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How to Best Prepare for Current (and upcoming) Supply Chain Disruptions

supply chain

How to Best Prepare for Current (and upcoming) Supply Chain Disruptions

Weekly meal planning is a recurring event in our household. Although this activity is not particularly exciting, every Saturday my wife and I sit down to plan out our family meals. This process helps us avoid the mid-week supermarket scramble, as well as sidestep overspending on items we don’t actually need. Sound familiar? Supply chain planning is no different when it comes to yielding efficient results, especially this year.

It’s no secret the way companies ship their freight has shifted due to COVID-19. C.H. Robinson is great at helping customers secure capacity and optimize their global freight across our suite of service offerings as their needs evolve. Due to COVID-19 market changes, our global team of supply chain experts has spent extra time securing expedited less than container load (LCL) capacity for companies that can work with extra lead time. Another big change is how many ghost or charter flights are used to make up for lost capacity from the mass decline in global passenger travel.

However, COVID-19 is not the only event putting pressure on the freight market now. And with passenger travel not expected to recover until 2024, proactive solutions are needed to avoid current and upcoming disruptions.

Prepping for peak shipping season and new tech launches

When it comes to maximizing your global freight, it’s important to take seasonality into consideration. Peak shipping season for global air freight historically begins in October, and we’re already anticipating a busy peak season due to the unbalanced relationship between supply and demand. Even if air freight volumes were consistent or less than previous years, there is a lot less capacity to work with. Additionally, ocean shipping is experiencing a busy peak season now as companies prepare for the holiday shopping surge.

Consumers are also eagerly awaiting new technology releases—including the iPhone 12, Sony PS5, Xbox, and more. High priced commodities, like consumer electronics, primarily ship via air. And while consumer tech launches are not uncommon during the holiday season, the lack of passenger planes aren’t helping the situation this year. This, combined with the volume surge in other commodities related to peak shipping season and continued demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) creates a tighter market.

What can global shippers do to combat tight capacity?

The key is to remain flexible and remember it’s never too late to start planning. Although some items, such as technology, tend to move by air, global shippers can consider shifting other commodities to expedited LCL or expedited full container load (FCL) service to mitigate disruption and stay agile in a tight global freight market.

However, for those shippers that truly depend on air capacity, shifting modes isn’t always an option. So, while ghost flights were a reactive solution for many this past spring, C.H. Robinson took our own planning advice and proactively chartered weekly 747 cargo flights from China to the U.S. from October to November, as well as Europe to the U.S. until the end of the year. Capacity on a 747 cargo aircraft can hold up to five times more freight than an average ghost flight. And our global network of experts knew proactively purchasing that space was necessary as global shippers face peak season, PPE from Asia, and a recovering economy out of Europe. We’re already seeing this approach drive solutions for our customers.

Looking forward to COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. Once one or more is available for global circulation, it will likely create a significant ripple effect throughout supply chains. Even if your company is not directly connected to distributing or manufacturing a vaccine, the time to start planning alternative modes or routes is now.

Like technology, vaccines primarily ship via air to monitor the temperature and deliver them to market quickly. According to IATA, 8,000 747 flights would be needed to distribute a single dose of the vaccine to 7.8 billion people around the world. Although a vaccine with this large of a global magnitude is new, we can get a sense of the supply chain reaction by looking back at the height of global demand for PPE. Throughout the spring we saw airlines, 3PLs, carriers, companies, and government agencies go above and beyond, working extra hours and expediting products in order to create and deliver PPE around the globe quickly. It’s likely we’ll see the same comradery with the vaccine—pulling manpower and capacity away from other shipping needs.

Although we know air freight will play a vital role in distributing vaccines, last -mile is also an important area companies and logistic professionals are planning for. Last-mile planning will be especially important in countries where road or manufacturing infrastructure may be underdeveloped. However, keep in mind whether your company is involved in vaccine distribution or not, it’s still likely your supply chain will be impacted by higher transportation rates or additional capacity constraints across modes.

Final thoughts

As the pandemic spread across the globe, we saw air cargo rates rise to unprecedented levels. Airlines and cargo operators continue to adapt quickly to this dynamic market. Now it’s time for companies to evolve, too. Never before has a balance between proactive planning and flexibility been so important.

Planning ahead and using forecast data can be the difference needed to turn a dysfunctional supply chain into a strong, agile one that is ready to face this volatile market. We know logistics can’t exist in a world of absolutes. This makes it difficult to prepare for today’s (and tomorrow’s) disruptions—or even to know where to begin. That’s where C.H. Robinson comes in. Utilizing our information advantage, you can rely on our people to bring you smarter solutions across your global supply chain. Reach out to one of our experts today to start the conversation.

amazon's

What Amazon’s Hiring Surge Amid COVID-19 Means for Logistics Professionals

The “Amazon effect” disrupted the supply chain long before COVID-19. Amazon made big waves in the industry by setting the customer expectation of two-day, same-day, and free shipping — putting unprecedented pressure on logistics and carriers to meet the challenge. In fact, in a 2019 regulatory filing, Amazon listed “transportation and logistics services” as its direct competition.

Competing with Amazon has never been an easy task — but COVID-19 has made it even harder.

As many struggle through the pandemic, Amazon continues to thrive. For example, it recently announced plans to hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the U.S. Meanwhile, the rest of the transportation and logistics industry is trying to stay afloat. The industry was already facing a delivery driver shortage, and U.S. employers across industries have been cutting jobs at record rates.

