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UPS, FEDEX, AMAZON, TARGET, WALMART AND BEST BUY ARE KILLING IT IN E-COMMERCE. HERE’S HOW.

e-commerce

UPS, FEDEX, AMAZON, TARGET, WALMART AND BEST BUY ARE KILLING IT IN E-COMMERCE. HERE’S HOW.

COVID-19 has sped up e-commerce adoption across all industries as many businesses emerge from the global pandemic battered and bruised. At the end of 2019, e-commerce represented 11.3 percent of total U.S. retail sales. This percentage inched up to 11.8 percent at the end of the first quarter of this year. For the second-quarter, some estimates suggest this percentage could double, at minimum, as businesses closed, and consumers stayed home because of COVID-19.

Indeed, while increased online sales is not a new phenomenon, the speed with which new generations of customers have gone online is and has led to a change in demand that is unlikely to reverse quickly according to McKinsey & Company’s latest COVID-19 Briefing Materials: Global Health and Crisis Response (June 1, 2020). McKinsey estimates that 20-60 percent more U.S. consumers are digital as a result of COVID-19. Stickiness of digital, localization, and selectiveness in spending are major trends that businesses will need to address as the pandemic alters the way business is conducted.

McKinsey also found that consumers are shopping online more and are more willing to switch across brands. This can be seen in one the biggest “winners:” groceries. According to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, online groceries grew 110 percent in daily sales between March and April. However, there were delays in last-mile deliveries as companies including Amazon, Walmart and Instacart had to hire more workers to assist with the increased consumer demand.

In March, Amazon had to restrict non-essential shipments from third-party sellers and other retail vendors and focus on receipt, restocking and delivery of essential products that were most in demand. Meanwhile, Walmart touted not only its online store capabilities but also curbside pickup. The result was a strong first-quarter earnings for the period ending April 30 with comparable-store sales up 10 percent and e-commerce sales up 74 percent. Strongest sales were in food, consumables, health, and wellness.

Retailer Target also noted strong first-quarter sales. While comparable-store sales increased only 0.9 percent in its first-quarter ending April 30, e-commerce sales jumped 141 percent with 80 percent of e-commerce orders fulfilled in Target’s stores. Food and beverages rose over 20 percent, essential and beauty 10 percent, and home rose in the single digits.

As more workers work from home, electronics and furniture sales also increased. Best Buy noted in the eight days ending March 20, sales jumped 25 percent as customers purchased work-from-home-related items. As stores closed, online sales increased more than 250 percent, with half of those orders using curbside service available at most Best Buy stores.

For small parcel carriers including FedEx and UPS, the e-commerce volumes proved to be a boon. Both carriers have been preparing for rising e-commerce volumes by introducing such service offerings as seven-day deliveries, faster delivery times, later pick-up times, returns solutions, fulfillment solutions designed for e-retailers, alternative delivery pick-up and drop off locations and more. By all accounts, FedEx and UPS appeared prepared to handle the sudden e-commerce volume increases.

Just as the COVID-19 impact was being felt in the U.S., UPS noted in its first-quarter earnings that March volumes were 70 percent business-to-consumer (B2C) with April trending similar. FedEx also noted a similar trend with higher than usual B2C volumes.

The result was a sharp increase in residential volumes for both carriers and delays occurred. It should be noted that residential deliveries are typically more costly for FedEx and UPS versus business-to-business moves in which batches of parcels can be picked up and delivered at once.

A number of consumers took to social media to voice their frustrations and share photos of overflowing packages at carriers’ facilities. However, not only were carriers faced with higher than normal volumes, but they were also dealing with the coronavirus itself, affecting an unknown number of FedEx and UPS employees who would otherwise be sorting packages, loading and unloading delivery vehicles and delivering packages. Networks slowed as a result.

Having temporarily suspended all service guarantees and implemented international peak surcharges in March to handle a surge in international volumes, FedEx and UPS introduced new temporary peak surcharges to address the U.S. domestic situation.

UPS’s latest surcharges took effect on May 31 and addressed Residential, SurePost, and Large Parcels. Meanwhile, FedEx’s domestic temporary peak surcharges took effect on June 8 and addressed Residential for FedEx Ground and FedEx Express parcels, SmartPost, and Oversize Parcels for FedEx Ground and FedEx Express parcels. Keep in mind, these temporary peak surcharges are in addition to already existing surcharges and individual shipper’s contracted rates.

Besides surcharges, FedEx also capped some shippers’ volumes. This is a similar approach to what the carrier does during the holiday season if a shipper exceeds agreed-upon volume commitments. However, this is not the traditional holiday season and many shippers were caught off guard by this tactic. UPS also took a page out of their holiday season playbook and dispersed managers and supervisors across the U.S. to pitch in and help at sorting facilities and deliver parcels.

