New Cin7 Study: Spotting the Selling Opportunities this Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again. But for many product sellers, there’s an unexpected Grinch preventing holiday gifts from making their way to customers: the supply chain.

Supply chain delays have been making headlines for nearly two years. Starting with drastic shortages and hoarding, through the Ever Given and the backlog of container ships off the California coast, the ongoing string of bottlenecks has caused frustration for unsuspecting consumers and headaches for product sellers. There’s a mainstream perception of the supply chain as increasingly unreliable and unnecessarily expensive.

These disruptions have shaped product seller actions going into the holiday season. Sellers have embraced early Black Friday kick-offs and warning consumers to get their holiday shopping done early to avoid shipping delays and shortages. But are consumers paying attention to their advice?

According to a recent survey from Cin7, the answer is yes. We surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults to help us better understand how Americans view the latest supply disruptions and their sentiment around the industry overall. The results can help guide how product sellers navigate the end of a tumultuous shopping season and adapt their inventory practices as a result.

The topline takeaways include:

They’re Shopping Earlier

58% of people are aware of supply chain delays and have shifted their shopping behavior as a result. Over half of respondents (55%) started their holiday shopping within the September/October timeframe, with only 25% of consumers waiting for the unofficial kick-off of Black Friday deals to hit before actually purchasing gifts.

But their changed behavior came with a tradeoff for product sellers to execute on their orders: while 65% of consumers expect to pay more this holiday season, 53% would return the purchase and want a refund if it didn’t arrive in time for the holidays.

They’re Shopping Local

Consumers may have moved up their shopping timetable, but the majority are still worried about shopping online. In fact, only 25% of shoppers DON’T have concerns about online shopping – the top concerns being the cost of shipping, speed of shipping and package theft.

In response, 87% of respondents are making the effort to shop local and shop at small businesses. 47% are doing so more than last year, 40% noting about the same. The majority of people (55%) are also paying attention to the location/locality of where their purchases are coming from. And 63% of people would prefer to see and touch a product in-person before buying it.

People don’t buy small and local, however, because they’re necessarily woke to Amazon or wary of big retail. Only 14% of people don’t shop at Amazon because of ethical or environmental concerns. In fact, 49% don’t have any concerns at all, and 31% have concerns but still shop on Amazon.

For product sellers, it’s critical to understand how consumer behavior is shifting this holiday shopping season. They can adapt to shifts by having a variety of channels and options to make all buying possibilities a reality for consumers. And for those consumers making more of an effort to shop small and local, product sellers must lean into this sentiment to navigate the tail end of the shopping season that has the potential to go “out with a bang” beyond Small Business Saturday.

As Product Sellers move to adapt to the “new normal” of consumer behavior and look to have continued success in the future, it is critical that they have the solution infrastructure to successfully scale their business. With more businesses taking advantage of eCommerce to expand their offering by channel and region – utilizing the right software to handle inventory and order management is crucial to an efficient multichannel operation. Adequate planning, management and execution of supply chain movements will ensure fulfillment capabilities across multiple channels and help suppliers take advantage of larger customer bases.

We’ve all been impacted by supply chain challenges, but it’s the season of good cheer after all. By diversifying inventory and changing selling strategies in response to consumer behavior, this tumultuous holiday season can still be merry and bright.

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A Resilient Cold Chain Starts with Automation and Nearshoring

The pandemic has completely altered global supply chains and continues to be unpredictable. This has been especially tough on the cold chain due to rigorous traceability standards and perishable products, meaning that there is little-to-no room for error or delay. And, as we continue to experience many challenges that affect the overall functionality of our global supply chains, perhaps none has been more impactful than the countless supply shortages we’re still dealing with today. And, there’s seemingly no end in sight with food distributors recently warning schools and districts that they will likely run out of supply to meet the expected demand with students returning to the classroom this fall.

As troubles persist in procuring materials amidst supply and labor shortages, transportation issues and more, supply chain managers have had to substantially revamp their operations in order to compete in today’s challenging and dynamic landscape. The time for stopgaps is clearly over, and the future cold chain must be built to ensure a resilient, flexible foundation.

To be prepared when issues arise, many business leaders have turned to technology to help automate and make processes more efficient and traceable. They also must have channels in place to nearshore supply, so that when the unexpected does occur, they have access to product in another warehouse that can be shipped and guarantee orders are fulfilled.

Increased visibility with nearshoring

U.S. manufacturers have already begun witnessing the benefits of nearshoring with average operating costs being cut by 23% when shifting operations from China to Mexico. By bringing supply and warehouses closer to home – such as neighboring countries rather than overseas – organizations have been able to increase visibility and reduce risk for stakeholders and third parties so that shipments and individual products can be tracked on every step of the journey from start to finish.

While nearshoring is becoming increasingly necessary for business operations as the sustainability of global logistics remains uncertain, it also requires sophisticated software and technologies that will allow for collaboration and integration with third-party logistics (3PL) providers. Many organizations do not have the necessary resources to build out their own warehouses in different locations across the globe, so being able to work with a 3PL is particularly important for nearshoring efforts or even temporary pop-ups for a few months at a time if businesses need to reroute operations.