Help Your Reduced Teams Work at Max Efficiency With Collaborative Logistics Tools

Amazon’s massive driver hiring initiative makes the driver shortage problem for other transportation and logistics companies even worse. Many are unable to scale to meet the surge, but even if they could expand, there’s less available personnel to move products along non-Amazon supply chains.

There is one line of hope for non-Amazon transportation and logistics companies: As you’re working with diminished human resources, fitting collaborative logistics technology into your workflow can help you use what you do have to its utmost potential.

With the right collaboration tools along the supply chain, logistics and transportation managers can:

1. Inform a fuller common operational picture with real-time data.

Collaboration tools are only beneficial if they’re used to guide operations around a common operational picture, or COP. The first step to creating a guiding COP is to break down the silos that separate data and communication between different departments. Different teams should be able to instantly share data that could better inform the overall COP.

Instant, easily shareable data is key to logistics collaboration in supply chains and can include everything from real-time sensor readings of shipments being delivered to driver status updates and communication with clients. Collaborative logistics technology can help give supply chain managers the complete picture exactly as it unfolds, enabling well-informed decision-making every step of the way.

2. Digitize manual processes for greater agility.

Manual processes, such as playing phone tag to get information, deciphering paper logs, or collecting incident reports, are commonplace in the transportation and logistics industry. But these slow, outdated processes can put cogs in the chain and slow momentum.

Collaboration tools are an essential piece of eliminating manual processes and creating more agile supply chains — especially for companies that are short on drivers and are trying to work as efficiently as possible with the resources they have. Collaborative logistics technology can automate many or all of the manual processes that currently take up the most time and make relevant, real-time data available to all authorized parties.

3. Eliminate uncertainty in the last-mile delivery process.
The last-mile delivery process is widely known as the most challenging part of the supply chain. Unexpected scenarios, such as road closures, extreme weather events, or truck maintenance issues, can throw off the process and postpone delivery with no warning. Without real-time data and updates about both drivers and receivers, supply chain managers are left clueless to the progress along the last-mile process line and unable to efficiently solve problems.

However, with collaborative logistics technology that provides real-time information about last-mile deliveries, managers, drivers, and receivers can all work together to develop agile responses to unexpected events, creating a more efficient delivery process.

The driver shortage has been hurting logistics and transportation for some time, and with Amazon’s recent hiring surge putting even more strain on the market, it’s not likely to improve any time soon. Fortunately, with the help of collaborative logistics tools, companies can operate more efficiently with fully informed COPs, smooth digital processes, and quick last-mile delivery — even with a limited number of human resources.

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Clark Wellman is a transportation and logistics expert at Coolfire, a company dedicated to enhancing real-time event awareness, control, and response through collaboration software. Clark draws from his 20 years of experience working in transportation and logistics to help connect teams with a system for real-time collaboration.

retail

E-Commerce’s Newfound Role in Stabilizing and Expanding the U.S. Retail Sector

Kenny Tsang, Managing Director of PingPong Payments, comments on the impact of the pandemic on the retail sector, and how global online marketplaces are providing a lifeline to businesses with thousands of new sellers.

In recent months, online marketplaces have taken a huge step forward to become the primary option for consumers with the pandemic forcing traditional retailers to digitally adapt to consumers. As these lockdown restrictions begin to ease, many businesses and retailers are increasingly finding value in utilizing digital marketplaces to support further disruption.

Worryingly, the existing retail space still lost a shocking 1.3 million jobs from February to June with data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in August[1] showing little signs of recovery for the retail industry. With retail being the primary outlet of the U.S. economy supporting one in four U.S. jobs [2] businesses utilizing the e-commerce sphere are experiencing significant growth by recording an 18 percent increase in online sales[3] this year.

Retail businesses that have been sustainable during the economic slowdown over the last few months are showing increased utilization of online marketplaces as alternatives to traditional retail services. Many who have explored, or been forced to adapt to digital avenues, are seeing the potential for temporary digital measures to become permanent as the U.S. continues to demonstrate a seismic shift in shopping habits. Online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Rakuten are leading the way, with Amazon more than doubling its valuation so far in 2020 – gaining a staggering $570 billion in market capitalization. eBay has just reported a record eight million new active shoppers, resulting in year on year revenue shooting up 18 percent.

While these numbers may be considered unsustainable in the long term, the 565,000 new merchant signups Amazon has already reached this year suggests the significant growth of online marketplaces will continue to exceed expectations. Many forecasters are estimating the business growth of e-commerce will to continue to reach unprecedented levels in the U.S. – with 1.1 million new sellers expected to join Amazon by the end of 2020.

Accessibility has long been a question for merchants hesitant to embrace the digital market and step out of their comfort zones into new mediums. Online marketplaces that are experiencing the most growth such as Amazon and eBay are increasingly finding ways to engage buyers and sellers to leap into the digital sphere. Thousands of sellers are experiencing natural growth, and the demand for consumer confidence while shopping on digital platforms has never been higher. E-commerce platforms cannot emulate the shop floor, however, we are seeing community-based marketplaces driving international consumer merchants to offer a quality service that delivers high customer satisfaction on primarily review-based models.

