The COVID-19 pandemic has brought loss, grief, and uncertainty. The human toll should be the greatest concern, but the way it has reshaped daily routines and consumer behavior has also put the spotlight squarely on supply chain efficiency. Even pre-COVID, shipping and logistics were undergoing transformation. But now? Technology and COVID-19 are changing the global supply chain. Dramatically.
In retail, the move towards online shopping has been sharply accelerated by the effects of the pandemic. Not only has the change been dramatic, many believe the shifts in consumer behavior will be permanent. It’s still anybody’s guess what this current era spells for traditional retail when we arrive on the other side of the pandemic, but there is little doubt that shoppers will avail themselves of more options. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) shipping, at-home delivery, the usual trip to the supermarket replaced by a few minutes at a laptop are just a few examples of trends on the rise.
First, how is technology changing the supply chain?
The steady march of progress meant that technology and automation had already been reshaping retailer expectations and increasing demands on suppliers before COVID-19 arrived. Just-in-time deliveries, barcode scanning throughout the shipping process, real-time inventory audits—these are just some of the ways that meeting supply chain demands had increased.
Meeting new supply chain requirements requires a commitment to automation and the technology that powers it. When it comes to EDI and order processing, robust software that can manage all your orders the same way, no matter where they originate, is essential. Instead of moving orders one at a time, you need to be able to process them in bulk to save time—the rise in D2C sales has made this even more important.
Your technology solutions need to integrate. If your company is powered by an ERP like NetSuite or SAP, can your EDI and order processing software function within it? When data can be quickly merged, you eliminate time-wasting, copy-and-paste methods that lead to mistakes. Effective integrations turn high-touch, manual entry tasks into work that can be completed in just a few clicks.
And don’t discount the value of technology integration if you are not running an ERP. Whether it’s accounting software like QuickBooks, WMS, or the system that your 3PL provider relies on, your EDI provider should be able to make order processing a seamless component of your operations and offer solutions that match your company’s work flow. Finally, considering how much retail business has moved online, you want to be sure that your EDI and order processing software integrates with major online marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart Marketplace.
When describing current best practices for the supply chain, many people use the term “lean logistics.” With fears of a long recession and record-high unemployment numbers, cost-cutting measures are increasing in importance. Across the board, it is motivating retailers, suppliers, and 3PLs to automate as much as possible. Technology drives that, and the most efficient companies are making sure they have the right pieces in place and investing in them if they do not.
What about the pandemic and the supply chain?
Who knew that the toilet paper supply chain was going to be thoroughly tested by scores of people bent on hoarding it? What happened to the well-stocked shelves of hand sanitizer and bleach? And why was oat milk such a challenge to find?
Back in March when our lives suddenly changed, COVID-19 quickly revealed the supply chain challenges related to consumer behavior.
Consumer behavior, it turns out, is not particularly rational. Even the most experienced supply chain experts were caught off guard. What we have learned is that predictions are hard, so the best defense is agility.
Technology can certainly help with that. When you are maximizing the labor force by increasing automation, you can react quickly to the ebb and flow of demand. It can also provide transparency for everyone. If consumers can see that their local supermarket will receive another shipment of toilet paper tomorrow, they are less likely to feel compelled to buy everything that’s on the shelf today.
The pandemic has also spurred online sales—they were up 76% in June. Even as COVID news was just starting to become part of regular conversations, online ordering of basic household essentials and home delivery was on the rise. According to some research, 40% of these items are now being purchased online. That’s meant that during the pandemic, many brands have had to step up their shipping capabilities in ways they may not have previously imagined. EDI and order processing software that lets suppliers handle direct-to-consumer orders in the same way they manage traditional wholesale transactions will keep products moving and prevent an outsized drain on resources.
Like it or not, unpredictable is the New Normal. During unprecedented times, trying to forecast the future is a roll of the dice. The better option? Ensure that your technology, including your EDI and order processing software, can quickly pivot to meet changing needs.
Make your retail supply chain a competitive advantage.
With so much uncertainty, and retail categories like apparel struggling to find their footing, companies with reliable supply chains have an opportunity to stand out from competitors. Finding ways to automate, using EDI and order processing software that is flexible and can be fully integrated, and investing in technology that increases speed to market can be real difference makers.
If you want more insight into processing EDI transactions and online orders in less time and with fewer errors, reach out to our team at [email protected]. During these challenging times, we can be a valuable resource as you work to improve and upgrade your supply chain.