International e-commerce is thriving now more than ever. Over the past few years, this industry has only seen growth—global B2C e-commerce sales reached more than $1 trillion in 2015, and sales are expected to top $2.3 trillion this year. Buying internationally is something consumers want.
This growth affects the supply chain, too. Transportation Intelligence (Ti), a think tank based in London, reported that the global e-commerce supply chain sector grew significantly in 2016—a whopping 18.1 percent. Ti also predicted that this corner of the industry will grow even more over the next three years.
That’s great news for businesses with a stake in e-commerce, but that growth—especially in the supply chain—can affect the customer experience (and not always positively). Whether your company is B2B or B2C, your buyer is looking for a fast delivery and an easy return process, no matter where your products are being shipped from. Consumers often aren’t willing to settle for long turnaround times, so it is key to come up with tools to decrease international delivery wait times.
Supply chain executives are in a unique position to build customer loyalty by eliminating risk and proving to their customers that they use reliable technology and carriers. Customers will be more inclined to order again when the products are delivered on time and without any issues. On the flip side, customers who do experience issues get burned quickly and may even spread the bad news to their networks.
But effective supply chains are tough to set up, and they’re even more difficult to change. Supply chains are complex. There are many facets that contribute to the chain—from freight and logistics to regulatory environment and trade law. When looking to increase delivery speed (especially for businesses with a global audience), companies have to avoid increased costs in shipments and deal with complicated paperwork. Thus, there is less time to troubleshoot issues and perform adequate quality assurance.
Supply chain executives can combat these issues and decrease international delivery wait times by following these tips:
- Bring on the bots. Supply chain staff should work to decrease process wait times, which will in turn decrease how long customers wait to receive their products. Where possible, adopt enterprise process robotics that can automate entire processes instead of individual tasks. This simplifies the flow from point of origin to final consumption.
- Automate the paperwork process. On a similar note, you can also use a fulfillment provider or technology that automates the paperwork. This speeds up the product’s journey early on—every supply chain executive knows how time-consuming and tedious paperwork is. Simply set up the parameters for every account, and then each order’s paperwork (commercial invoices, declarations, etc.) is generated automatically. Make sure to do your research first, as some third-party logistics charge extra for international orders.
- Steer clear of cheap carriers. Going with the least expensive carrier might sound tempting (after all, that means offering your customers cheaper shipping), but it’s often not worth it. It’s best to stick to only the major carriers—brands that have built trust and awareness. These carriers are, in general, more reliable, so your customers won’t be left hanging longer than expected. In the customer’s eyes, any mishaps your carrier makes fall back on you.
- Explore delivery options. Look into various delivery options, like expedited or premium delivery. Although more expensive, most carriers are open to negotiation on these services should your volume warrant it. It’s often not a very tough negotiation, and it’s worth the effort to reach out to your local rep. You’ll find that buyers who really prioritize fast deliveries often won’t mind paying a little more.
- Consolidate suppliers. Coordinating production can be difficult when there is variability in a vendor’s lead time. There are many moving parts, allowing for serious risk of missteps. Having as few suppliers as possible—or even one supplier—means everything will arrive together, cutting down on both shipping costs and wasted time.
- Use a vendor-managed inventory program. This is another way to slash wait times early. An inventory program will help automate stock replenishment to keep necessary components on hand. Waiting for new inventory can eat up valuable time, and it will inevitably affect operations down the line.
- Consider taking your inventory virtual. Oftentimes, spare parts sit around a warehouse and never get used. Companies are stuck paying storage fees and inventory taxes on those parts. Instead, consider additive manufacturing or even something like 3D printing. Instead of holding physical inventory, the parts are held as digital assets and are produced as needed.
- Schedule quality assurance experts. This can be in-house or outsourced, but schedule a quality assurance expert to visit the factory or manufacturer before the product leaves the premises. While fairly standard, it’s not always practiced.
Many issues can be avoided by performing quality assurance before the product arrives at the warehouse.
International trade isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. As a supply chain manager, the key is not to be deterred from offering international shipping, as there are many options and solutions available to make your global e-commerce strategy cost-effective and efficient.
Once you understand how to keep wait times down, you take another step in boosting customer satisfaction across borders, which translates to more success for you (with a larger customer base) than ever before.
Jesse Kaufman is CEO and founder of ShippingTree, a provider of cloud-based logistics and e-commerce fulfillment services for consumer product companies around the world. Through ShippingTree, Kaufman aims to streamline the supply chain by eliminating customs fees and expensive shipping costs for customers.
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