The rapid increase in e-commerce parcels seemed to catch FedEx and UPS off-guard and significantly impact their lower margin service, Residential. Moving beyond the COVID-19 crisis, e-commerce will play a bigger role in B2C as well as B2B. Businesses will utilize a number of creative ways to handle the last mile – curbside pickup, buy online, pickup in-store, residential, third party locations for pickup and delivery, and more. FedEx and UPS will need to work closely with customers to share capacity availability and concerns.

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John Haber is the founder and CEO of Spend Management Experts. With more than 25 years of supply-chain experience, John has helped some of the world’s leading brands drive greater efficiencies through their supply-chain operations while reducing transportation, distribution and fulfillment costs. He began his career at UPS, where he held various executive level positions in corporate finance and corporate strategy and was instrumental in developing profitability and costing models. He also managed the carrier’s National Accounts Profitability Group where he audited the pricing and profitability of UPS’ top customers. John’s finance background combined with decades of experience working with high-volume shippers enables him to offer unique insights on strategic supply chain planning, including distribution model optimization, transportation cost analysis and carrier contract optimization and compliance.

customer

Customer Preferences Are Constantly Changing — You Can Either Listen or Get Left Behind

Today’s consumers demand more from brands on every level. Millennials and Generation Zers have entered the driver’s seat with a combined $3 trillion in purchasing power, according to YPulse, and they have made their expectations clear.

Offering products at competitive prices is no longer enough — you must also provide a top-tier customer experience. That means creating open lines of communication with consumers, listening to their feedback, and offering products that anticipate their needs.

Customer experience becomes especially crucial during times of crisis, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This experience is reflected in the values that consumers want companies to hold, such as a move toward more natural, sustainable materials and processes. Companies that empathize with consumers and show compassion by reflecting these values in their manufacturing and logistics can stand out from the pack.

General Motors Co., for example, created and filled a new C-suite position for sustainability earlier this year to show its values to manufacturing partners and customers. When the coronavirus began to spread throughout the country, the company started creating ventilators to help people suffering from the worst cases of COVID-19. This appeals to consumers, as 53% believe brands should get involved in social issues that don’t impact their businesses.

There are countless ways to interact with your audience and gather insights into their preferences, ranging from social media posts to online reviews and email surveys. However, a shockingly low number of companies engage in these beneficial activities. According to a 2019 HubSpot study, 42% of companies say they do not collect feedback from their customers.

Creating products and services without listening to customers is a risky move. A great example of a company making this mistake came in 1985, when Coca-Cola changed its formula for the first time in 99 years. The company had gradually lost market share to Pepsi, so its leaders tried to make a splash with New Coke, which tasted more like Pepsi. Coke’s loyal consumers were blindsided by the change, however. They loved the taste of classic Coca-Cola and refused to embrace the new offering. Sales plummeted, and Coca-Cola reverted to its tried-and-true formula a few months later.

Microsoft made a similar blunder in 2012 with the release of Windows 8. Fresh from the failure of Windows Vista, the company decided to change the look and feel of its operating system completely to resemble Apple’s user interface. The decision backfired. Windows 8 released to poor reviews, and fewer consumers adopted it than Windows Vista. Since then, Microsoft has returned to its traditional look. 

Companies like Coca-Cola and Microsoft can afford to make big mistakes. But for most small and midsize organizations, these missteps can have detrimental consequences.

Follow these tips to ensure your operation remains on par with customer preferences:

1. Leverage CRM technology.

Manually tracking customer feedback is a fool’s errand. There are simply too many simultaneous conversations occurring across a multitude of venues. Instead, companies should use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track their interactions with current and potential consumers and to aggregate customer insights into a centralized location.

I took this exact approach while at my previous company, Schmidt’s Naturals. I was able to read customer reviews and communicate with users more efficiently. This helped us discover that customers wanted a new form of our product, which we delivered.

Most CRM platforms offer mobile access, which has been shown to improve productivity and make it easier to maintain open communication with customers. In light of the ongoing pandemic, some CRM vendors have stepped up to help struggling businesses. For example, Salesforce has gone above and beyond by offering free solutions to help companies communicate with customers during these uncertain times.

2. Reply early and often.

According to HubSpot research, a majority of consumers expect companies to reply to their messages in 10 minutes or less. To meet this expectation, devote team members to monitor your CRM system and social media accounts for questions and comments — and respond to them quickly.

You’ll also want to pay attention to comments on your social media ads, which are easy to overlook. Even if a question seems like a no-brainer, answer it. Chances are, several other customers are wondering the same thing.

Artificial intelligence and chatbots can be useful in this area. Many companies use these technologies on their websites and social media pages to help them interact with consumers, answer simple questions, provide product recommendations, and even facilitate transactions.

Yelp has done this well during the pandemic by offering updated services that allow restaurants and businesses to communicate more easily with their customers. For example, Yelp has added banner alerts to each restaurant’s page to display relevant information in a prominent spot.

3. Make authentic connections.

According to Quick Sprout, consumers are less likely to shop around and more likely to recommend you to friends if they feel an authentic connection to your brand. Chatbots might be able to handle the bulk of your customer interactions, but that doesn’t mean you should become overly reliant on the technology. Research from Sitel Group suggests that 70% of consumers would rather interact with a real person than a chatbot, so you’ll want to balance your use of AI with an authentic human touch.