Sellers should capitalize on the opportunity to adapt and strategize against the current situation while focusing on understanding how their customer buying patterns were changing, to adjust quickly to demand, PingPong Payments identified the most popular selling categories in the e-commerce space during the pandemic to be groceries, toys and games, educational material and home and garden, while swimwear, travel-related products and consumer electronics such as cameras were no longer in demand.

With more consumer-centric additions, comes more growth, and the need for personnel to respond to the demand has heightened. For many e-commerce sellers, this is unprecedented ground, and it highlights the need for e-commerce sellers to have the right systems in place to facilitate these changes. Traditionally, a bulk of merchants’ operating internationally would spend their time minimalizing cross-border payments in unknown markets that would often lead to unforeseen expenses, long shipping times, and unreliable products. E-commerce sellers partnering with the right cross-border payment companies that specialize in convenient, quick money transfers can take this hassle away while lowering costs with these systems in place.

As consumers return to retail spaces – sellers should continue to utilize the flexibility that e-marketplaces have provided for businesses over the last few months with organic innovation increasing through competition for buy share. From the supply chain to customer-centric models – digital marketplaces are providing a platform to rival in-person sales with a significant expansion focused on retaining customers.

Admittedly, there will be consumers who continue to use traditional methods of shopping, and that will remain an open market for retailers as lockdown restrictions ease. Merchants with better familiarisation of the e-commerce industry should be able to continue to put the right systems and partners in place to maintain a continuous flow of sales worldwide. With added expansion in the industry, economic recovery in the U.S. can help propel pre-existing successful retail foundations into the future.

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[1] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

[2] https://nrf.com/retails-impact

[3] https://www.emarketer.com/content/us-ecommerce-will-rise-18-2020-amid-pandemic

retail

The Art of Successful Multi-Channeling in Retail Sector

Headlines seem to be nothing but doom and gloom for the retail industry. Footfall on the UK high street was down 40% in July. Thousands of staff have been laid off by companies many would have considered unbreakable. Major high street names are closing stores by the score, and many others have started administration procedures. And yet, in the worst retail crisis of a generation, there are those that see an opportunity for the future – and that opportunity is e-commerce. While it can be tempting to adopt a “wait until this is all over” attitude (particularly when it comes to investing in new projects when budgets are already tight) the businesses that are leading the field in these difficult times are those that are making the most of this time to rethink and reboot their online portfolio.

It’s clear that in the current climate it’s vital for any retailer to have their own online store, but with more than half of B2C e-commerce transactions taking place on marketplaces, any successful e-tail strategy will need to involve multi-channeling. But it’s not as simple as listing on as many marketplaces and possible and just expecting buyers to start appearing – in order to gain the most benefits, retailers need to dedicate as much time and effort to multi-channeling as they do with their own e-commerce store. This may seem like too much hard work, but when you look at the benefits of marketplaces you may want to re-evaluate your priorities.

No matter how high your website appears on Google rankings, if you don’t offer your products on marketplaces you may be missing out on potential customers. Based on a recent 2019 survey, up to 49% of users start their search for products on Amazon compared with just 22% on Google. Many of these go on to make their purchase straight away – even if they’ve never come across a brand before, the level off trust provided by the marketplace itself gives consumers the confidence to try brands that they may otherwise not have considered. Other users search for products on Amazon before researching brands off the platform and may often decide to purchase from the brand page directly, so this sense Amazon can also work as an extra marketing channel to raise awareness of your brand.

But despite its apparent monopoly over the e-commerce sector, it’s important to remember that Amazon may not be for everyone. Particularly in the fashion industry, many retailers believe selling on Amazon may cheapen their product image due to the fact that so many Amazon retailers are from the low cost, super-fast fashion sector. Which brings us to one of the most important parts of your e-commerce strategy – choosing the right marketplaces for you.

When sales are struggling it can be tempting to sign up to as many platforms as possible, to go for the most well-known sites or the largest potential audiences. However, this tactic will only result in spreading your portfolio too thin and it’s all too easy to neglect under-performing sites. More effective use of your time and effort is to first analyze which marketplaces are best for your brand. Think of them as a department store – your products might be a great fit for John Lewis, but you wouldn’t necessarily want them displayed in a Walmart. And vice versa – Walmart brands are unlikely to enjoy much success by stocking in John Lewis stores. There are also a number of niche marketplaces that might be a perfect fit for your brand and allow you to access your ideal audience without the excess competition of the major players. Research each platform, look at what type of brands use them, consider online reviews and check customer testimonials. Investigate their terms – are they compatible with your own? Do they offer advertising options and detailed analytics? Finally, if looking at the attractive expansion possibilities of the international market, bear in mind local legislation.

While it may be tempting to access the huge potential of the Chinese e-commerce scene (worth an estimated $1.94 trillion USD), export laws and duties are much more complicated (and regional rather than national in some cases), so unless you have a native Chinese speaking e-commerce expert on your team you may want to leave this on the back burner.

Once you’ve chosen your selected marketplaces it’s time to optimize your listings. Bear in mind that it shouldn’t be a case of simply copying and pasting the same product descriptions for every site – this can have a negative effect on your SEO and you’ll be competing against your own online store. While it’s time-consuming, it’s highly recommended to create SEO optimized product descriptions for each marketplace you use. Look at your top competitors – what keywords are they using? How are they pitching their product? Where can your products stand out from theirs? It’s not a case of simply listing as many keywords as you can, try to create an attractive product description that will entice potential customers, but also provide enough detailed information so that there are no unexpected surprises (this should also help you reduce the rate of returns).

