Supply Chain Bullwhip Effect: 5 Tips to Avoid Disruption

What is the supply chain bullwhip effect? It refers to increasing swings in inventory — in response to shifts in customer demand — as one moves further up the supply chain. As many organizations have discovered the past year, the bullwhip effect in supply chain quickly turns otherwise accurate forecasts into far-reaching inefficiencies.

Accustomed to seeing ample supplies of diapers, toilet paper, and cleaning products on store shelves, consumers were in for a shock when COVID-19 began to take its toll on the world’s supply chains in early 2020. Although the barest of shelves began to rejuvenate by midyear, there are still some lingering effects (plus the potential for more shortages later in the year and into 2021). 

Blame the bullwhip effect for creating chaos and uncertainty. 

“Supply chains allow companies to focus on their specific processes to maintain maximum probability,” Osmond Vitez writes in The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chain. “Unfortunately, supply chains may stumble when market conditions change and consumer demand shifts.”

Here’s what companies should be doing now to avoid supply chain disruption in the future. 

5 Supply Chain Takeaways for 2021

Under “normal” circumstances, companies invest in extra capacity, inventory, labor and work shifts to minimize the bullwhip effect or to avoid it altogether. The problem this time around is that otherwise routine approaches didn’t work. Demand sensing, forecasting and other forward-looking predictions were equally as ineffective, and mainly due to the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic. 

Here’s the good news: shippers now have boots-on-the-ground experience with a fairly extreme case of the bullwhip effect. Using their 2020 experience as their guide, companies can now prepare for the next potential disruption with a better understanding of the hefty impacts that it could have on their global supply chains. 

Here are five lessons that all companies should apply toward their future supply chain management: 

  1. Communication, data sharing, and visibility trump all when it comes to minimizing the bullwhip effect. One large national retailer, considered to be a leader in supply chain strategy, opened the lines of communication by allowing suppliers to access their inventory data. The result: increased customer satisfaction, a decrease in inventory and warehousing costs, and more stable supply lines.
  2. Third-party logistics experts have proven their worth. Well equipped to handle the logistics, transportation and technology that go into a well-oiled supply chain, experts like Transportation Insight know both sides of the business (i.e., shipper and carrier), and we can demonstrate and articulate how each node in the supply chain will benefit from a specific decision. 
  3. Scenario planning and simulations actually work. Think of them as the “war games” of your own supply chain, use them to run simulations on historical data across different hypothetical scenarios (e.g., if we can’t get raw materials from country A, how will it impact the rest of the supply chain?). Getting the answers to these questions before a disruption occurs will help you be more prepared in the event of a disruption.
Quickly accessible transportation performances dashboards, such as least cost carrier usage summary shown here, are critical to managing supply chain bullwhip effect.
  1. Use dashboards and control towers to get big-picture views in real-time. The days when a warehouse manager had to wait until the end of the month for a printed performance report are long gone. Thanks to advancements in technology, the same manager can get that information in real-time and then use it for good decision-making. Being able to drill down into order profits, for instance, will help you better understand what you should actually be charging for shipping. This, in turn, helps support good margin management in any business conditions.
  2. Alternate sources of supply are a good thing to have. In surveying 150 senior manufacturing executives, law firm Foley & Lardner found that most expect to make “fairly drastic” changes to their supply chains post-pandemic, including a shift away from just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) and sourcing in China. In Global Supply Chain Disruption and Future Strategies Survey Reportthe law firm says that of those companies that were operating in China pre-pandemic, 59% have either already withdrawn operations, are in the process of doing so, or are considering it. Many of those organizations are looking to reshore their operations closer to home in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

Depending on how you approach it, transportation can play a major role in avoiding the bullwhip effect in your supply chain. Through good communication and data-sharing across all supply chain partners, you’ll gain an understanding of both real-time and historical information as it relates to all points in the supply chain. The better decisions you can make, the better the odds of minimizing the bullwhip effect.    

Tame Supply Chain Bullwhip Effect: Manage Demand Waves

We examine the steps you can take to build a responsive supply chain management system in our latest Supply Chain Masters Series digital event. 

Watch the webinar to learn best practices for collecting, retaining and analyzing supply chain data. We also highlight the business intelligence solutions that drive continuous improvement and proactive strategy adjustment. 

Click the link below to learn supply chain strategies that minimize risk and protect your profitability today and tomorrow.

Indirect Spend Cost Increases Continue

Many of the elements driving these indirect spend cost increases cannot be controlled. 

That does not mean your organization is limited in its ability to manage and mitigate some of these rising expenses. A strong relationship with your support partners helps. So, too, does an expert partner with awareness of industry trends and spend management tactics that realize efficiencies, even during volatile times. 

To support your indirect spend management efforts in Q4 and heading into 2021, let’s explore some of the factors driving cost increases in your operation.

Resin Increases, E-Commerce Demand Drives Indirect Spend Cost Spike

Demand is driving up indirect spend costs on mailing envelopes, poly bags and other packaging materials used in e-commerce shipping.

Resin costs continue to fuel increases for companies that utilize stretch film, bubble wrap, flexible mailers and other polyethylene products. Each resin increase usually translates to a product cost increase of 6-7 percent.

Five consecutive months of resin cost increases have inflated prices 44 percent. That has translated to a 20-25 percent uptick on flexible packaging-related products costs, such as the Oct. 1 increase announced by all major manufacturers of stretch film. That is the second stretch film increase this year – and we anticipate there will be additional increases on other produces that rely on polyethylene. 

