Yet Another Retail Supply Chain Disruption: Coping With Hurricane Season
The retail supply chain has been stuck in a perpetual cycle of disruption for the last three years. From coping with the fallout of COVID-19 to navigating the shifting landscape as a result of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the retail industry has had to constantly lurch from one priority to the next to find some sort of normal when it comes to how it's going to manage its supply chain and logistics operations. And now once again, the retail industry is faced with another daunting prospect of disruption ahead of the chaotic holiday period: hurricane season.
Retail shippers have done well to recover from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when they were largely caught flat-footed in the face of a slew of sourcing shortages and capacity problems. Most struggled to balance over-the-road cost with service levels. Since then, many retail shippers have realized their logistics processes need to evolve in order to remain resilient. That said, most are still in the early days of their logistics modernization journeys, and thus have yet to fully optimize their shipping operations.
With that in mind, here are a few tips that retail shippers should keep in mind as they look to successfully navigate hurricane season and hit the ground running into the holidays.
Prioritizing Data Operations
For all of the advances retailers have made over the last decade in terms of technology adoption, one area that was largely underserved was shipping and logistics. So much so that many shipping departments relied heavily on Excel spreadsheets and on-premise infrastructure to conduct their day-to-day workflows. Logistics success depends on not just having the best data possible, but also the ability to have access to that data whenever and wherever you need it so you can be as agile as possible.
Therefore, while retail logistics teams may face pressure to jump in and start using whatever the shiniest new tool may be, it's imperative to take a step back and put the necessary data infrastructure in place. This means adopting cloud technology and other tools that enable a free flow of data between internal logistics stakeholders and broader organizational teams so that decision making is as seamless and responsive as possible.
Embracing AI/ML Automation
The financial consequences stemming from the last three years has meant that many retailers are still having to operate on very, very tight budgets. Moreover, with over-the-road capacity still unpredictable, shippers are looking for ways to better weather the unexpected, which means they need to embrace tools that make them agile. One quick way to increase logistics resilience is to evolve the critical freight procurement process from static to dynamic. Manual processes no longer work because they take too much time and cost too much money.
By automating freight procurement, shipper’s loads are dynamically connected with a large universe of compliant, asset-based carriers instantly. And when loads are matched with the perfect carrier, at the right time, place, and price, everyone wins — even the environment by reducing carbon emissions. Automation will also help shippers collect and analyze data much faster. The more high-quality data a shipper has, the greater the chances of making better decisions when disruption occurs.
Embracing Real Time
If the last three years have taught us anything in the logistics space it's that the business is speeding up and getting more complex. Therefore, having real-time visibility into your entire operations is paramount. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of on-the-ground teams, without the proper technology in place to support them, it's virtually impossible to do. In order for shippers to be able to successfully navigate periods of sudden upheaval with minimum disruptions, they have to have the oversight both in immediately impacted areas and throughout their ecosystem to put contingencies in place and adapt on the fly. If not, retail brands stand to suffer both significant operational and reputational damage as access to products shrinks in impacted areas.
Bracing for the disruptions of hurricane season is always one of the most hectic periods for retail shippers. However, by keeping these few best practices in mind, retail shippers can better tackle both the immediate challenges posed to their businesses by hurricane season as well as those that lay on the horizon.
Jaimie Kowalski is vice president, marketing at Sleek Technologies, a technology data company and leader in AI-driven freight procurement software.
Related story: Navigating Today’s Inventory Crunch: Where AI is Fitting In
Senior marketing exec with a proven track record of driving growth and building advocacy for start-up and established brands. Effective in determining lead and lag measures and developing/ executing cross-functional, multi-channel strategies that exceed expectations. Strong business sense, with a willingness to test and prove concepts for innovative ways to grow customer base, and then retain them. Success owning the marketing function and building stellar marketing teams. Understands the importance of teamwork and culture. Is hungry, humble, and smart.