Where possible, you may want to dedicate some of your marketing budgets to platform-specific advertising to make sure your products are seen first, particularly when you’re new and there is a lot of competition to deal with. Many of the larger marketplaces offer assistance in setting up campaigns to make sure that your advertising budget is well-targeted, so you may even see more success than with traditional SEM.

So you’ve set up your listings, created advertising campaigns and you’re waiting for orders to start flooding in. But that’s not the end of the story. Maintenance of your channels needs to be a top priority, and the ability to react quickly to trends is the key to success. You’re unlikely to create the perfect listing straight away, but by looking at trends and reviewing your search analytics you can make small amendments to increase visibility, bring more consumers to your products, and convert more sales.

Rather than attempting to improve all of your products at once, it may be worth testing an update on one or two products and checking it’s a success before moving onto the rest. You don’t want to waste time and energy updating your whole portfolio only to find that your update actually has a negative result! As with all marketing, it’s important to be open to trial and error and to stay abreast of changes in the market and how they may affect you.

With so much preparatory work involved, it may sometimes seem like an impossible task to keep your marketplace portfolio under control. But one of the benefits of working with marketplaces is that there are a number of time-saving services that they offer which can reduce your in-house logistics and offset the time you invest in your listings. Many of the major marketplaces offer warehousing and fulfillment options, while even low-cost marketplaces like eBay provide centralized shipping solutions that can take the hassle out of pricing, particularly for international orders. With logistics being one of the most time-consuming and costly parts of the e-commerce process, having access to some of the most advanced shipment and logistics solutions available can quickly improve your customer experience and protect your investment.

With an ever-growing proliferation of e-tail stores online, the centralized accessibility provided by marketplaces is gaining ever more traction and is estimated to grow to up to 65% of the e-commerce market by 2022. And with the simple set up and low investment required to start out, they provide an invaluable service to retailers of all types looking to expand their reach. The current crisis has adversely affected sales throughout the industry as never before, but perhaps we can use this lull to our advantage and give our retail businesses the opportunity to reach a wider audience than ever before?

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TradeGala – the B2B online marketplace has taken the user-friendly marketplace platform and reimagined it for the wholesale industry. Brands and retailers can now connect online with the same ease as ordering a weekly shop. TradeGala – the future of the wholesale fashion industry.

E-commerce

E-commerce Will Continue to Grow in Importance Post-COVID

As we enter the second half of 2020, the global COVID pandemic seems to be slowing down in some places and taking wing in others. Through all the waves, however, one thing is becoming certain: we still have quite a while to go until things go back to “normal.”

For businesses, this brings a host of challenges. Although there’s a necessity to flatten the curve, economies cannot halt for the next year or so until scientists (or nature) come up with a solution. Ultimately, this means that some form of adaptation is necessary.

E-commerce growth in 2020

One of the most significant changes that we saw in consumer shopping habits in 2020 was the rapid growth in popularity of e-commerce. Just a few months back, online shopping was considered unreliable by most individuals over 65. Almost overnight, however, it has become an essential practice. And some numbers testify to the growth of e-commerce.

For example, for Q1 2020, Amazon reported a 29% increase in North American and an 18% increase in worldwide sales. What is even more interesting is that grocery sales have grown a full 8%, compared to the slower growth of 1% during previous years.

On the whole, this is a clear indicator that e-commerce is gaining importance in today’s society. And not just in categories such as tech, apparel, or entertainment. It’s also becoming more relevant when it comes to purchasing health or other essential products. 

With this increased exposure, it’s also likely to expand further during the coming months and years. After all, it’s widely available, convenient, and no longer a foreign concept to most.

For business owners, this prospect of accelerated growth sends a clear message. If they haven’t already, now is the time to make e-commerce an integral part of their business operations.

Changing work models

Adapting to changes can be difficult. And many have already made leaps to keep their operations going during the pandemic. From working remotely to introducing online shopping, these changes have made it possible for small businesses to carry on during these trying times.

But the truth is, small businesses need to put much more effort into their e-commerce webshops to allow them to work with the same efficiency as physical businesses.

For Americans, spending habits have changed drastically since the beginning of the year. The retail industry has taken a big hit, as have companies working in travel, hospitality, entertainment, and even health.

Moreover, there is a tendency towards turning to local shops for a variety of products. Of course, this is a lifeline to small companies who have taken the biggest hit since March. But, it can also be bad news for those whose business models were developed to serve a more global market.

This is why businesses need to start acting now.

Following trends

Over the next period, e-commerce businesses will need to be much more vigilant about how they approach the future. 

First and foremost, they will need to employ risk-mitigating strategies, which will allow them to continue reaching customers. These include diversifying supply chains, implementing DTC models, relying on automation, as well as re-thinking the entire business process.

Furthermore, they’ll need to pay special attention to meeting customers’ needs. Basic conversion-boosting practices such as search engine optimization, decreasing page load times, improving copy and visuals, will all influence user experience, and thus sales and rankings.

One way to future-proof e-commerce businesses is to take a hands-on approach to mobile optimization. Right now, mobile shopping is witnessing growth, and this trend is only likely to continue. If they want to keep up, businesses should adjust early on by adopting mobile optimization tools that are popular among their users.