At the same time, demand is up in the plastic market compared to 2019. A growing e-commerce marketplace began booming when COVID-19 accelerated consumers’ online buying behaviors for a broader range of products, from groceries to home office products. 

More e-commerce businesses are utilizing plastic packaging, bubble bags and poly bags to ship their products, whereas a few years ago they put those items in small boxes. In the 2020 parcel shipping environment, it is more cost effective to use poly mailers, and that is impacting demand.

While demand is up, some of the major manufacturers implemented maintenance related shutdowns in Q2 and Q3, reducing supply in the process. Increased hurricane activity along the Gulf Coast is also forcing shutdowns for many resin operations and nearby poly-product manufacturing plants situated close to petroleum refineries in the region. Additional shutdowns will only create a tighter market.

Cardboard and Other Commodity Costs Require Awareness

Market conditions may not support a fourth quarter cost increase on corrugated and linerboard. Often the top producers of these materials float the prospect of a rate increase to gauge pushback. Expect talk of a 6-8 percent increase to emerge toward the middle or late part of the quarter. 

Due to activity that scaled back for many operations during the pandemic, the demand and inventory levers may not support that increase. Expect that increase to emerge in 2021.

As businesses continue to ramp up coming out of COVID-19, demand may increase on those cardboard products, as well as others that are already in short supply. Costs for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safety supplies and cleaning products will continue to escalate into 2021. That will cause pain for businesses from a pricing and availability standpoint. 

Cost increases on steel and related products will have a similar effect on MRO supplies. Expect price movement on nuts, bolts, fasteners, and other maintenance products in the early part of next year.

Lessons Learned for Future Performance

The challenges emerging in 2020 really validated the importance of strong relationships with your support partners. 

Do you always beat up your suppliers to get the best price?

If you do, the pandemic has taught us, you might suddenly find that you do not have a reliable supply base because you have not been loyal to a supplier. If you focus on buying what you need at the lowest cost and jump from vendor to vendor, when trouble arises you may not have a partner you can count on. 

Thanks to partnerships forged through Transportation Insight’s Group Purchasing Organization, we have the leverage to secure both the best product prices and the supplies you need to continue operating.

The pandemic has taught us that when businesses align with national supply partners, they have access to competitive prices and products delivered on a timely, reliable basis. 

This is especially important in the poly-packaging space. When times get tough and supply gets tight, suppliers will take care of the customers that have been good to them. They will have a difficult time supplying customers that are here today and gone tomorrow. 

Relying on long-term partnerships established in Transportation Insight’s Group Purchasing Organization, we are able to secure both good pricing and consistent supplies of products necessary to your operation. At the same time, we help you manage indirect spend areas that is driving up your overall operational costs that could be jeopardizing your profit. 

To learn more about how we help organizations manage their indirect spend and achieve double-digit savings watch our recent webinar.

E-commerce Supply Chain: 6 Challenges

The e-commerce supply chain challenges this year will be as long a family’s shopping list.

Here are the top 6 challenges to consider during the holiday peak shipping season.

  1. The traditional holiday peak converges with elevated online demand due. E-commerce sales will match or surpass brick-and-mortar. Consumers have multiple ordering channels to tap. E-commerce supply chain fulfillment and delivery operations need to respond to this decentralized − and unprecedented − demand-pull.
  2. Many supply chains remain out of kilter, one of the pandemic’s many legacies. U.S. inventories are at their lowest levels in five years, according to several analysts. Stock-outs have been common. U.S. imports are spiking. However, those goods may not reach store shelves or distribution centers in time to satisfy peak consumption needs.
  3. Parcel networks have been overwhelmed by demand since March 2020. This has led to inconsistent delivery performance across the board. National and regional parcel carriers have maxed out their fulfillment and distribution infrastructures. Late deliveries mean that consumers will be forced to accept holiday service levels that are beneath their expectations. If there is good news, it’s that e-commerce consumers are aware of the problems and will be more tolerant of slower delivery. What they demand, and should expect, is access to real-time information about any service issues.
  4. Consumers may order goods earlier than usual, allowing the supply chain to spread out delivery timetables to create a “load-leveling” effect. That would be positive news, but it should not automatically be counted upon.
  5. Warehouse space is severely constrained. Retailers with brick-and-mortar exposure need to position stores as “forward fulfillment” nodes. This allows orders to be pulled from store inventory and delivered over relatively short distances. Store networks will also support what is expected to be major demand spikes for in-store and curbside pickups of online orders. Pure-play e-tailers without store networks need to get creative.
  6. FedEx and UPS are levying meaningful peak surcharges on volumes from their largest customers. The U.S. Postal Service imposed the first peak surcharge in its history. Carriers say the fees are needed to offset their higher costs to serve. That is true, up to a point. Demands on delivery networks will be unprecedented, and carriers are pricing their services accordingly. Companies will have to consider this in their free shipping strategies to maintain profitability.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Retailers relying on the e-commerce supply chain are racing the clock and capacity constraints during holiday peak season.

Is it too late for shippers and retailers to get their holiday house in order?

