The Value in Having a Digital Supply Chain
The modern retail supply chain has been placed under immense pressure from the digitally empowered consumer. Consumers have the reach through super computers masquerading as phones, the voice via social media and the omnipresent internet, all leading to a heightened level of expectations.
Consumers now expect retailers to meet their needs not only at the product level, but also at the ancillary service level tied to the product. These services include where and when the product is fulfilled, as well as the return aspect of retail. Retailers not only have to meet their customer needs around the right product, at the right time, and for the right price, but also in how that product is fulfilled and the overall experience.
So, what should retailers and consumer-facing brands do? The answer is to look to the supply chain to carry the weight to meet consumer expectations.
Adding a digital element to physical assets creates a true picture of the network. The modern retail landscape requires a greater view of the supply chain and the flow of inventory from source to consumer. With digital technologies such as RFID, IoT, enhanced serialization and Wi-Fi, there are a growing number of ways in which supply chains can digitize the physical inventory and the assets flowing through them. This means that supply chains can finally bring clarity to what were otherwise physical objects. Simply put, as more inventory and assets are digitized, retailers will have a greater understanding of what's available and where it's available.
Whether it's inventory at the supplier level or on the store shelf, the complete picture of inventory is the basis of improved fulfillment. Knowing more precisely where and in what quantities inventory is being held allows the retailer to better meet its customers’ demands.
Traditionally, retailers would hold inventory in their stores, enabling them to physically see what inventory was available. However, this required someone to literally see the inventory, what shelf it is on, how much is available, where in the store it's located, etc. This process has severe limitations when it comes to today’s retail world. With consumers expecting various methods to have products procured, having a more precise view of the inventory is a more effective way to meet those needs.
Digital is the bridge between the supply chain and the consumer. Smartphone global penetration expects to cross 50 percent of the world population by 2022 — at 3.8 billion smartphones. These smartphones are portable super computers, having more computation power than NASA possessed when it sent the first man to the moon. Talk about a powerful digital asset.
Retailers can look to these devices to connect with their consumers at all times. How does this digital asset impact your supply chain? Look to these touchpoints as a demand management signal provider. Since tons of searches start with the smartphone, the supply chain must pick up on that signal as soon as possible. By allowing that digital signal to feed into the overall supply chain, retailers potentially can leverage another powerful tool to meet customer needs.
Digital technology has empowered consumers. It has enabled them to dictate terms when it comes to what products retailers make available, as well as how those products are obtained. Ultimately, the supply chain, leaning on greater digitization, is what will permit retailers to rise and meet the demands that we, as digitally powered consumers, are placing on it. We, as consumers, expect more from our retailers, due in large part to digital disruptors. Now, supply chains can lean on the same disruptive technology to meet these demands.
Guy Courtin is the vice president of industry and solution strategy, retail and fashion at Infor, an enterprise software company.
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