The Retail Supply Chain is Hot Hot Hot

由于短缺和中断,电子商务订单are on fire at the same time as brick-and-mortar sales are heating up. Retailers are looking to technology and innovative strategies to keep up.


当一切平稳运行,所有的眼睛都创erally on eking additional efficiency, throughput and profitability out of those operations. For example, not long ago many retailers were focused on optimizing their supply chains, squeezing more out of interconnected networks and using leaner inventory management strategies.

然后是一个改变一切的流行病。现在,Sudhir Balebail,计划总监IBM说,谈话已从优化供应链中转移,使其更具弹性和适应性。“每个人都来拥抱改变是不可避免的事实,”鲍尔巴尔说。“它不再是让供应链'对';它是关于让供应链以可以使事情正确的方式作出反应。“

The pivot hasn’t been easy. Retailers that went into the pandemic with a fairly accurate picture of what their customers wanted and how they wanted those goods served up were suddenly dealing with completely different demands and expectations. The role of the brick-and-mortar store shifted, fulfillment operations had to reorganize and transportation networks were reimagined.

No corner of the retail supply chain was left untouched and many valuable lessons were learned along the way. For example, Balebail says many retailers changed how they view peak seasons, marketing campaigns and new product launches. Rather than peg their profitability to one selling season (e.g., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.) or marketing campaign, they’re coming up with alternative plans well in advance—moves that have also helped combat pandemic-driven supply chain shortages.




Tom Enright, aGartnerSupply Chain Research VP for the retail industry, says retailers are also using their physical stores and a hub-and-spoke model to create mini-regional DCs without having to build more warehouses or lease more space.

“In a large city where a retailer has two or three ‘hub’ stores, those locations are acting as feeder stores for the smaller locations,” Enright explains. This helps expand inventory options for customers whose stores stock less product and minimizes the mileage that a retailer has to cover to get an order to a consumer—effectively closing last-mile supply chain gaps. In the grocery space, he says micro-fulfillment is catching on quickly as stores deploy more robotics to pick, pack and dispatch orders.

“We’ve seen examples of micro-fulfillment being up to 10 times quicker than employees walking around [picking] from store shelves,” says Enright. “That’s a trend that’s emerging quite strongly, but predominantly within the grocery space right now.”

Re-commerce and takebacks

A model centered on selling used or previously-owned goods, re-commerce is another trend that’s taking hold in the retail space, where the sale of secondhand goods aligns well with the world’s increased interest in environmental sustainability.

Some examples include Levi’s dedicated secondhand goods website and how Patagonia allows consumers to choose between “new” and “worn” merchandise for some products.


“There’s a big focus on keeping clothing and other goods out of landfills,” says Enright, “and retailers are in a good position to be able to help facilitate this goal by extending the useable life of perfectly good products that someone may just not want anymore.”

Managing complexity

In surveying the current retail environment, Bryan Jensen, chairman and executive VP at St. Onge Company, sees a lot of companies taking “very atypical measures” to both tackle their current challenges and also shield themselves against future disruption. As part of this push, many companies are turning to technology for help transforming their supply chains.

“To one degree or another,” Jensen says, “just about every brick-and-mortar retailer is moving to more e-commerce, whether it’s buying online/picking up at store (BOPUS), shipping a parcel to a doorstep or some other approach.”


“Most of them segregate their inventory fore-commerce和商店,可以创建一个'我们在这个项目上缺货缺货,为我们的网站的情况,“Jensen解释道。“与此同时,库存中可能存在20个产品的托盘,并为商店保留。”纠正这种情况通常需要手动干预,尽管Jensen表示其订单管理系统可以处理多通道操作的零售商已经能够有效地从单个库存池中获取两种类型的销售。

Exactly what these systems look like depends on the retailer itself, its sales volume (both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce) and what unit of measure it’s shipping to stores versus directly to consumers. Some retailers have even more complex needs. For example, a luxury goods retailer may have wholesale, e-commerce and retail channels to feed. “All of these factors drive a retailer’s preferred solution for managing the distribution of common inventory from multiple channels,” says Jensen, “and have hastened both the investigation into and investment in OMS over the last year or so.”


塞维斯机器人的全球联盟负责人Steve Simmeran表示,零售商也在处理更高的较小订单和SKU的增长。在过去的一年或两者中,增加了对等式的持续劳动力短缺,并且对零售供应链中的更多自动化和机器人的需求已经清晰。“从最终消费者服务,订单可见性和准时交付角度来看,期望水平可能从未如此高,”他说。


Simmerman also sees more retailers blending robotics with human workforces to help drive higher throughputs in the most efficient manner possible. “Companies are using an interesting blend of automation, robotics and humans and figuring out ways that they can best work together,” he points out. “It’s not an ‘either or;’ it’s a combined solution that includes all three.”

Focus on forecasting

Forecasting and demand planning have never been more important in the retail space, where trying to figure out what customers are going to buy and then pairing that information with availability in the middle of ongoing supply chain shortages has been a full-time job for companies across most sectors. In the often-fickle retail environment, the task has become more difficult than ever.

Knowing this, Enright says some companies are putting more emphasis on forecasting more than just the timing of the sale. Using historical data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, they’re going beyond the typical weekly or monthly forecasts—usually centered on how many customers will pay for a product at a specific time—and looking at the choices that those buyers will make (e.g., do they want next-day shipping or are they willing to wait two days to three days to get their goods in exchange for free shipping?). Retailers can incorporate these points into their fulfillment plans, knowing that those choices will dictate where they need to hold their inventory.


The retailer that knows it’s going to sell 1,000 units of a specific product next week in Kansas City, for example, and that knows how many buyers want same-day or next-day shipping, can better allocate product close to those buyers.

“If all of those customers are prepared to wait two days to three days for their orders, then the retailer doesn’t have to hold all 1,000 units close to those buyers,” says Enright. “However, it does need to forecast the choices those buyers make from a speed point of view. That way, it can segregate that portion of online orders for the coming week into those who want it quickly, and then hold the rest in a hub or a local store.”

About the Author

Bridget McCrea, Editor
Bridget McCrea is a Contributing Editor for Logistics Management based in Clearwater, Fla. She has covered the transportation and supply chain space since 1996 and has covered all aspects of the industry for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review. She can be reached at[email protected], or on Twitter@BridgetMcCrea

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