Like many industries, retail has been evolving for some time. Consumer demands are shifting shopping experiences and retail compliance programs are being enforced as the need to have the right inventory in the right place at the right time becomes even more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly sped up some of these changes, but many were already underway prior to 2020. All of these changes mean there are many opportunities for improvement.

But knowing where to start making changes to your supply chain can be challenging. You want to make faster, meaningful improvements to your supply chain that will make a big impact. Here are five such strategies that can help you evolve your retail supply chain for the changing market.

 

Five insights to drive retail supply chain improvements

1. Accurately plan for demand through supply chain technology

Whether consumer interest surges, transportation availability becomes tight, or inclement weather delays shipments across the country, there will always be unanticipated events that can disrupt your plans. If the pandemic has taught us anything, accurate demand forecasting without connectivity to shipping execution can leave your supply chain open to disruption.

With a partnership like the one between C.H. Robinson and SAS, there are technology solutions and processes to help overcome the natural silos between planning and shipping execution. Together, C.H. Robinson and SAS are combining their industry leading processes and technology to build faster, more resilient, cost-effective supply chains.

With this type of connectivity, you can create a more fluid approach to many areas of your supply chain, including shipping schedules, carrier management, and your response to changing consumer demand—all while inventory is still moving on the ground.

 

2. Approach your RFP process with an agile mindset

As the recent pandemic disruptions have shown, the typical purchasing patterns of consumers has changed. Accordingly, in 2020 we saw an overwhelming breakdown of route guides and more shippers reviewing where and how their freight flows.

While annual request for proposal (RFP) bids may still make sense for your most consistent freight volumes, a lot of freight can benefit from more agile RFP strategies throughout the year instead.

The right technology makes this agile approach to transportation procurement easy. Procure IQ™ from Robinson Labs is technology that provides a personalized, data visualization of an individual company’s shipping lanes, unlocking the optimal way to purchase transportation. This technology is built by and for supply chain experts and applies data science to deliver shippers smarter solutions that cut costs and drive greater reliability.

 

3. Diversify your global shipping and import strategies

Drastic changes in shipping habits during the COVID-19 pandemic have affected ocean and air capacity. Not only that, as shippers attempt to restock depleted inventories, many ocean ports are facing backlogs, delaying freight even further.

Flexibility is key to overcoming these types of market disruptions. For example, rather than relying on a single port of entry, make a contingency plan that diverts freight across multiple ports. Leverage a provider with reliable services across a wide variety of locations—from port services to intermodal transload—to improve your adaptability.

Staying up to date with market changes that impact capacity can also help you make smart global shipping decisions to keep your global freight on track.

 

4. Plan fulfillment center locations based on inventory needs

The location of your fulfillment centers is critically important for retail supply chains, both for retail compliance programs and positive experiences for the end consumer.

Today, almost any location can act as a fulfillment center—from back rooms of distribution centers to the storage rooms of brick and mortar stores. Accordingly, the inbound and outbound inventory into these locations can make or break a supply chain. Having inventory at the wrong location can mean costly delays when rerouting freight to where it needs to be.

Freight consolidation is a cost-effective option for properly utilizing fulfillment centers. Choose an experienced freight consolidator to assist with holding inventory, demand planning, and the flexible solutions you need to improve the speed of your deliveries.

 

5. Think about return management year-round

While a popular topic around the holidays, properly planning for your retail returns throughout the year is another area of improvement for retail supply chains because it can help you maximize the end-of-life value of a product as well as consumer perception of your company.

Your returns management strategy should focus on convenience and control. Not only should returns be convenient for your consumers but automating the process of a return can help ensure accurate data is collected up front about the item. This in turn helps you better control what happens next for that item. It might not make sense for every return to be sent back to your warehouse. Use the details of the return to develop an easily understood, yet detailed, plan for processing returns.

 

Always focus on improving your retail supply chain

While consumers decide when, where, and how to shop, it’s the improvements you make to your retail supply chain strategy that will help you successfully meet them when, where, and how they want to buy.

 

Looking for help applying these and other continuous improvement efforts to your retail supply chain? Our global network of experts are eager and available to help you drive better outcomes. Connect with an expert today.