Moreover, with fewer opportunities to make sales face to face, web design should receive a higher amount of attention. Do you deal with products for which tactile or sensory information is crucial when it comes to sales? Consider whether the visual content on your pages could bridge the gap between online and in-person shopping experiences.

You can look for inspiration from companies that are managing to do this with success. For example, Zoma is an online mattress retailer. Their product collection pages were designed to clearly illustrate the differences between various types of mattresses. This allows users to find the product that will meet their needs with much less hassle.

source: zomasleep.com

Putting customers first

Providing more in-depth information about your products and keeping your website visitors’ needs in mind is a big step in the right direction. However, it’s not going to be enough.

In e-commerce, sales rely on impeccable user experience, so you need to come up with ways to provide it to your customers. Things like free shipping, 24/7 customer service, or high-quality instructional content all play a part in driving conversions.

For this reason, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to the changes you’re making to your service. Are your locations open? Are you taking orders? Are you taking any extra precautions to protect your buyers? It may be wise to use a popup or banner on your website’s homepage to communicate to customers about how COVID might be affecting your business. A good example of this is the banner shown at the top of supplement machine manufacturer LFA Capsule Fillers website.

source: lfpacapsulefillers.com

As the current situation unfolds, you may even want to create a separate section on your website, addressing your response to COVID. That’s what retailer Massimo Dutti did. On their dedicated COVID-19 page, they call attention to an extended returns period to 30 days, as well as free standard home delivery.

source: massimodutti.com

For business owners, these changes are quite small. Though they require an investment in terms of time, they do provide a high level of value to customers. Ultimately what they’re doing is establishing a greater sense of trust, which is critical for any business, but especially for those just now expanding into e-commerce. In the end, trust translates into customer loyalty (and higher conversion rates). 

Navigating uncertain terrain

With the global situation being unpredictable at the moment, consumer behavior is more volatile than ever. What this means for businesses is that they need to be ready to make quick adjustments. And the only way to do this is to pay closer attention to everything that is or isn’t working.

One thing’s certain: e-commerce will continue to grow at a rapid rate, especially in the coming months. For this reason, do your best to follow current trends. Future-proof your business, mitigate risks, and find ways to improve your service. This way, you’ll be decreasing the chance of being run over by the times, and allowing your business to reach new heights.

amazon's

What Logistics and Warehouse Businesses Should Learn From Amazon’s Mistakes During the Pandemic

Amazon has dominated the COVID-19 news because of its ability to get some medical supplies and the reliance of people on ecommerce to protect them as they shop. It’s been a good time for the company’s financials, with significant increases in sales and secure positioning for its other services.

Unfortunately for Amazon, it was also in the news because of product mishaps, fulfillment concerns, worker illnesses, and poor handling of concerns. What the brand did, and didn’t do, can be a useful guide for smaller warehouse and logistics companies to follow.

The best lessons are from Amazon’s mistakes because few 3PLs and service companies are big enough to survive similar mishaps.

Take care of your partners

Amazon faced a tough situation, just like all of us. We all got some things wrong. The hope is that they won’t turn into long-standing issues. For Amazon, it’s unclear if that’s the case, but the thing with the most significant potential for prolonged harm is how it communicated and worked with its partners.

The biggest misstep from a partner standpoint would be when it announced a halt to accepting shipments from some third-party sellers and gave little guidance on what this meant. Sellers flooded Amazon’s forums to ask questions, and rumors spread just as fast as valid answers. People were upset, scared for their businesses, and frustrated that Amazon might not be a viable marketplace in the future.

While Amazon did eventually move back to allowing all third-party shipments for its FBA program, some harm has been done. Companies are looking at moving to do their own fulfillment — which was rewarded by the Amazon AI at some points during the pandemic — to prevent any future move from Amazon bringing an entire small business to a halt.

Amazon may be trying to tackle some of that relationship harm with efforts like waiving some storage fees or supporting more fulfillment operations. Still, it’s unclear how much harm happened.

Diversify and simplify when you can

An estimated one-third of top Amazon sellers are in China. It is believed to source some of its own products from China, and many of its smaller sellers also get products or drop-ship directly from the region. The spread of the pandemic and closure of factories, as well as shipping issues, then hit Amazon and its sellers quite hard.

Different points at the supply chain all ran out of goods or production capabilities, which started limiting what was available and hurt revenue for everyone involved. Diversifying sources and partners, both in goods and location, could have mitigated some of this risk.

Logistics professionals should look at regional needs and concerns right now. Identify where your product lines could struggle and if there are potential replacements for materials. If you’re a 3PL or providing other warehouse services, consider expanding to multiple locations. This can help you get goods to the end-customer faster as well as protecting fulfillment operations during COVID and similar black swan events.

Safeguarding people is just the minimum

At least seven of Amazon’s employees have died from the coronavirus, and the company has been very unclear about how many others have become ill. There is a new lawsuit by employees around the company’s contact tracing and potential exposure of employees — worth noting that the lawsuit doesn’t seek damages, just an injunction forcing Amazon to follow public health standards.

Throughout the pandemic, Amazon has taken heat for how it has treated its workers. This covered safety equipment and protections, sick leave and sending people home, and how it responded to labor demands. And, much of the anger is deserved.

