Holiday celebrations have only just begun, but the shopping season started months ago as brands and retailers attempted to lengthen the traditional eight-week window. They launched Black Friday sales before Halloween, hoping shoppers would place online orders sooner and avoid a deluge of bottlenecks that could clog and possibly disrupt shipping channels in the weeks ahead. Brick-and-mortar retailers also wanted to attract in-person buyers sooner to prevent the typical Black Friday-sized crowds from forming both in and outside of stores, which isn’t practical or safe in the current climate.
In order to keep up, supply chains must be agile and resilient. They will need to adapt to retail and/or shopping behavior changes on the fly and keep up with the latest guidelines related to the pandemic. The latter element is particularly noteworthy now that additional measures are being taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. From California to New York and many states in between, new restrictions are being imposed. These changing guidelines and limitations could affect how people shop, which directly impacts the supply chain and when goods are delivered.
Businesses can get through the holidays, unplanned events and other difficult periods by being ready to adapt as necessary. This will allow them to maintain operations and ultimately provide the best and most profitable results.
Hit or Miss
Supply and demand can be hard to predict. Suppliers typically try to overcome their issues — and prepare for known events — by forecasting the campaign. This involves a degree of risk as they build up their stock, which in turn requires a bit of guesswork as it’s dispersed to various locations. At best, this is a hit-or-miss strategy that can result in significant challenges. If suppliers’ forecasts don’t hit the mark, they could be in a tough spot sometime down the line.
However, with retailers striving to create a seamless omnichannel experience, it is impossible to create a supply chain with flawless performance and zero lead times. This is why it is extremely important for supply chains to be responsive to changing market conditions. In doing so, they can better support retailers by making them more resilient to changes in the market.
With the holiday shopping season already here, an economic recession, an ongoing pandemic and many questions surrounding what comes next, resiliency has never been more vital.
Black Friday is just one of many recurring events that can cause supply-chain disruptions. The future of holiday shipping will be guided by data, empowerment and decision-making, which have become indispensable in this unpredictable environment.
Data from the National Retail Federation shows that planned spending has increased for most holidays and events in 2020, even during the pandemic. For example, the average person spent or planned to spend $204.74 on Mother’s Day (increasing by $8.27 from 2019), $148.58 on Father’s Day (increasing by $9.61) and $92.12 on Halloween (increasing by $5.85).
However, spending also increased for Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl, which occurred well before any social distancing guidelines or stay-at-home orders were issued. Planned spending for the winter holidays currently sits at $997.79, roughly $50 lower than in 2019, but that could certainly change in the weeks ahead.
Just as consumers may adjust their buying patterns to meet their current needs or situation, supply chains need to be prepared to do the same and remain agile at all times. Instead of relying on a steady state planning method, supply chains should find tools to deploy an event-based planning strategy that allows them to quickly pivot production, locations and other facets to keep up with logistical changes. This approach builds agility into the supply-chain strategy, which can go a long way in providing the flexibility that’s required to adjust to fluctuating market conditions.
A Position of Strength
Both agility and resilience are especially vital in dealing with events no one saw coming, as evidenced by the ongoing pandemic. As a result, demand immediately increased for toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and other essential items, causing shortages that could return if COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Additional shortages would further strain businesses that have already encountered significant challenges this year.
By taking the time to infuse their supply chains with agility and resilience, businesses can strengthen their position going forward, ensuring that future disruptions are minimized. This will better enable them to deliver what is needed in an efficient and timely manner, providing greater service for all.
Antony Lovell is vice president of applications at Vuealta.
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