Not necessarily, but it will take fast action and deep e-commerce supply chain planning. The challenges, as we’ve laid out, are immense. One key is to get ahead of the “demand curve.” When shippers gain visibility into end demand, they can prepare and execute a plan that enhances customer satisfaction and does so profitably. After all, meeting customer demands while losing money in the process is the hollowest of victories.

Managing the upstream channel is just as critical. Calibrating inventory flows with replenishment needs is a year-round challenge, and especially so during peak. The challenge is magnified this year with the headwind of COVID-19. Retailers need a clear line of sight into supplier production so they can forecast their inventory replenishment. In normal times, lack of visibility can lead to costly over-ordering to ensure adequate buffer stock. This season, however, over-ordering may be an adequate response, given how and where the inventory is positioned. 

During CSCMP’s EDGE 2020 Virtual Conference, Target Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Logistics Officer Arthur Valdez advised to “not be afraid to overreact.” That may sound counter-intuitive, but it can be an appropriate step during this peak. Target will be investing heavily in transportation services with a focus on improving delivery timing, Valdez said. Again, that appears to run against the grain as transport is considered a cost center. Yet it will be less costly than failing to execute deliveries because capacity is not available. A seasoned logistics partner can map out a strategy to leverage a customer’s existing assets, as well as to bring in outside capabilities that profitably meets customer demands.

This is especially important as shippers encounter an increasingly complex surcharge environment constructed by FedEx, UPS and, to a smaller degree, USPS and regional carriers.  High-volume FedEx and UPS customers could be looking at surcharges as high as $4 to $5 per piece. These are by far the most expensive surcharges we have ever seen. They can spell the difference between peak season success and failure, even if everything else breaks right. Any shipper expecting to tender significant traffic to either or both must be able to navigate those surcharges all within the framework of their logistics execution.

Amid the coming storm, it may be hard for folks to get a good fix on demand profiles beyond the holidays. But it pays to do so. For example, we may see another e-commerce surge early next year as fears of a combined COVID-seasonal flu cycle keep more consumers homebound. Already, we are seeing 2021 budget plans being adjusted to account for the lingering effect of COVID-19. We also expect similar peak season patterns for the next 3-5 years even after a coronavirus vaccine is approved and distributed. A strong logistics partner not only can help you get through 2020. It can prepare you for 2021, 2022, and beyond.

BOPIS: What Does It Mean for Shippers?

Buy-online-pickup-in-store, or BOPIS, has turned desktop computers and mobile phones into digital shopping carts.

Linearity is on the way out. So is the shipper’s control of the supply chain. E-commerce has spawned the “omni-channel fulfillment” model where orders, distribution and deliveries occur from anywhere, anyone, and at any time. The traditional supply-push scenario with shippers calling the shots is giving way to a demand-pull approach with consumers in control of the transaction.

The “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” (BOPIS) concept has become a key part of the asymmetrical, demand-pull world we live and work in. Who ever imagined a consumer ordering an item on an electronic device, having a retailer immediately pick and pack the product at one of multiple locations, and having it ready for the consumer’s arrival at a pre-arranged time, typically within a few hours and sometimes under an hour? 

Experience Depends on BOPIS Excellence

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving BOPIS toward mainstream adoption. Contactless interactions remain the order of the day – especially during the holiday season as health-conscious consumers continue to minimize time spent shopping in confined spaces. But BOPIS and other alternate fulfillment practices will outlast the pandemic. They will become permanent additions to the logistics landscape.

To execute an effective BOPIS strategy, shippers must understand retailers’ two overarching objectives: 

  • Ensure a seamless customer experience regardless of the order touchpoint.
  • Maintain adequate in-store inventory while expanding digital buying opportunities.

It is essential for retailers to have the right goods always available, and at the right place at the right time for the consumer. The “right time” could involve shipping to a residence or to another physical location. It could mean an in-person brick-and-mortar sale. It could mean BOPIS, or its first cousin, “Buy Online Pick Up at Curbside” (BOPAC). It could be a drop-shipping model where the shipper delivers directly to the store, thus minimizing the need to hold inventory in a space-constrained facility.

Striking the correct balance between in-store and digital inventory is just as critical. In-store customers are typically more loyal and buy more per visit than online customers. Retailers are loath to broaden their digital channels if doing so threatens to siphon off in-store activity.

Allowing both scenarios to thrive requires elevating visibility and analytics tools to new heights. A clear line of sight across the ecosystem allows shippers to align production with the retailer’s current replenishment needs. Analytics like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence also provide shippers with vital clues about consumers’ future buying habits so they and their retailer partners can stay a step ahead.

Technology is only as productive as the knowledge of the people managing it. Seasoned third-party logistics specialists understand how to design and implement a consistently successful BOPIS program that leverages cost-effective automation. They have worked extensively with all stakeholders, and can quickly adjust the go-to-market processes to optimize outcomes and avoid costly missteps.

Final Delivery Drives Loyalty or Brand Damage

If your customer's purchase isn't ready for the promised, rapid in-store fulfillment, your BOPIS strategy could have a negative result.

Online fulfillment is a fast-paced, often-unforgiving business. You are only as good as your last delivery. The margin for error narrows still further in a BOPIS transaction. Failing to execute an order after the consumer was assured the product was in stock and went out of their way to retrieve it is a breach of the “trust covenant” between the stakeholders. A BOPIS-related stock-out can seriously damage both brands, especially if a negative review spreads on social media.

