Cyber Season is Here to Stay: How Shipping Agility Needs to Adapt
Holiday shopping 2020 looked very different than prior years. COVID-19 turned Cyber Monday into Cyber Week and beyond, as we continue to deal with an extended e-commerce boom. The “Cyber Season” that COVID has created is here to stay, even with an expected return to normalcy in 2021.
With an overwhelming reliance on online shopping to drive sales, every brand and shipper has upped their game to try to deliver products on time, despite extreme competition and unprecedented demand for transportation capacity. The frenzy hasn't just been felt in clicks on online storefronts, but in major ways behind the scenes of online shopping.
To make sense of it all, retail companies and relevant partners and vendors need to embrace shipping agility. This is a similar concept to how startups and software-focused companies stay nimble to pivot, transform and pursue new revenue streams. It means the ability to change shipping plans and delivery strategies on the fly, responding in real time to changing conditions and business objectives.
This is a critical capability for retail of the future, which needs to be prepared to ensure continuity in the face of any situation, even those as far-reaching and unpredictable as COVID-19.
We've already seen the downside of capacity constraints, legacy technology, and shipping delays. Throughout the entire holiday e-commerce boom, companies weren't able to get packages shipped on time. This adds up to a huge problem, as the stakes for creating great customer experiences have never been higher. Studies have shown that shipping delays, and how companies communicate and manage them to customers, have a significant impact on customer experience and long-term brand loyalty.
Many companies, large and small, have already pivoted to e-commerce and adopted typical online retail strategies and partners. However, these new market entrants mean challenges for everyone: capacity is stretched and shippers are competing for access to drivers and containers like never before.
3 Tactics for Shipping Agility
With the need to prepare for both inventory and capacity challenges, shipping agility and the ability to change plans, access new sources of inventory or delivery options — or, at a minimum, have the intelligence necessary for accurate predictions and estimates for partners — is essential.
There are a few very specific things most companies can do to achieve shipping agility:
1. Establish Multichannel for Inbound
People need to be multithreaded from an inbound perspective. The best way to be agile is to be able to put inventory on the shelf, so focusing on where and how you get your inventory, making it easy to receive and store it, and having multiple options is a priority.
2. Diverse Forms of Transport and Ability to Shift
With COVID and global regulations, unexpected shipping challenges are becoming more common. The best way to navigate these situations is seamlessly shifting from one transportation mode to another, which can circumvent the problem — or over it, in the case of shifting from road to air.
3. Real-Time Decisions
When it comes down to it, the only way to be truly agile is to have the ability to make real-time decisions and manage exceptions in the moment they happen. If you have a truck that's delayed, you have to see it and act on it immediately and communicate to customers immediately. Ensuring you have visibility into your supply chain and a decision-making model in place for urgent scenarios will equip you to navigate any challenge.
Shipping agility means having the resiliency to deal with both expected and unexpected problems. In the world we live in today, brands shouldn't just be thinking about how to transform to fulfill holiday retail shipping; they must prepare for the next, unknown disruptive event that's sure to come.
Vernon O’Donnell is chief product and services officer at project44, a supply chain visibility platform.
Related story: Why Agility is the Key to Success This Holiday Season