Zappos is a shining example of a company that interacts authentically with consumers online. The shoe retailer’s social media team routinely — and cheerfully — replies to the majority of comments it receives, with team members signing each message with their initials. Even as Zappos transitions employees to work from home, it’s still focused on “WOWing” customers, vendors, and employees. During trying times, brands must adhere to the core values that have always driven them.

Customer preferences are always changing, and they fully expect the companies they support to keep up with them. This has never been truer than during a global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. To innovate and stay relevant, you must continually check in with customers, monitor their online conversations, and offer a tailored experience that shows you’re listening.

Modern consumers don’t just buy products — they invest in brands. They care about purpose, transparency, and authenticity. If your company does not deliver those three essential elements, it will not survive.

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Michael Cammarata is the president and CEO of Neptune Wellness Solutions, an innovative wellness company based in Quebec offering high-quality, environmentally friendly, natural alternative products. He also co-founded Schmidt’s Naturals, a fast-growing wellness brand that was acquired by Unilever in 2017.

supply chain

In the New Normal Supply Chain, Firms Must Pivot Quickly

What will our supply chains look like after the impact of the pandemic has turned from an all-hands-on-deck crisis to some sort of new normal? Will either demand or supply patterns return to pre-COVID-19 levels? And should that happen, will it be in carefully managed phases, or more rapidly?

Many consumer-market experts speculate that we may find some of the changes in consumer buying—such as increased adoption of food home delivery or stocking cupboards with monthly visits to large-format stores—habit-forming, even after restaurants, hotels and fast-food outlets are once again operating at max capacity.

To imagine the future, we can look at what’s happening in the present crisis—astonishing, even heroic acts of supply chain flexibility.

-An industrial gases company pivoted so it was able to deliver a month’s worth of desperately needed medical oxygen in three days.

-A chain of currently shuttered department stores has loaned its distribution facilities and assets to a supermarket chain under pressure to keep food shelves full, as far more of us than usual eat three meals a day at home.

-A plastics molding company designed, developed and distributed a foldable, portable intubation shield within weeks.

These businesses have something in common—they have been able to use data and industry-specific software solutions to quickly adapt to shifting fulfilment and delivery operations, often over and over.

The need for flexibility in making and distributing goods is and will be, most obviously on show at the delivery end, where goods and services reach the point of purchase or consumption. Today’s newly responsive, efficient supply chain needs to stretch all the way to the supermarket shelf or patient’s bedside.

That won’t be possible without the ability to access and analyze extraordinarily detailed data about delivery operations. For distribution companies, this will be the key to competing and winning in a post-COVID-19 business landscape, where the ability to pivot quickly will be most prized.

What’s absolutely crucial is that companies can quickly model multiple potential new distribution strategies before they make actual changes. When granular-level information about what was delivered where and when yesterday is fed into delivery-planning software, it can help supply chain executives run myriad what-if scenarios to determine what resources to deploy tomorrow. What inventory, trucks and drivers would be required if sales volume dropped 50 percent, or doubled? What if orders are fulfilled out of a different distribution center?

Purpose-built route planning software like Aptean’s answers these and other questions in a matter of minutes—a superpower we are all going to need in the future. For example, it means a retailer can pivot quickly and easily, back and forth between replenishing outlets and delivering to homes, or rapidly increase service to demand hotspots. Regarding the “new normal” in delivery operations, the only certainty will be uncertainty. The ability to deftly manage this unpredictability will be a huge competitive advantage.

And yet, for a large number of businesses, delivery operations remain hampered by a lack of visibility or fine-tuned control. Too many rely on rudimentary distribution planning tools, or even paper-based systems to plan and assess their delivery operations. This means they are caught flat-footed when circumstances demand rapid change. Worse, the critical information about particular customer needs and demands too often resides in the head or heads of delivery planning staff, and becomes unavailable when those workers go sick or leave.

We need to pay heed to the lessons we’re learning during this challenge. The supply chain, like the virus, is global, but its effects are ultimately felt in individual businesses and homes. For companies reliant on delivery operations, if management of the final mile wasn’t a strategic imperative before COVID-19, it is now. It’s time to wake up to that reality and build delivery capabilities that are more flexible, more collaborative and, above all, data-smart.

To learn more about how to automate your route planning, contact info@aptean.com.

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Nicole O’Rourke has 25 years of success in building strategic marketing organizations and is responsible for leading Aptean’s global marketing and communications efforts as Chief Marketing Officer. She previously held the position of Senior Vice President and CMO for Manhattan Associates. Before that, she served as CMO at Covance Inc., and in senior strategic marketing roles at Aetna and Johnson & Johnson. O’Rourke holds a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Cornell University. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, near Aptean’s global headquarters. Nicole can be contacted directly on LinkedIn or via info@aptean.com.