While online sales have long shown an upward trend, the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited this shift. In fact, a recent emarketer survey showed that online sales in the U.S. are anticipated to surpass $1 trillion (17% growth) by the end of this year.
Despite a recent drop-off in demand due to broader market and inflation concerns, e-commerce is here to stay, and many shippers and logistics professionals will need to adjust their long-term supply chain and logistics strategies to ensure they’re able to keep up.
Informed by our logistics partners, here are a few best practices that can help make planning for a long-term online environment more efficient.
Revisit your organization’s digital capabilities
As the challenges posed by COVID-19 cropped up in the broader market— including a sudden surge in online orders, inventory shortages and choked ports across the globe— many shippers were quickly faced with a realization that their current technology investments did not provide them with the right level of end-to-end and shipment visibility.
To keep up with the influx in e-commerce, shippers will need to have the digital capabilities in place that will allow them to make real-time, data-driven decisions about how to invest in and deploy their fleet operations to improve customer loyalty and lower costs.
Businesses will need to focus on elements of their supply chain including storage and stock availability, alternative fulfillment options, adaptive scaling, flexible footprints and consumer responsiveness. Having a full and accurate vision of where your supply chain stands on each front empowers your organization to rapidly keep up with demand – and more importantly, to adapt.
Visibility is a key requirement for longer-term initiatives aimed at improving supply chain efficiency, risk management, resilience, customer satisfaction and sustainability. This transparency is not only vital to your team, but also to your customers as they check back on the status of their shipments. Logistics is a huge potential source of differentiation in the customer experience and companies that can translate their advantages in the supply chain for the end-customer will enjoy greater stickiness in their market.
Increasing visibility can be achieved through a number of tactics, including developing an open and integrated data-sharing strategy with stakeholders in your value-chain, as well as leveraging technologies including location platforms.
Enhancing visibility, particularly within the middle and last miles of your organization’s logistics network, will allow you to meet heightened customer expectations that often come along with the boost in online ordering. Even within your warehouse, visibility solutions like indoor mapping and asset-tracking can provide your team with a real-time perspective of items such as forklifts—allowing you to eliminate losses and reduce delays in your core business processes.
Take an open approach with partners
Making a positive impact on your supply chain requires understanding your supply chains holistically—upstream to downstream. Once you have a solid hold on your partners within the supply chain, this will provide a deeper sense of where your dependencies on other organizations lie, granting you more control over your assets. It will also allow you to determine where your supply chain might be strengthened by information-sharing between your organization and your partners.
By working to get third-party logistics providers within your supply chain on board with your organization’s visibility solutions, and by sharing real-time location data, this can aid in tracking items at the warehouse level and beyond to help speed final delivery and enhance customer service.
The logistics space presents one of the most compelling proving grounds to apply the benefits in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Taking existing and known insights about one’s supply chain and augmenting this with predictive capabilities and systems that can anticipate shocks in the supply chain will improve the shipping experience by providing more accurate estimated times of arrival.
As e-commerce continues its upward trajectory, leveraging technology and re-examining your organization’s supply chain processes will serve as keys in addressing the ongoing challenges that continue to pose issues within the logistics space— helping to keep your team nimble and better meet the needs of your customers.
About the author
Stuart Ryan is vice president of sales & GTM (Americas) at HERE Technologies. HERE is a multinational firm dealing with mapping, location data and related automotive services to individuals and companies.