The good news for shippers is that mastering this intense pivot point should result in enduring brand loyalty from consumer and retailer alike. Consumers prize convenience, and will favor retailers who make the BOPIS experience as easy as “pulling up and popping the trunk.” This goodwill extends to the products they pick up and take home.

Retailers, meanwhile, know how complicated it is to make life easy for today’s consumer.  Shippers who consistently execute will become sticky to the retailer. Product quality is obviously important. However, consumers often cannot discern between the nuances of multiple products of similar craftsmanship. What they do know, and will remember, is how, when and where they received their product. Or why they didn’t. That is how your brand will be remembered. In today’s world, logistics, more than any part of a shipper’s business, is becoming the competitive differentiator.

Navigate the New “Never Normal”

Planned properly, the BOPIS fulfillment model is a valuable tool in the highly competitive e-commerce space. 

The devil is in the execution.

Transportation Insight specializes in designing and executing supply chain strategy adjustments that empower you to provide the final mile delivery options required to wow end customers.

We created “The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal” to offer insight into the many variables involved in meeting consumers’ evolving demands for service. Read it today to understand the strategies that we can help you leverage to enhance customer service, grow market share and increase competitive advantage.

Logistics Outsourcing? 4 Things Your Partner Needs

Depending on the logistics outsourcing approach that your business deploys, make sure your provider’s skillset aligns with your organization’s needs. 

In today’s environment, supply chain practices are taking central focus. Recovery will depend on adaptive response to global pandemic, economic turmoil and a sharp shift in buying practices and delivery needs. 

A lot of companies don’t have a complete understanding of what their partners should be providing. Outsourced solutions supplement your internal response to these dramatic shifts. When your partner exhibits these 4 Outsourcing Must-Haves they have the buy-in to keep you in the game.

Your partner can’t deliver? Better understand why.

Outsourcing Must-Have No. 1: Responsiveness

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Is your logistics outsourcing partner ready to lend an ear - and act -  when you need help?

If you are not with a responsive partner that is able to enact change quickly within your supply chain, you are setting up yourself and your company for failure.

What does it mean to have a responsive partner? Your broker or 3PL should have a regular cadence for response. This is more than a quick, timely email follow-up when there is a problem – although that is important.

More than that, a responsive partner lends an empathetic ear to what is happening within your organization. That is fundamental to internal communications within the partner organizations, and it streamlines the ability to enact change that delivers value back to you – and your customer. 

A global pandemic validated the vital importance of having a responsive partner able to deliver value in the face of your individual disruption. 

Outsourcing Must-Have No. 2: Visibility

Not long ago, visibility was on the wish list. Today, it is a must-have for doing business.

Global supply chains have become so complex with the myriad of partners that exist around the world. Even if you only have a domestic North American supply chain, it is still quite complex.

Whether you outsource logistics, manufacturing or human resources, your partner should be able and willing to provide you with visibility to your data. It is valuable beyond belief. 

Accessing that data – as well as meaningful analysis of it – requires technology. You should have access and visibility to what is happening down to the SKU-level, in terms of historical trends in the shipping market with parcel, LTL, truckload and warehousing costs. 

If you are trying to make a decision on outsourcing part of your business, there is data that is going to help you with those decisions. If you do not have access to that data – or if you cannot get it quickly, you are with the wrong partner. 

Outsourcing Must-Have No. 3: Agility

Look back at the first half of 2020. How many supply chains were turned upside down? Right or wrong, so many risks for the future have emerged.

For example, what happens if, culturally, we decide not to continue doing business with China? What if a big portion of your market does not want to buy from a company that sources from China? 

With strategic alignment to your business and operational agility, your logistics outsourcing partner has the ability to anticipate market changes and provide a response plan that mitigates any emerging threats to your profitability. 

Whether achieved through their own technology stack or internal alignment, your partner needs to have the flexibility to adjust as your business changes.

Look at the retail world. In the early stages of COVID-19, every retail store closed apart from the essentials. That spurred panic for organizations still trying to figure out ways to sell products. It forced the traditional retail model further toward e-commerce. 

Companies that have really thought about their supply chain were able to begin using their retail footprint to fulfill from stores. Ship-from-store strategies kept inventory moving without requiring moves from distribution centers scattered throughout the country. 

That helped Levi Strauss expand its e-commerce business 25 percent during its second quarter, including a 79 percent uptick in May. About one-third of that online demand was fulfilled by stores. Doing that requires a massive change. If you do not have the internal resources of Levis, you need a partner that can support you. 

Outsourcing Must-Have No. 4: Expertise

Global networks are complex. Technology is changing rapidly. Your supply chain drives many moving parts across your business. A world-class logistics outsourcing partner should provide expertise in managing each of these dynamics – in addition to its core executable value. 

What does that mean? You need a partner that is delivering expertise around technology, process, innovation and their experiences in other industries.

A supply chain master that manages hundreds of supply chains across diverse verticals, service models and geographies has the ability to apply strategies that deliver optimal logistics performance across a broad variety of operational environments.

That broad experience means that when there’s a new technology, innovation, or process that might improve manufacturing, our supply chain leaders are looking for ways to apply best practices in retail or distribution arenas.

If you are in a monitored outsourcing model focused simply on tactical execution, expertise has limited value. 

However, if you are looking for a truly strategic, orchestrated relationship with a partner, expertise keeps your company moving forward in a disruption-filled marketplace.

