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Supply chain technology is now part of the customer brand experience

Guy Courtin, Infor GT Nexus Commerce Network

Customers can be a ruthless bunch. Since the dawn of the technology age and globalization a few decades ago, expectations have only increased. Today, thanks largely to the Internet and Amazon, the expectation for supply chain has evolved to a point where we’re actually talking about launching fleets of drones to deliver goods in near real time in order to keep customers happy.

Think about that for a second. If I stood up on stage at a supply chain event in 2008 and predicted that fleets of drones would be in development with the goal to replace delivery trucks, I’d be laughed out of the room.

Drones, along with autonomous vehicles, robots, IoT devices, and the countless other new innovations being discussed at today’s supply chain conferences, is in response to one phenomenon – time.

Impatience as impetus

Customers are no longer willing to spend time waiting to get the goods they want and companies are investing in capabilities to meet these new expectations in ways that allow them to remain price competitive. This is especially important in cases where the goods being sold are sourced globally.

The technology used to control and optimize global supply chains has matured significantly over the past few decades, allowing companies to run fairly lean and efficiently across a number of functional zones. But other than small pockets of automation success, businesses still struggle to manage things holistically, end-to-end, on a global scale.

A critical missing piece is a lack of true, end-to-end supply chain visibility. Without the ability to see, it becomes very hard to be agile, efficient, and responsive. According to a recent survey by GEODIS, only 6% of companies believe they’ve achieved full supply chain visibility and that’s a problem.

The importance of visibility

Again, thanks in large part to Amazon and other like e-commerce companies, consumers now expect to get a premium supply chain experience as part of their buying process and visibility is at the core.

A recent study by Infor showed that 80% of people expect to have estimated time of arrival and location information when waiting for their orders. It’s not just e-commerce/retail but rather an expectation across multiple product categories. And, if they don’t get the information they need, they won’t hesitate to switch brands!

So, only 6% of companies claim to have achieved full supply chain visibility to run their operations, yet 80% of consumers expect to get it as part of their buying experience. That is quite a disconnect. Supply chain visibility is a vital part of any digital transformation initiative. It’s becoming part of the brand experience. Failure to provide what customers expect, and they will switch.

This really isn’t fair to supply chain practitioners. The same or next day delivery bar is ridiculously high. But even in a pure B2B environment, that is nothing like Amazon, the B2B customer executives are consumers at night and on weekends so this question will inevitably be asked, “Why is it that I can go home tonight and order anything I want and have it by Thursday, yet you are telling me it will be six weeks to deliver the order of widgets that you have known about for months?”

The supply chain’s role in the customer service experience is not new. What is different is the role of supply chain technology in the brand experience. It’s no longer enough to have IT in place just to improve operational performance and reduce costs. Customers want information about the goods they buy and it is very possible that excellence in this arena could be just as important as product quality and price.

It’s still early, the drone fleets are not yet airborne but we do know a lot can change very quickly and consumers are already voicing their opinions with their wallets so change will happen.



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