The pandemic is scary and should be taken seriously. It was Amazon’s responsibility to make its employees feel like they were taken care of and protected.

Hopefully, this has served as a wakeup call for logistics and warehouse businesses. Your people matter, far beyond just what they contribute to the health of your business. There’s also a good chance your business will be judged by how you treat your teams. The world now makes much of this information public, too, if you need that extra layer of fear to get going and ensure your teams are safe, protected, and following the right policies.

Protect long-term customers and your business model

Consumers are spending more money on Amazon and shopping more often, largely due to the pandemic, but they’re not as happy about it. People saying they were either “very” or “extremely” satisfied with Amazon’s service fell from 73% to 64% from June 2019 to now.

The biggest frustrations have been delays in shipping and unavailable products. People view that they’re paying for the service, and its interrupted supply chain is still creating waves. Prime shoppers aren’t able to get the fast, two-day shipping on all purchases, despite being the most lucrative customers. Amazon has actually seen a decline in customer satisfaction over the last five years, according to that same report.

Growing discontent is a threat. Logistics and warehouse businesses don’t have the size of Amazon or the weight to throw around. If your customers aren’t getting what they’re paying for, they’ll move on to another service provider. The same is true if you’re late, damaging goods, or getting orders wrong. There are few real alternatives to Amazon, but there are many alternatives to all of us.

That’s perhaps the most important lesson in all of this for the logistics profession. Amazon needs to learn it before a genuine rival rises to compete, but it’s a good focus for warehouses starting today.

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Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.

supermarkets

From Physical Retail to Online Business: Marketing and Logistics Principles for Supermarkets

Supermarkets and retailers around the world began distributing goods via order channels over a decade ago, often as a future-oriented addition to a minor business segment, complementing standard services. As such, ordering online and receiving groceries via delivery is nothing new. Caught off-guard by the COVID-19 outbreak, however, supermarkets and food-retailers today are facing the challenge of switching their business model from physical retail to online order and delivery with unprecedented urgency. With physical distancing measures in place across entire countries, people increasingly prefer to avoid purchasing their groceries as walk-in customers to safeguard their health and well-being.

In this situation, the supermarket industry finds itself in a fundamentally altered market environment. The changes required from them are profound. Their typical infrastructure, such as buildings and storage centers, was strategically designed to walk customers through a supermarket, positioning products on shelves as per marketing and product placement logic, factors that become obsolete in an online retail world. What matters now is safe, reliable, and fast supply of customers’ online orders via dedicated distribution services. Logistics is at the core of addressing these challenges and the interface between marketing and logistics indeed becomes vital for fast implementation in the current scenario.

For a swift short-term switch, the prerequisites are two-fold: On the one hand, the supply of selected products needs to be covered either through local production or through available imports. On the other, a functioning online ordering front-end needs to be made available to customers. Yet, especially for supermarkets, it is the seamless and efficient operation of the “pick and packing” functionality that has now become the bottleneck.

This has several consequences that can be addressed: First, online supermarkets cannot provide the full portfolio of goods to their customers, at least for the time being. Sales analysis is required to meaningfully reduce the portfolio of products available online, and hence decrease the complexity of assembling orders later on. Amid the current circumstances, food and canned products will have higher importance than non-food items, and any of the latter to be upheld would need to be chosen sensibly. While customers may have less choice, portfolio reduction will help significantly in maintaining capacity for faster, more reliable physical delivery.

Second, shortened product portfolios can be divided into two categories: High runners and low runners. High runners are regularly purchased in high volumes, and their turnaround is quick. Low runners might be appealing in the physical retail world, but have less meaning in the current landscape. Third, high-running products within a simplified offering need to be stored differently for now. Usually, they would be placed decentralized along strategic points throughout the supermarket to attract attention. In a recalibrated setup, identified high runners need to be stored centrally in a dedicated area of the market where employees have unhindered access for fast “pick and packing”. Fourth, the commissioning time needed for workers to assemble an incoming order, needs to be kept as low as possible by minimizing physical distances required to walk.

Fifth, in packing the online orders received and getting them ready for dispatch, standardized package box sizes can be used to further reduce complexity. Just like in a game of “Tetris”, utilizing uniform cubic sizes will allow for packages to be stored in delivery vehicles in the most effective fashion. This is particularly relevant for food retailers that do not rely on third-party logistics providers for reasons of quality and food safety assurance.

Sixth, physical delivery of the commissioned orders should be prioritized and planned in a calculated way. Typical linear concepts such as “first order in, first delivery out,” will not be efficient under the current circumstances. Seventh, because of the reduced product portfolio, the products offered should not be static, but optimized on a regular basis. In other words, the now required short-term shift should not limit the industry to short-term thinking. Requiring customers to order in excess of minimum order amounts, imposing high delivery charges, expecting customers to accept long delivery times, accepting the jamming of orders, amongst others pitfalls – all of which we are currently witnessing internationally, can be avoided by emphasizing the outlined marketing and logistics principles.

While it is clear that supermarkets are at the heart of consumer goods supply during the current pandemic, it would not be reasonable to compare them with established online giants such as Amazon and others. Their business model and logistical setups are different, from the outset. This naturally calls for customers to exercise patience and good-will with their supermarkets for a while. Supermarkets are logistical hubs, run by people, for people, through people, even if for the time being, they may appear as an anonymous online screen only.

