Brian Higgins, principal, supply chain and operations leader with KPMG, offers a post mortem on the recently concluded 2021 holiday retail season.
Early indicators are that for retailers, the 2021 holiday shopping season was regarded as “pretty successful,” says Higgins, despite the unprecedented level of uncertainty and concern going into the last quarter of the year.
Both consumers and retailers, warned of impending disaster, took steps to prepare for the worst. The former shopped early, and the latter staged inventory sooner than normal (to the extent that was possible, given growing congestion at seaports and other nodes of the supply chain). All of that paid off in the form of a strong increase in retail sales over the same period of 2020, in the area of 8%-10%.
Consumers embraced the options offered by retailers, such as curbside pickup and buy online, pickup in store, even as they made personal visits to stores. For their part, package deliverers such as UPS and FedEx anticipated the crunch and navigated it “fairly well,” placing caps on the volume of business they would accept from large customers. All of this took place against a backdrop of “crazy variability,” continuing a trend that was evident for the third straight year.
Fears of a disastrous holiday season largely centered on the reality of a labor shortage that touched all aspects of the supply chain, from ports to warehouses and trucks. Nevertheless, Higgins says, retailers were able in most cases to get enough product in stock and on the shelves for e-commerce orders
Having emerge from the latest peak season, retailers and supply chain providers will need to move away from the “unnatural acts” they were forced to perform in order to meet immediate needs, to a more considered approach to improving supply chain efficiency, Higgins says.
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