What Sets Your Logistics Outsourcing Partner Apart?

If you have a responsive partner that is agile, flexible and able to deliver visibility and a deep bench of experience – hold on to it. These are prerequisite traits for a successful service relationship.

It also helps to know some of the traits that set a logistics provider apart in the marketplace. Three capabilities really elevate the performance of your entire supply chain. We detail these qualities during “The Logistics Dilemma: Insource vs Outsource.” 

Watch the webinar today. Hear real world scenarios where our clients have realized elevated value from:

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Strategic alignment

Your organization works every day to fulfill strategies focused on meeting the needs of your customers – and deliver additional value along the way. If your partner does not have alignment to and understand your strategy, how can you expect them to align and create more value for you?

Open the webinar and learn more about what sets a Supply Chain Master apart.

Outsource Logistics: Which Model is Right for You?

Digging deeper into options to outsource logistics, the situation gets a little more gray – especially in the complex supply chain and transportation management environment where so many aspects of your business can be affected by diverse nodes across your network.  

If you are reading this blog, you probably know what is involved with insourcing your supply chain management. Let’s explore three approaches to outsourcing. The model that best fits your business depends on your goals.

  1. Complete, Monitored Logistics Control
If you outsource logistics in a monitored way, your cost and control is likely to be low

If complete in-house operational management is at one end of the spectrum, monitored outsourcing is on the opposite end. This is the throw-it-over-the-wall type of outsourcing.

That’s the original equipment manufacturer that says, “Hey, I need to make this widget. Here are the specs. This is how many we need. This is when we need them.”

You might examine activity once a quarter, once every six months, maybe only once a year. If something breaks, it is very hands-off.

A lot of times in logistics management, there’s not a lot of differentiation in that monitored outsourcing. A lot of times, it is going to cost a lot less and yield a lot less added value. In this scenario, you don’t have the management resources or the people you need it to manage a business function, so you put that completely on your service provider.

  1. Orchestrated Outsourcing 
In an orchestrated outsourcing model, you relinquish a limited amount of control, but costs tend to be higher.

With an insourcing environment, you have complete control, but you also face the most cost in the staffing of expertise, technology resources and all those strategic drivers in your supply chain performance.

In an orchestrated approach you relinquish a measured amount of activity.

A lot of 3PL relationships today operate in an orchestrated model. When you outsource logistics, you are relying on a 3PL, maybe it’s a broker that executes shipments, but you are still managing them. You have staff assigned to oversee their performance, track those shipments and make sure that 3PL is doing the things they need to do.

There is a lot more review, a lot more interaction, and of course, you are still driving that strategy piece.

  1. Hybrid Logistics Outsourcing Model 

In a hybrid logistics outsourcing approach, key functions are managed by experts that can advise your overarching decisions.

You can often realize the most benefit through a hybrid approach. Here, you outsource key functions and access expertise-driven intelligence that supports ongoing improvement. You give up a measured amount of control, but develop a strategic trust that can help you determine service adjustments as business demands change.

In a hybrid approach, our logistics experts might be on site with you, right in there operating in your supply chain. As things change, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, as your partner, we are there ready to pivot our objectives as well.

This creates a strong strategic alignment, and it allows for a lot of trust and transparency. We operate as your logistics department, utilizing performance monitoring processes that help you hold our team more accountable for results. 

What Logistics Outsourcing Approach is Best for Your Business?

Understanding your company‘s internal people, process innovation, technology, and culture helps you decide whether to insource or pursue orchestrated, hybrid or monitored outsourcing.

You can start with one model and adjust with emerging change – in business strategy, human resources, marketing or supply chain disruption. The challenge is, as we saw in the first half of 2020, things are changing at a pace we have never experienced before. 

Having a strategic partnership in place can help you adjust the control you want to have. More importantly, in that close partnership you will always realize more value in responsive communications and rapid deployment of alternative supply chain strategies.

If you are deciding whether supply chain management is best insourced or you are ready to outsource logistics for your business, watch our webinar, The Great Dilemma: Insource versus Outsource.  It shares four things your logistics partner must be able to deliver, as well as company traits you need to understand before making a decision.

Lean Supply Chain Perspective Required for New Normal

Meanwhile, the pressure is on lean-focused supply chain experts expected to examine internal processes and accommodate supply chain shortfalls. Their perspective is integral not just to the continuous improvement of in-house activities, but, importantly, to the network adjustments that come with the re-shoring of supply production.

Unfortunately, just as COVID-19 disrupted manufacturing networks, it also created new challenges for keeping lean supply chain teams engaged. Workforce reductions and remote operating environments create hurdles for maintaining the close awareness required to identify wasteful activity and efficiency improvement opportunities.

As manufacturers focus on a new normal, a lean perspective supports supply chain corrections, and the timeline for turnaround does not need to be limited by social distancing and remote environments. An expert partner can help you identify and execute the most effective supply network strategy, so you can keep focus on advancing your business.

New Manufacturing Normal Begins to Emerge

Midway through a year of disruption, we are hearing common refrains among manufacturers across diverse industries. It seems that, regardless of the supply chain network, the comments are very similar:

  • Manufacturing is moving toward reshoring to reduce supply chain disruption and distance.
  • Constant supply chain focus is needed to eliminate current and future supply chain disruptions.
  • Supply chain failure is the No. 1 reason a company is having issues in start-up or restart activities.
  • Adjusting product mix and production set-up is a struggle.
  • Lean training and learning is difficult outside the facility “Gemba”

Focused on cost, some companies furloughed or laid off their lean teams. This leads to significant impact across the organization, often requiring executive attention to resolve emerging network problems. Losing the process visibility provided by these experts can lead to costly misalignment across your existing network and in any future supply chain adjustments.