Cloud-native enterprise resource planning (ERP), warehouse management and inventory management systems will be essential for future success because they are highly flexible, easily adaptable as business needs shift and allow for businesses to scale quickly. For example, if a U.S.-based company is moving all operations from China to Mexico because of increased tariffs, cloud-based software helps enable a fast and seamless integration with a new partner.

Enhanced traceability and compliance

Modern technologies not only allow you to easily operate with third parties, but they also enable you to track goods as they move throughout the supply chain. Traceability is important in every sector operating within the supply chain, however it’s doubly important in the cold chain because businesses must comply with strict regulatory standards, or they may face costly fines and risk losing the ability to operate within certain markets.

Utilizing cloud-based software ensures that all supply is accounted for and can be easily traced on every step of the way from Point A to Point Z, which leads to quality control, reduces waste, minimizes loss and allows businesses to guarantee they are in compliance with local regulations. For instance, if a food distributor learns of a recall of their products, they must be able to track down each and every product that came from a specific farm and alert customers of the compromised product. Only an integrated warehouse and inventory system is able to quickly identify which items need to be taken off the shelf or thrown away by consumers.

Supply chain resiliency

As we’ve learned – and continue to learn – throughout the course of the pandemic, our supply chains are extremely fragile and face mounting pressure with growing regulatory, public and consumer scrutiny. To encourage trust and dependability of your organizations’ preparedness to get product into customer hands – even during a shortage or unforeseen disruption – business leaders are taking steps today to strengthen and future-proof operations with continual investment in technology and automation. Forward thinking producers operating on cloud software have a large and growing advantage over their competitors depending on older technologies and legacy software.

 

While supply chain operations may have been an area that businesses could cut costs for in the past, consumer demand and expectations no longer withstand missing or delayed product availability, inferior quality of goods or the inability to trace where exactly their food or other items originated from. By investing in nearshoring and persistent innovation, we will ultimately experience a more seamless movement of goods across the globe and create a resilient infrastructure that cannot be so easily disrupted in the face of adversity.

 

Originally published by Food Logistics here.

Is Inventory Evil? 5 Lessons to learn from Tim Cook’s Supply Chain Genius

Apple’s quarterly earnings call on July 26 revealed the company had cash reserves of $232 billion, and even though comparisons to small countries might be a little exaggerated (there’s a little more involved than just a mountain of cash) $232, 000, 000, 000 is still an incredible sum of money.

Having so much cash in the bank allows Apple to invest in things that pay long-term dividends: they are building a beautiful new campus in Cupertino that is part garden, part spaceship, and they are investing heavily in a secret project – supposedly known as ‘Project Titan’ – to build a commercial electric vehicle. So not only can Apple operate comfortably in the present, but it can also ensure its success in the future too.

Apple’s dominant position can in part be attributed to the current CEO Tim Cook. Though the average person on the street may have been surprised by his appointment in 2011, the humble Alabamian had been quietly at the helm of Apple’s operations since 1998. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why Cook’s inventory genius contributed to their cash reserves – and maybe even pick up a few tips on how you can replicate their success.

Is Inventory Evil?

Whether or not Cook actually said this phrase is a matter of debate – I can’t find the source anywhere. But the principle is essentially sound. Money that is tied up in stock left sitting on shelves is a big waste of your cash. If you can reduce both the amount of time you own stock and the total amount of stock you own at any one time, you’ll find your equity increases. “You kind of want to manage it like you’re in the dairy business,” Cook has said. “If it gets past its freshness date, you have a problem.”

Find Responsive suppliers

The first key part of reducing your inventory is getting on good terms with your suppliers. If you can order stock or components as and when you need them, you will be able to bring down the number of days the stock sits on your balance sheet. Part of the risk of using a Just-in-time method can be negated using reporting technology to forecast demand. Apple requires its component suppliers to be as close as possible to its assembly line for the very same reason.

Have a good relationship with your trading partners

Secondly, and this follows exactly the same logic – if you can shift stock to your trading partners at exactly the right time, then you decrease the amount of stock on your shelves. You can reduce the turnaround time for orders using technology such as EDI. Better still, monitor the stock your biggest trading partners currently have – a concept known as Vendor Managed Inventory, or VMI – so that you can replenish goods at exactly the right time. This benefits the whole supply chain too.

Use any wastage

Like Ferraris, Apple’s products are known for looking just as beautiful under the hood as on the exterior. Delving into the case reveals more than just smart technology. Apple is notoriously frugal with components, reusing any wastage in its next line of products, to further reduce old inventory and reduce the cost of new products.

Keep a close eye on costs

Bringing down costs doesn’t necessarily entail using the cheapest components, but making smart decisions at the right time – Cook and right-hand man Jeff Williams once invested over a billion dollars in flash drives, correctly predicting they would form a large part of their future product lineup, simultaneously shutting out competition from an emerging market. While you might not have the nerve (or money) to play hardball like this; taking time to think about the long game can only help make your business leaner and more successful.

