Manufacturers have traditionally been positioned as a link in the long chain of supply. Somewhere between raw materials and finished products is where the manufacturer exists, transforming the materials into products that can be resold via distributors and wholesalers.
The supply chain was linear and relatively predictable, but that is all changing. With the introduction of broad internet connectivity, web-based services, large e-commerce platforms and increasingly innovative and competitive new logistics players, the supply chain is becoming a spiderweb of connectivity and communication, with linear approaches out the window and, to some extent, predictability along with it.
The economy we have today is an environment where customers demand more direct and personal approaches, and producers are being forced to find ways to accommodate. With the huge e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, along with more direct-to-consumer channels, manufacturers are being turned into direct-to-consumer suppliers. Acting as drop shippers for the seller, the manufacturer isn’t shipping bulk or volume to distributors or wholesalers but smaller shipments direct to the consumer.
Many retail stores have now become more fulfillment locations than the place where the customer buys. This is causing tremendous change in logistics tools and approaches because the size of shipments is becoming smaller while the number of deliveries – and delivery locations – is only increasing.
Customers can go right to the brand’s website and buy direct, driving increased focus on building brand value and improving the overall customer experience. With the demand from consumers for flexibility in how and where they buy, retailers have shifted their approaches to bring e-commerce into the brick-and-mortar stores. This is where online and offline sales channels come together, creating pressure in ordering and fulfillment systems to offer the flexibility and experience consumers want.
While this converged channel model requires businesses to make new and continued investments in e-commerce and digital solutions to enable the flow of orders and information, it also delivers several potential benefits to the business, including the ability to better manage growing customer expectations, better compete in the digital marketplace, and address disruptions in the supply chain by having alternative options.
Delivering the goods has always been an operational challenge, with success often measured in performance and cost. Today’s marketplace requires more agility and flexibility, which means the role of supply chain managers is more strategic than ever. Simple logistics now has a direct impact on the customer’s decision to buy now, as well as buying again later.