Problem Solving for Inventory Management, Network Changes 

Looking deeper at these trends, some of the specific emerging problems can be resolved through the total supply network awareness your lean expert maintains. 

Inventory management drives the biggest questions manufacturers encounter as they reset to serve a new normal. Common inventory problems in our assessments of  manufacturers include:

  • Too much of it, not balanced or not accurate.
  • Too much of the wrong inventory for the manufacturing product family mix.
  • Not enough of the correct inventory to manufacture replacement parts and service clients.
  • Never adjusted parts inventories for major equipment repairs.
  • Single sourcing from Asia, Europe, etc.

Losing the visibility of your supply chain expert can quickly impact your transportation cost, especially in a volatile environment following a significant disruption.

Organizations that scaled back their lean team during COVID-19 experienced common outcomes:

  • Quickly lost awareness to inbound ocean transportation and ensuing TL freight moves
  • Unprepared for spike in air freight costs for productions and parts inventory
  • Increased costs such as detention fees resulting from misaligned lead times and production planning
  • Reduced capacity for problem solving 

In the “old” normal environment, while your lean resources maintained process awareness required to exert continuous improvement, ongoing training also offered perspective for global practices that are applicable within your organization. Losing access to those resources – usually provided on-site – impedes your ability to evolve your processes.

Leverage a Master Partner to Evolve Processes

There is no doubt that a loss of process monitoring inside the operational environment leads to reduced visibility. Lean operators need to be in the Gemba to be most effective.

In a quarantine or remote environment, it is not always possible to have that consistent on-site presence – but, you don’t always need it. Some organizations have achieved success with lean supply chain teams of two that maintain social distance and COVID-19 protocols. While this has slowed Kaizen work, there has been success, it just takes longer than planned. As a positive outcome, lean leaders have executed administrative items for each Kaizen, a process that can be carried forward.

A problem solver’s mentality supports these types of in-the-trenches adjustments, and they are vital not only to your disruption response, but to the ongoing evolution of your supply chain. We offer our clients access to that mentality on an ongoing basis, using supply chain data analysis to provide awareness of emerging improvement opportunities.

At the same time, we offer organizations the ability to develop their own internal lean expertise. While protocols of a contact-conscious environment can limit on-site activity, the power of modern technology not only supports classroom-like digital learning, it also grants virtual visibility on par with physical presence.

For more information about invigorating your organization’s supply chain capabilities to support reshoring or other new practices for a new normal, schedule your lean supply chain consultation today. Whether you want to bolster the expertise of your internal resources or plan and design a supply chain network suitable for serving your customers tomorrow, we apply our mastery to help you establish efficient processes that control cost and improve service.

Post-Pandemic Tactics for E-Commerce Logistics Advantage

Before COVID-19, businesses looking to build an e-commerce presence were hamstrung by the lack of speed in developing their current labor pool with the skills required for e-commerce, as well as fulfillment automation capability. Others dabbled in a web storefront strategy. These companies typically lacked the sophisticated technology, generally a good Warehouse Management System (WMS), needed to pick multiple orders to a cart and then have them quickly and accurately auto-sorted through a RF or mobile device. The result was unsustainable inefficiencies. We saw that e-fulfillment costs in some cases exceeded 25 percent of sales.

In the meantime, Amazon.com, which controlled about half of all U.S. e-commerce going into the crisis, kicked into high gear during it. At one point during the crisis Amazon customers spent as much as $11,000 a second on its products and services. By contrast, nearly 1 million traditional retail workers were furloughed in one week, and more than 250,000 stores had shut down. Many stores may never reopen, or may look very different going forward. The same goes for fulfillment centers. Many have and will continue to be physically modified to ensure worker safety. The flow of operations may need to be modified as well.

For many e-tailers, the “new normal” of e-commerce will be challenging and may seem insurmountable, but getting to the other side is doable. 

E-Commerce Logistics Strategy for the New Normal

Understand what current state looks like in the new normal − starting with your cost per-order. 

Are your costs segmented by freight, management and supervision, labor, facilities and shipping supplies?

Then understand what and how these costs can be managed, optimized and reduced. Typically, freight costs exceed the sum of the other components. Reducing freight dollars spent per revenue dollars created should be an immediate focus. 

The questions to ask from this point are critical to the next step. 

  • Is your network aligned to best serve the customer? 
  • Are your shipping lanes optimized? 
  • Are you using the best shipping partners to meet your strategic goals? 

Stay on top of your rates. Evaluate them frequently, and renegotiate them when appropriate. 

This is where collaborating with a seasoned logistics expert adds enormous value to you e-commerce platform. Our long and deep relationships with carriers, our data analytics and information mining expertise and our proprietary audit technology platform give you end-to-end visibility to answer those key questions.

Align Your Operations and Your Network

Once your network is optimized, it is time to consider how your operations play into that. What questions can quickly be addressed?

By asking these questions and making some quick, deployable solutions, you can improve your profitability profile in short order.  

