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Pete Palazzolo, Four Strategies to Improve Retailer Supply Chain
I’m often asked “How conscious are retailers that managing the supply chain needs improving?”
Retailers are a pretty savvy group, as you know, and they’re looking at technology to improve most every aspect of their business. Just look at NRF – it’s really become a technology event, and the demand for solutions to solve business problems is really high.
With all the exciting offerings out there, improving how they manage the supply chain is sometimes overlooked, because it’s just not as sexy as some other parts of the business. But that’s until something goes wrong. And then the supply chain gets undivided attention, and the reason being that without solid supply chain management and execution capabilities, a company is making it really hard for them to compete and deliver on the omni-channel experience.
Where can retailers be more efficient with the supply chain, and what effect would that have on profitability?
There are several areas to examine here, and with respect to the supply chain, it all starts with receiving goods quickly and accurately, and putting the product away in the right place the first time. And this is as true in the distribution center as it is in the store. You simply can’t sell, can’t transfer or can’t find what you don’t know you have. So efficiently making sure that you’re receiving goods, you’re putting them away, and that you are ready to sell them is of primary importance.
Sufficiently maintaining inventory, staying on top of what you have and where it is across all of your stores and your distribution centers is another common area for improvement. Keeping inventory data accurate in real time through RF cycle counts, real-time adjustments, automated replenishments and other functions prevents super-expensive inventory problems. And of course the speed and accuracy of fulfilling sales orders and transfer orders can always be improved.
Assigning orders via mobile devices, directing people through the warehouse location that have quantity to fulfill an order, routing them in a logical sequence through the warehouse and keeping them on the floor versus running back and forth to the office all have measurable benefits. And altogether it each represents significant savings that go straight to the bottom line.
What are some of the things that they should be doing to ensure that their employees are truly productive and efficient throughout the entire supply chain? That’s a good question, and how I respond to that is just like employees who work in offices in the big office buildings that you see in every town that we all live in – a clipboard and a pencil isn’t sufficient anymore. Even just a phone isn’t sufficient anymore, and it’s not efficient in today’s world. And the same is true for people who work in the supply chain, and people who work at retail.
Every employee needs tools and information that enable them to be accurate, efficient, and productive if a company’s going to meet their margin objective. And since most supply chain personnel and the majority of retail personnel spend most of their time moving around, a PC isn’t the right tool. And that’s why RF for Mobile barcoding and other mobile applications are so essential for supply chain personnel and the folks at retail who handle inventory and provide customer service.
Let me suggest, then, that the supply chain actually extends all the way onto the retail sales floor, because the ability to control and maintain that inventory, move it, transfer it, count it, adjust it, and the need to manage it remains until the item is sold. One of the more exciting developments, then, in being able to equip employees with what they need, is the advent and proliferation of mobile devices. I’ll talk more about this in future blog postings.