Panic buying. Huge online demand. Unplanned closure of physical stores. Retailers experienced more disruption during 2020 than in the entire previous decade.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed new challenges for the supply chain and as a result, many companies have used it as a push to accelerate their digitalisation plans and build more efficient operations.
For retailers, this has been critical.
Estimates suggest that the pandemic has accelerated eCommerce growth by four to six years, but retailers have also faced other challenges.
Delays in receiving goods from abroad. Supply price variation. The need to safeguard employees, from warehouses to stores to contactless delivery and payment, has become the norm.
Every aspect of the supply chain process has been affected.
A retailer’s digital transformation priorities will, of course, vary greatly depending on what they sell.
While some have seen a spike in demand and revenue – for example, food, gym equipment and anything garden related – others have experienced plummeting sales.
For those that have struggled to meet consumer demand, better stock availability and delivery are essential if the business is to retain goodwill and make the most of this new customer base.
Customer willingness to accept delays in product delivery during the early days of lockdown is long gone. And with competitors upping their game and scaling up their digital investments, every aspect of the customer experience, including returns, has to be perfect.
Digital technologies can help make this happen.
For example, when Blockchain is combined with artificial intelligence and data analytics in the cloud, it can lead to predictive measures around buying patterns, creating even more efficiencies in supply chains.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is helping to improve product quality and availability – and having a measurable impact on the customer experience. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips can be continually scanned and traced – and by adding them to all products, a fashion retailer is using IoT to automatically update manufacturing and supply systems in real time.
Any product quality issues are flagged before the product is dispatched, avoiding customer disappointment, and stock levels are always accurate.
Fast, reliable secure fixed and mobile communication throughout the supply chain enables suppliers and business partners to share data in real-time.
This means they can provide early warnings of product delays or changes in customer demand, helping them to work closely together, drive down costs and become far more responsive.
Add in real-time delivery tracking and notifying customers of arrival will also meet customer desires for a better experience.
As for the online elements of retail shopping, IoT is bringing them in-store with smart shelving and digital screens, again improving the overall experience.
The extraordinary pace of change is creating the next-generation retail experience.
Retailers capturing performance data in real-time across the smart supply chain can explore new options to win customer approval — such as adding an ethical delivery alternative or providing more detail about a product’s history.
With a smart, integrated supply chain, a retailer can try out the latest innovations to see how they fit.
Autonomous delivery robots are set to be on UK streets by the end of 2021 and drones are already being used for customer delivery. In store, digital technologies such as smart shelving and digital signage can engage customers and personalise their experience, enticing individuals back to physical shopping.
These are just a few parts of the smart supply chain.
Retailers need the right digital technology foundation – and that means getting started or accelerating your digital transformation journey now.
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