Few things have flipped supply chain logistics on their head quite like the advent of e-commerce. Suddenly, retailers have had to adjust their strategy to make up for the fact that their existing supply chain and warehouse are neither developed nor equipped enough to handle the surging volume of shipments direct to consumers.
But just shipping inventory out to customers is only part of the equation. Retailers have also had to upgrade their systems and develop processes to handle returns and exchanges on a far grander scale than ever before.
What’s more, there are also factors within e-commerce itself to keep in mind, such as omni-channel retail touch-points, responsive platforms optimized for tablet and smartphone orders and much more.
With this in mind, there is an ever-present and urgent need to blow the dust and cobwebs off of your existing supply chain and step forward boldly into a world where success hinges upon concepts like agile and lean strategies.
The Distribution Center Dilemma
A supply chain is not a self-contained ecosystem. Having a more transparent supply chain is just the first step toward evolving how your supply chain operates in the e-commerce world. Not only does this allow you to discover bottlenecks in terms of logistics, but also helps you to better refine your system to be more flexible and adaptive to the breakneck changes in the technological and online world.
With old fashioned brick and mortar distribution centers, there is often a long list of inefficiencies and issues which are further exacerbated by the high bar set by major online retailers like Amazon, who have changed the game when it comes to fast deliveries and as little as one-day fulfillment.
Throw in other choices for delivery such as site to store and the potential for further advancements like automated vehicles and drone deliveries, and it’s easy to see how the world of supply chain management is shifting faster than most distribution centers can keep up.
Accommodating Online Orders with Fast-Paced Fulfillment
E-commerce orders are generally smaller than those handled by distribution centers, which means that retailers and suppliers alike have to have their finger on the pulse of changing consumer sentiment, brand awareness, trends and more. To help speed up the process, fulfillment systems have “sprouted” up across the landscape, designed to accommodate the faster pace that today’s e-commerce enterprises demand.
Smaller and more agile than old-fashioned distribution systems, fulfillment centers are the evolution of yesteryear’s distribution centers. And although the terms are often used interchangeably, fulfillment systems have some notable differences that make them exceptionally well-suited for e-commerce supply chains.
For one, fulfillment items are not designed to sit in a dusty old warehouse for long. They move quickly and a network of fulfillment centers can often deliver items much more rapidly to customers than a typical warehouse. One fulfillment center can handle logistics operations for a multitude of e-commerce companies, in turn lowering the costs and barriers to entry that traditional retailers face.
These new shifts in supply chains, fulfillment, delivery and customer expectations simply could not have been made without the rise of one of e-commerce’s biggest behemoths, and perhaps the one brand synonymous with e-commerce itself: Amazon.
Competing with Amazon — Is It Possible?
Many companies have tried and failed to compete with Amazon. From its humble beginnings as an online bookstore, it gradually expanded its reach into a wide range of markets, becoming the standard to which today’s brands and companies of all sizes aspire to reach.
But although Amazon is an online retailer, it is also a platform. Countless small and specialty businesses have discovered just how much their reach is amplified through Amazon, and this is a rich and lucrative market that shows no signs of slowing down.
Therefore, although it may seem like a lofty goal to mimic Amazon’s meteoric rise to fame, it’s also a smart idea to leverage Amazon’s many resources to further grow and refine your own business goals. By working in tandem, you can demonstrate to prospective customers that your business is hyper-focused on delivering the best possible experience: before, during and after the sale.
The Evolution of the Customer Experience
Having a robust, adaptive and flexible supply chain for e-commerce is crucial to achieving better brand awareness and loyalty among your customers. It is also important if you aim to exceed customer expectations so that your brand remains front-of-mind for future and repeat purchases.
The fact is, e-commerce has changed the way we work, play, and live. It’s time that today’s supply chains step up to the plate to reflect the ever-changing nature of the digital, on-demand world, and go with the flow, rather than try to swim against the current.