Benchmark your service-level performance with best-in-class metrics. How does your fulfillment center operation compare with leaders in the field? 

Focus strongly on the efficiency of your picking and packing operations, which can account for more than half the cost of your order outside of outbound shipping. A thorough analysis of your fulfillment center process will yield changes to improve operations and reduce costs.

Apply technologies where it makes financial sense and where it fits your growth plans. Many legacy WMS applications were designed to manage fulfillment orders in pre-determined waves. They were not optimized to manage the unpredictable flows of e-commerce traffic. Today’s technology is built to allow orders to be picked for store and e-commerce simultaneously. This enables businesses to leverage inventory buys to achieve economies of scale.

Also, consider a multi-fulfillment center strategy, including BOPIS strategies. These can expedite orders to consumers quicker and reduce shipping costs. Facilities expansion can carry with it significant operating expense. An expert partner with a robust portfolio of data, expertise and carrier relationships can support your decision-making on this critical issue. 

Improvement Focus Drives Customer Experience

Above all, be consistent with ongoing process improvements. Don’t consider e-commerce logistics just a project, it is a process that has to be constantly improving. Companies that dedicate full-time employees to process improvements are those that make the biggest strides. 

Analyze your facility space requirements, and how labor is being utilized. Be open to suggestions on how to improve productivity and boost customer satisfaction. Make it a part of your corporate culture.

According to a recent study, millennial consumers who account for about $1.2 trillion in U.S. retail sales say they value the “experience” that accompanies an online order as much as the product itself. The “Generation Z” group coming up behind the Millennials shares those sentiments. 

At the core of that experience is fast, timely delivery supported by in-transit visibility across multiple digital platforms. Succeed in executing on that final step, and you will achieve favorable word of mouth that can help build a brand. Fail, and that brand may not get a second bite.

Those attitudes were in place well before Covid-19. And they are unlikely to diminish. It is both an enormous opportunity, and daunting challenge. Is your e-commerce strategy ready?

Master Logistics, Power Competitive Advantage

You invest a lot of money in your logistics network. But are you maximizing its value? Do you feel like your logistics operation is more of a cost center than a tool of competitive advantage?

It doesn’t have to be. In fact, with the right strategy and execution, logistics can drive the success of your enterprise. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Dell made logistics a priority, with spectacular results. There is no reason you can’t do the same!

To master your logistics strategy, read “Moving to the Front of the Line: Making Logistics a Competitive Advantage.”

Budget Planning 2021: 9 Supply Chain Things to Know

The booming e-commerce marketplace opens access to new segments of consumers seeking direct delivery on a growing list of staples previously procured through brick-and-mortar channels. Meanwhile, end users seeking personal protective equipment, sanitizers, cleaning supplies and other products required for contagion response will create new revenue streams for organizations nimble enough to shift supply chains and adjust processes to meet fluctuating demand.

Responding in this environment, executives who prioritize supply chain strategy will be best positioned to not only meet and exceed customer expectations, but also control costs that jeopardize bottom line profit.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020 here are some looming trends I expect to emerge, as well as recommendations for how a supply chain master can continue to control business performance, even through the disruptions that are bound to happen in 2021.

4 Supply Chain Predictions Influencing 2021 Planning

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, ongoing marketplace awareness informs a few predictions that will determine priorities for 2021.

  • The recovery will be a saw tooth, with an upward trend. There will be ups and downs as economic activity re-emerges, particularly in regions that experience fluctuating levels of COVID-19 outbreak and control. Companies have to really protect themselves for that and plan alternative ways to serve their customers and compensate for workforce disruption. As Gartner points out, the path to recovery will be unique for every organization as they respond, recover and renew.

  • Companies that deal in non-essential goods will struggle, and they need to be the most agile. Consumer spending will continue to shift, largely toward e-commerce channels. There’s going to be fluctuating demand for hand sanitizers, cleaning products and personal protective equipment. A lot of companies can maintain workforce in the manufacturing realm by pivoting to secondary products that support pandemic response and recovery. Expect demand spikes, particularly related to the back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons. Organizations impeded by shipping limitations, will depend on a nimble supply chain to access available shipping channels.
  • Boards and executives will expect robust contingency planning to deal with disruptions. Contingency planning is one of the most critical pieces that informs everything else about how you respond to another likely disruption, whether it be a COVID relapse, an unexpected stop in production or depletion of raw materials.
  • Companies that invest in process and technology during this time will see the best long-term growth. These companies will be in the best position to take advantage of consolidation in their respective industries.

Five Recommendations for 2021 Planning

Organizations creating budget plans for 2021 should consider these recommendations to maintain customer service levels while controlling costs.

  • Treat the 2021 budget as a range and be prepared to adjust as conditions on the ground evolve. In many ways budgeting will be a guessing game, and companies need to put together a plan based on contingencies. When revenue doesn’t meet expectations, have a plan for cost-cutting measures to implement. If earnings swing the other way, identify investments to make. Executive leaders must commit to evolving cost management so that scarce resources and funds consistently flow to the most valuable business outcomes.

