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100 days until Christmas: optimising your supply chain

It may only be mid-September, but for some, Christmas is already looming on the horizon. Brands will be gearing up for their big seasonal marketing push. Parents will become increasingly reminded of the things their children absolutely ‘need’ this year.

While some shoppers may leave things to the last minute and make a mad Christmas Eve dash, retailers and wholesalers know that many begin working through their lists much earlier in advance. For bargain hunters, Black Friday at the end of November has become a new focal point of activity, as they respond to mass discounting from traditional and online retailers.

The frenzy of Black Friday in 2014 is still a reasonably fresh memory – a nightmare, for some. Battling shoppers in stores may have grabbed the headlines, but behind-the-scenes fulfilment failures were just as troubling. Some retailers, wholesalers and carriers simply couldn’t meet their promises for next day delivery or satisfy demand with available stock. Fortunately, lessons were learnt. By Black Friday 2015, next-day delivery was not necessarily on offer. Discount periods were stretched. As a result, Friday 27 November 2015 was a smoother event for those both selling and fulfilling orders.

Our research supports the notion that supply chains are continuingly evolving. Based on our biannual survey of the UK logistics sector, run in conjunction with Barclays, omni-channel retailing is now widespread.  Over the Christmas 2015 period, retail sales through stores were on the wane. Just over a third (34%) reported that retailers had increased the use of delivery direct to customers from distribution centres, while 18% reported an increase in drop-shipping.

The power of technology
To support this change, retailers and wholesalers are adopting new technology platforms to predict demand, manage stock levels and coordinate their activities with logistics businesses. Big data can give big insights. For example, social media data – in the form of tweets, likes and public posts – can give a good indication of the public’s brand and shopping preferences.

However, these new technology platforms and associated systems and processes must be sufficiently robust, particularly during the Christmas period as the volume or orders and returns fluctuate. As more real-time information becomes incorporated into management decision making, the integrity and accuracy of that data becomes ever more important.

 It’s all about collaboration
Sharing information between retailers and logistics suppliers is also wise. Clear communication can help to identify potential issues and solutions before crises occur.  Sharing insights and understanding could help both retailers and all members of the supply chain meet growing customer expectations for rapid order fulfilment, while also avoiding stock outages and fulfilment failures that can seriously damage brands.  

There are growing challenges for the retail and wholesale sector, but challenges that should be embraced. New technology can enable more efficient service delivery and lower costs. It can give insights into consumer behaviours, and streamline the order fulfilment process. So when it comes to the Christmas countdown, fulfilling orders smoothly and efficiently has to be a priority.

We have a wealth of experience supporting the retail and wholesale sector, offering strategic advice to businesses across the UK; from the biggest high street names to start up organisations.  Contact us to find out how we can help your business.