be both disruptive and expensive, that is simply not the case. Rather than complex integration, or even worse considering a wholesale system rip and replace strategy it is relatively simple to add a visibility layer. This additional layer would essentially take the information outputs from existing systems, identify the relevant insight and create a business-critical dashboard that enables proactive management from supplier to store and consumer.

There is no need to do this all at once. Retailers can focus on those areas of the supply chain that are causing the biggest issues or might deliver the biggest wins. First onboard a small number of key suppliers, gain visibility, understand and resolve problems such as variance – then scale up to the next tier of suppliers and broaden the business adoption. The result is an immediate financial return, reduced errors and a dramatic cut in capital tied up in over-stocking.

Similarly, in store, Store Assistants with real-time visibility of stock across the business can be empowered to offer customers access to products not available in store today, such as shipping from other stores or delivery to a locker.

This is an agile model that enables retailers to think big, start small, scale fast and rapidly gain access to a continuous, visible information flow throughout the supply chain that can deliver significant and immediate wins in both financial returns and customer experience.

Achieving flawless execution and sustainable delivery performance

With fulfilment and delivery needing to be a core process, retailers are beginning to re-engineer their logistics network to meet consumer demand. By having visibility, from supplier to customer, retailers can achieve new levels of collaboration that transforms operations – from innovative customer offerings to problem resolution. The need for strong supply chain models that combines a single view of inventory with accurate and proactive monitoring is becoming ever more essential.

A way of retailers revolutionising retail solutions is by combining cloud technology and end to end supply chain visibility. This will result in them having the ability to easily flex capacitycapability in the warehouse, on the road or in the store.

Conclusion

Fulfilment and delivery are no longer an arm’s length operational function; it should be fundamentally at the core of the business, as it directly affects brand perception, customer purchase decisions, loyalty and ultimately competitive advantage. However, with greater complexity, more stakeholders involved in the value creation / destruction, retailers need to consider not only how to embrace the innovation that is rapidly being enabled by new technologies and innovative service providers but also how to do so in a way that is affordable, efficient and sustainable.

Without trusted real-time information providing visibility on the critical pathways performance; how can a retailer ensure it is achieving the right level of engagement? Or that delivery promises are met and that delivery methods are appropriate? The entire experience represents the brand, from product to price, delivery promise to delivery reality. Essentially, retailers need not only consider every aspect of the delivery experience but also ensure excellent governance of that experience to continually delight the customer.

Effective execution of the data captured by retailers will ultimately enable them to take back control of their supply chain and proactively respond to consumer behaviour in real-time to shape the store of the future, now.