Whether you are just starting out or growing quickly, the basic principles of inventory management can put you ahead of the game – and, just like Apple’s Tim Cook, reap the benefits of becoming a supply chain genius.
Find out more about EDI and how to cut inventory and increase your cash.

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Do Companies Need Local Supply Chains?

Experts have debated the virtues of global versus local supply chains forever.

Two UK-based procurement experts back in 2003 made valid points for both.

Local supply chains means lower transport costs, lower supply chain risk, greater sustainability.

Global sourcing offers more choice of suppliers and the best available prices. A local supply chain may not be more sustainable than a global supply chain. The procurement expert noted, that lamb production in New Zealand produced 25% less CO2 than UK-bred lamb, even factoring in transportation emissions.

Those considerations have not changed over the years. Cloud solutions make it easier than ever to manage supply chains regardless of geography or complexity.

Companies of any size can outsource manufacturing now just as easily as they can source materials from anywhere around the world.

Big apparel retailers have seen incredible cost reductions by using technology to bring overseas sourcing and production facilities closer together.

Some companies go further to make “local sourcing” part of their story. Research shows customers make purchasing decisions based on concepts of sustainability, natural resources, and corporate responsibility in labor practices. Local supply chains can make a strong argument in that appeal.

Going Local

You may have many good reasons to build local supply chains.

One supply chain expert writing in Forbes suggested we’ve entered an age of trade protectionism.

Big companies that outsourced production and stretched their supply chains across the globe face pressure to build local supply chains if nations start putting tariffs on imports.

Globalization may not be under immediate threat, but companies have plenty of good reasons to consider building local supply chains anyway.

Webb’s recommendations for developing local supply chains appear to apply more to large companies, big manufacturers with a lot of influence over suppliers.

He recommends companies look to developing local suppliers, encouraging them to collaborate or even merge in order to meet the company’s demand.
Other experts say it pays to research the suppliers in your local market, if you don’t work with them already, to learn if they can meet your needs.

What is Pull Strategy and Does it Benefit eCommerce?

Inventory is a delicate balancing act, and eCommerce doesn’t make things any easier.

Carrying too much stock drives up your costs in warehousing and expiration of goods. Carrying too little loses you sales.

Getting inventory just right is the Goldilocks tale of commerce, which is why so many strategies have emerged over the last 50 years (especially from the manufacturing sector) including Agile, Lean and Just in Time processes. Companies most certainly employ a combination of these various approaches depending on what they sell, what customer service levels they’ve set, and what sales channels to which they are applying a strategy.

The nature of online sales, whether that is direct to customers or B2B eCommerce, may benefit to some degree from the pull inventory strategy.

(Bear in mind that the terms used in this article are generalized. Supply chain management as an academic discipline encompasses a much more technical and nuanced comprehension of push, pull, agile, etc.)

What is Pull Strategy?

Pull strategy is inventory management that responds to actual customer demand in realtime. It is often contrasted with push strategy, which builds inventory in advance of anticipated customer demand based on forecasts, seasonal demand planning and historic trends.

Pull begins with the customer’s order, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “demand-driven inventory planning”. A company using a pull system maintains inventory based on what is happening right now, which means they don’t keep a lot of that item in stock, if any at all. It will maintain inventory at that level by procuring or manufacturing the item only after it has been sold, or by replenishing a sold item with only one more item.

A pull strategy works for products you can manufacture/replenish quickly, products with an uncertain demand, or products that do not benefit from economies of scale (ie, making a lot of it doesn’t reduce the cost of selling it).

While a pull strategy does not require the comprehensive historic data that a push strategy calls for, it is still essential to track sales of that item on a daily basis across all sales channels.

Does Pull Benefit eCommerce?

The first advantage to pull strategy is the ability to sell without the associated cost of carrying inventory. If you can deliver on promise without that cost, you lower the cost of goods sold and increase your profit margin. The margin increases when taking into account the low cost of eCommerce versus the high overhead of running a retail store.

The benefit of pull to eCommerce goes beyond that, particularly if you’re not selling complicated products (electronics or machinery) or if you are selling and managing inventory (fashion, for instance) that is subject to quickly changing tastes.

eCommerce gives you have the potential to attract a wide, global customer base. A pull strategy can work when you’re selling a highly specialized or individualized product that may not move in volume in a small market, but may attract appreciable interest worldwide.

The pull strategy here requires more lead time to gather components from your suppliers (such as a particular pattern or fabric, for example), so it is important for you to emphasize to customers that their order may take longer to fulfill.

The pull strategy may also come in handy for smaller organizations that have low inventory budgets but that want to provide more options to far reaching customers through their website.

The truth is, however, eCommerce will most likely require a company to adopt a combination of strategies: a push strategy for high volume SKUs that you know have sold well based on forecasting; and a pull strategy for special items that you can’t afford to keep in stock, but that you have reason to believe will appeal to your customers.

Regardless of your strategy, you will need an inventory management solution that can track and report your sales.

Click to find out how Cin7’s reporting capability lets you see your sales in realtime and in historic contexts to help you focus your eCommerce strategies.