The retail supply chain is more stretched than ever, but small breakthroughs could relieve pressure on the sector.
With multiple points of friction and massive costs at stake, the supply chain feels like such an obvious area for disruption – but we have yet to see any fundamental mass-adoption game-changers hit the supply chain in recent years.
Last year, there was lots of interest in innovative fulfilment, culminating in December when Amazon made its first drone delivery to a customer just 13 minutes after the order was placed.
Potentially more exciting, however, was the news that Amazon had patented “airborne fulfilment centres” that would launch drones to deliver merchandise from above.
The idea may not be as crazy as it initially sounds and if anyone can do it, Amazon can.
Then there’s been talk of smart contracts enabled by blockchain. We’ve yet to see any significant uptake on this but the trend will be one to watch.
And of course you cannot ignore the continued buzz around 3D printing.
So, what does 2017 hold for potential supply chain breakthroughs?
The immediate opportunity is around optimising inventory: moving away from a world where we think we know what customers want to an environment where we actually know what they want.
“It’s moving away from a world where we think we know what customers want to an environment where we actually know what they want”
Sound utopian? Let’s look at some practical ways this could be achieved.
One is by modernising merchandising. Over 60% of new consumer products fail but, by involving customers in the very first decisions around design, you can remove some of the guesswork.
Tech companies such as Claire enable you to digitally share computer-aided designs and early samples with your customers to gauge reactions and inform which lines to progress to the production line.
Not only does this help to streamline the merchandising process, but consider the valuable accompanying customer insights.
We should consider a future where the value is increasingly moving away from the product itself and towards the data that shadows it.
Moving down the supply chain, there is some great tech out there today which can help retailers and customers move on from the question of “will it fit?” to “tell me your size”.
“Retailers that focus on progressing their supply chain initiatives and achieving better levels of inventory optimisation will be those that gain the competitive edge”
Shoes are a clear use-case for this – tech companies such as Sols and Elementum can remove the moment of “will it fit” doubt in the purchasing journey, thereby tackling both conversion and returns challenges.
For pureplays or those with a limited bricks-and-mortar footprint, there are some simple and practical options out there.
Bonobos is a great example of this with its Guideshop locations that enable you to try on the clothes, find the right fit and walk out hands-free, while your guide processes your online order for it to be shipped to your destination of choice for free.
I’m not placing my bets on 2017 being the year of supply chain disruption, but the retailers that focus on progressing their supply chain initiatives and achieving better levels of inventory optimisation will be those that gain the competitive edge this year.