Christmas 2013 shaped up as the biggest challenge ever for everyone working anywhere within the retail supply chain and logistics world.
The number of gifts bought from retailers — both online and in brick-and-mortar stores — will probably hit an all-time record. Yet, because of a quirk in the calendar this year, the holiday shopping season in the U.S. is as short as it possibly can be — 26 days, down nearly a week from 32 days last year.
That means more goods will be bought and shipped in a shorter time than ever before. And it means more intense pressure on retail supply chains than ever before, raising the stakes for having real-time command visibility. Let's take a look at how that plays out in the real world.
Inventories will turn over faster. Therefore, they'll need to be more aggressively and accurately managed. Shipping, trucking and delivery schedules will have to be tightened up considerably. Communications up and down the supply chain between customers, forwarders, procurement managers, manufacturers, marketing managers, warehouse managers, logistics managers, customer service managers and finance departments will have to be more precise and quicker than ever.
There will be less time to reorder and restock hot-selling items, process returns or correct shipping screwups. Online traffic, whether it's credit card charges being processed, reorders being put through, shipments being tracked or drivers being dispatched, will be very heavy.
And should heavily populated areas of the country, or even just key shipping centers like Louisville, Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York or Los Angeles, get hit by a major winter storm, there will be little capacity or ability to catch up from the resulting delays.
Given those intense dynamics, companies that have state-of-the-art supply chain management systems already up and running are in a vastly better position to win in the marketplace by outperforming their competitors. Their ability to move more goods faster enables them to claim both market share and revenue. They can process more data and transactions faster and more accurately, giving them an efficiency edge that should translate into better profit margins.