  • Leverage supply chain resources to determine corporate impact (cost, service, risk) of plans produced by the other departments (sales, procurement etc.). Experts working in supply chain possess analytical capabilities and a global picture of an organization’s total business. This supports acute awareness of the control levers that affect cost and service. When you put supply chain masters in the role of trusted advisor, they are in the best position to help those executives and leadership boards navigate tumultuous waters.
  • Take a partnership approach with all relationships. The supply chain is dependent on everyone succeeding. Often, by working with an expert supply chain partner you can access end-to-end transparency that facilitates more opportunities across your network. That visibility allows you to be a better partner to your domestic and foreign vendors. With good clear communication around sales information, time-in-shipping data and other key performance indicators, you can help predict when you will need to reorder supplies and track trends that can help drive production guidelines. This supports a workflow that keeps your shelves stocked with the right items, and customers happy with the efficiencies of their orders.
  • Aggressively evaluate the entire supply chain and take an open-minded approach to the long-term structure. Ensure the supply chain strategy aligns with corporate strategy – and leverage analysis and expertise to inform that strategy. This is especially important as e-commerce demands continue to drive increased expectations for flexibility in customers’ end delivery options. You may be getting product shipped out the door – but are you making any money on it?
  • Low water exposes a lot of rocks. Take the opportunity to evaluate internal processes and systems. Balancing resiliency and efficiency, supply chain leaders can secure their networks. A recent Gartner survey revealed that only 21 percent of respondents believe their supply chain is resilient enough to provide “good visibility and the agility to shift sourcing, manufacturing and distribution activities around fairly rapidly.”

A global pandemic changed priorities for many supply chain leaders, elevating the agility of their network alongside the balance of service and cost. As Gartner points out, more than half of its survey respondents expect their supply networks to be “highly resilient” within two to three years. 

Master your 2021 Budget Planning

The first half of 2020 provided painful lessons for many organizations, some of which still face jeopardy. The businesses that quickly adapted to dramatic marketplace changes have often done so through an effective strategy for risk management. 

Future success relies on your ability to assess potential risks that exist in your network and create alternative ways to plan demand response. Contingency planning today, especially in light of network weaknesses revealed in the past six months, will position your business to not only weather the storm but also seize growth opportunities.

While you are in the midst of managing your business, a supply chain master can provide the risk assessment and strategic planning required to establish a flexible responsive network. With that, you will always satisfy customers in the most cost-effective way.

Supply Chain Data Visibility to Plan, Adjust, Communicate

Shippers with good visibility into all aspects of their supply chain – including into suppliers for multiple tiers – can build resilience and agility to lessen the impact of disruptions like global pandemic, natural disaster or political upheaval. Supply chain data visibility, however, is just one piece of the puzzle. Your ability to act on that visibility is the key.

Drive Network Improvement with Data Visibility

Supply chain leaders around the globe are basing immediate action on real-time supply chain information – often captured through emerging supply chain technologies.

According to a recent Oxford Economics survey of 1,000 supply chain leaders, 49 percent – the top 12 percent of respondents – can capture real-time data insights and act on them immediately. Of those surveyed, 51 percent use Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics to capture information. Although more than 75 percent of respondents recognize the importance of visibility into sustainability practices of their organization and suppliers, few have visibility into either.

While those leaders may realize new efficiencies in tactical execution, truly developing a strategic plan for procuring services and serving customers, requires more than a customized transportation management system.

Visibility End in Mind: Plan, Adjust, Communicate

You can know where to find the load, the inventory or the vendor, but you need technology, tools and talent to execute three steps integral to monetizing that information into cost savings or enterprise growth:

  1. Supply chain visibility is vital to initial network design, as well as contingency planning that may be required during an era of disruption.
  2. Supported by a contingency plan or evidence-based analysis, visibility empowers tactical operators and executive leadership to adjust their strategy to mitigate risk or seize an opportunity.
  3. Close the loop by communicating those adjustments to customers and supply chain partners, and enhance experiences while controlling costs across your supply chain.

Ultimately, visibility into your end-to-end supply chain helps you understand how to pull different levers across your network and increase the return on investment of the whole supply chain.

Real-Time Supply Chain Data vs. Real-Time Access

There’s a big difference in real-time data and real-time access, the latter can be far more valuable because allowing data to solidify can increase accuracy. The most important real-time data is track and trace. Although from the standpoint of being actionable, there is likely limited actions that can be taken to impact it other than communication.

There’s a balancing act between the information you have and the amount of lag time required for the information to be validated and integrated across the reporting. The length of time the data needs to “soak” depends how you intend to use it. You want to be able to correct performance before it gets out of hand, but at the same time you don’t want to make decisions based on incomplete data.

For instance, bidding on an LTL shipment in the TMS, you don’t want your financial reporting to reflect cost until the carrier has invoiced with any additional accessorials applied. Real-time access to your latest data gives you the power to identify trends so you can validate or eliminate services for improved cost control.

Mastering Data Visibility

Supply chain data visibility is accessible through business intelligence technology like Insight Fusion.

Deep, multi-layered visibility is a fundamental ingredient in elevating your supply chain to its optimal performance. Solutions for achieving that visibility are widely available, but none deliver greater supply chain mastery than Transportation Insight.

We build personalized solutions that give you visibility to rate savings, optimization opportunities and behavioral changes across the organization that reduce cost and can fund your initial start-up in the process. Executing in those areas, our team leverages transportation technology tools to improve the flow of data to drive ongoing process improvement that generates waste reduction, improves equipment utilization and protects profit margins.

Master visibility across your supply chain with our free resource “Mastering Your Supply Chain: Layers of Visibility.”  Download it today to access the information you need to improve service and achieve monetary savings.