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Frank Himpel is a faculty member of the Engineering Management and Decision Sciences division at College of Science and Engineering at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar. Prior to moving to Qatar with his family in 2018, Frank served as a professor of business administration and logistics in Germany, where he also received his academic degrees. His research into aviation and air transportation management has taken him to several countries around the world.

 About Hamad Bin Khalifa University

Innovating Today, Shaping Tomorrow

Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development (QF), was founded in 2010 as a research-intensive university that acts as a catalyst for transformative change in Qatar and the region while having global impact. Located in Education City, HBKU is committed to building and cultivating human capacity through an enriching academic experience, innovative ecosystem, and unique partnerships. HBKU delivers multidisciplinary undergraduate and graduate degrees through its colleges, and provides opportunities for research and scholarship through its institutes and centers. For more information about HBKU, visit www.hbku.edu.qa.

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WFH? Here’s How to Manage your Ecommerce Order Deliveries Successfully.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has turned the whole world upside down. No one is sure about anything anymore. And that scares us. Luckily, the culture of remote working has been catching on. There are a gazillion tools that help you get rid of the snags of WFH. Regardless, managing your team as an ecommerce business owner remotely is no joke. Especially during a time when you cannot afford to lose business or customers.

Here’s a cheat sheet to stay on top of your orders in the age of social distancing.

1. Real-time shipment monitoring: The good news is that there is a greater push for shopping online. More and more customers are seeking comfort in the ease of ordering products online. In the US, there has been a surge in the ecommerce order volume for health and beauty products. The real challenge is staying on top of order fulfillment. You need a unified portal that tracks and monitors your packages in real-time. While your logistics team may be efficient, it is prudent to have visibility into shipment details. A real-time shipment tracking system that feeds you with the total shipments, total deliveries, potential delivery exceptions for every single day at all times. A real-time tracker is a great way to oversee your team’s order fulfillment efficiency with zero manual intervention.

2. Real-time Delivery updates: Your customers are anxious about their orders. More than ever before. If you see a sharp rise in the “ Where is my order” calls to customer support, rest assured, it is the new normal. Instead of overburdening your lean support team, send delivery updates to your customer proactively. Inform your customers of the order location. Auto-set triggers to initiate notification for any change in the shipment transit activity. Your customer stays in the know of the order shipment status at all times.

3. Custom exception notifications: Delivery exceptions are a downer. Lost, delays, damages can ruin your customer’s delivery experience. When left unattended, a bad delivery experience could quickly spiral out of control. To salvage this situation, act immediately. Whenever your real-time tracker notifies you of a potential disaster, come clean and inform your customer.

“Hey Mike. We regret to inform you that your order [ tracking# 887676756454] is experiencing a delay. But we assure you that we are working with our shipping partner to get the order to you at the earliest. Thanks”

Surprisingly, buyers are quite understanding and more cooperative once they are informed of any issue beforehand. In fact, your customers appreciate your transparency.

4. Carrier performance monitoring: When your business is fulfilling orders using more than one shipping carrier, how do you evaluate them. Even global carriers such as FedEx, UPS or DHL have their share of strengths and weaknesses. How do you play to the carrier’s strength so as to benefit the most? Easy. Measure their on-time delivery performances. Categorize their OTD across different zones, different days of the week and different package dimensions. Or simply plug into an Audit tool that can generate all this for you.

5. Cost-saving recommendations: Companies across the world are laying off employees. There is a huge drive for cost-cutting across organizations. Brick and Mortar stores are brainstorming ways to omnichannelise their user experience. The least you can do as an ecommerce business owner is to audit your shipping invoices. If you have not automated your auditing process yet, time to reconsider. An in-depth invoice audit not only results in instant savings on your shipping costs by disputing service and billing errors, but they also unearth strategies to optimize your shipping spend. The need of the hour is to shave away all the payment excesses and billing overcharges.

AuditShipment is an automated invoice audit service that identifies more than 50 carrier errors across vendors, disputes billing errors, validate tariff rate against SLA and offers benchmark discount reports. They also help get you refunds on late shipments from vendors like UPS, FedEx, etc. In addition to offering post-order fulfillment audits, our advanced technology also offers real-time shipment tracking and custom delivery notifications. With AuditShipment, stay on top of your orders at all times.

online

PREVENTING TRADE IN ONLINE FAKES

Online Buyer Beware

U.S. consumers spent over $600 billion dollars with U.S. merchants online in 2019. For consumers, online shopping is enticing for its convenience. With credit card in hand, shoppers can easily compare prices, make a purchase, and have the products shipped directly to their homes. The ability to sell online has transformed the ways in which manufacturers, shippers and retailers conduct business.

The evolution from brick and mortar to online stores has also made it more convenient for illegitimate businesses and criminals to pass off counterfeit products, which has attracted the attention of the U.S. government. Since November 2019, a flurry of government activity has focused on protecting consumers in the e-commerce environment.

Trade in fake goods 3.3 percent of world trade

Political Hue and Cry

The Senate Finance Committee examined online counterfeit goods last November when it issued a bipartisan report highlighting two key fact findings: U.S. businesses have difficulties preventing the sale of counterfeit goods online, and e-commerce platforms have no affirmative obligation to police counterfeit goods listings or to proactively remove suspected counterfeit items.

In January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report titled Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods, in which DHS found that e-commerce has contributed to a shift in the sale of counterfeit goods in the United States. As consumers increasingly purchase goods online, counterfeiters are increasingly producing a wider variety of goods that may be sold on websites alongside authentic products. The report adds that American consumers shopping on e-commerce platforms and online third-party marketplaces now face a significant risk of purchasing counterfeit or pirated goods.

A week after the release of the DHS report, the White House issued an Executive Order “Ensuring Safe and Lawful E-Commerce for U.S. Consumers, Businesses, Government Supply Chains, and Intellectual Property Rights Holders”. The Order implicates express carriers and the international postal system as contributing to the problem of imports of contraband and counterfeit goods.

American brands 24 percent of fake products seized

House Bill 6058, the SHOP SAFE Act of 2020, was introduced in early March in the House of Representatives. The bill proposes to impose contributory trademark infringement liability on e-commerce platforms unless they take steps specified in the legislation. The legislation received immediate support from several prominent industry associations.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association’s CEO stated that “more needs to be done to prevent counterfeit products from unknowingly entering the homes of American families.” In support of the bill, the CEO of the Personal Care Products Council stated that “counterfeit personal care products damage businesses, disregard regulatory protection and more importantly threaten consumers’ health and safety,” adding the Council encourages “Congress to establish a system that makes online marketplaces and others responsible for ensuring that products on their platforms comply with U.S. laws and regulations”.

Two days later, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stated that the convenience of e-commerce “has come at a devastating price: a proliferation of dangerous counterfeit goods that endanger consumers and property, and an army of counterfeit merchants from overseas that undermine American small businesses with unscrupulous tactics.”

Counterfeit medicines

Hiding on Plain Sites

In general, the owners of intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, patents) have had a lot to say about the online platforms and marketplaces that host e-commerce. As summarized in the Senate Finance Committee’s report, e-commerce platforms place the burden of policing and enforcing intellectual property (IP) on the IP owners, suggesting they do not have a duty to police counterfeit listings or proactively remove suspected counterfeit goods from platforms.

The proposed SHOP SAFE Act of 2020 would place a greater burden on platforms. By taking steps outlined in the legislation, platforms would be able to avoid liability for IP violations.

During the week the SHOP SAFE Act was introduced and a hearing held to address the issue of e-commerce threats to consumers and the economy, a technology company, PreClear, announced it is using “technology that pushes out the border and prevents infringing goods and potentially harmful goods from being exported to the U.S.” PreClear’s founder is quoted as saying that the technology is in use 24/7 and rejects thousands of non-compliant items daily.

There is no doubt that the sheer volume of infringing and other non-compliant merchandise available to consumers on the internet begs for a solution. The question is whether protection and enforcement begin after the items are in the stream of commerce in the United States or before the items ship to the United States. One of the missing variables in the trade policy equation remains how to prevent infringing items from leaving the country of origin in the first instance.

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Tim Trainer was an attorney-advisor at the U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. He is a past president of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition. Tim is now the principal at Global Intellectual Property Strategy Center, P.C., and Galaxy Systems, Inc.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

MODEX 2020 Day One: Millennials and Their Impact on Distribution

Day one of this year’s MODEX event kicked-off with its anticipated array of technology solutions in action and hundreds of global companies sharing the latest and greatest impacting the supply chain. From warehousing and robotics to transportation and packaging, just about every moving part of the supply chain represented a part of the show.

Keynote speakers such as Michael Roe, Senior Account Executive at DMW&H, took on challenges specific to the distribution and ecommerce sector: millennials.

The generational differences brought to the ecommerce market have shaken the way distributors approach customer adaptation. Furthermore, distributors are now challenged to balance multiple consumer demands while remaining relevant. Roe explains:

“Millennials changed retail because of the way they shop. Millennials value culture, experience, and they value the value of the experience. Although it may seem new, it may not be so new.”

“Distribution practices have changed because we have to adapt to the customer base. If you understand what your customer wants, you have to change your distribution and understand how it’s going to work.”

He goes onto explain that during the early days of ecommerce, companies like Amazon (known to-date as the fastest company to reach $100 billion in sales) changed that model and took the stores out of the equation. This effort was a strategy used by ecommerce companies to reinvent the consumer’s shopping and comparison experience by adding ease and convenience. Amazon created a presence everywhere through its distribution centers – they were simply found everywhere. To this day, Amazon continues to expand its footprint with the help of automation.

For the modern consumer, the days of mall visits are a thing of the past for some, while for others in the same consumer pool prefer the option of both ecommerce and the traditional store model. Baby boomers typically still prefer the in-store experience with 84 percent confirming this preference. They want their product when they leave and aren’t keen on the idea of waiting for something already paid for.

Meanwhile, Gen X prefers the option of comparison-shopping while reaping the benefits of maximized value. Millennials demand a hybrid model offering a complex blend of what Boomers and Gen X’ers seek. And they want it for a competitive price. Navigating this shift has left some scratching their head as they identify the most adaptable approach.

At the end of the day, it boils down to understanding the customer and identifying the best approach to navigating the balance of consumer demands. The millenials concept isn’t all that new at all. in fact, generational changes have always been present, it’s all a matter of anticipating these changes and preparing the solution accordingly. Roe concluded that “Every generation has changed their shopping preferences. With each generation comes faster response times to customer preferences.”