E-commerce, Technology , Supply ChainWith heightened consumer demand for rapid delivery of items such as clothing, technology and even food products showing no sign of slowing, companies and their transportation partners are under immense pressure to produce, manage, fulfill and distribute an unprecedented amount of consumer goods, while at the same time deliver positive shopping experiences for customers across the board. Although consumers may seldom consider the technology and supply chain processes behind their online and in-store purchases, behind the scenes, it is important for organizations having a stake in the movement of goods to address these challenges head-on.Across diverse industries, companies that are seeing the most success are the ones that no longer view transportation management and logistics as a backend function. Instead, they’re bringing it to the forefront by introducing the right mix of technology solutions and strategies to ensure things that matter most to brands, like on-time delivery to customers and avoidance of detrimental stock-outs, are accomplished.To help navigate these challenges, we’ve outlined the following tactics that have proven to improve control over distribution processes and, in turn, maximize efforts that contribute to the bottom line. Omnichannel Tests FulfillmentAs e-commerce continues to explode, consumers have come to expect and will only continue to demand more digital options in everything they do – whether online or in-store. Shoppers want convenience, access to a large assortment of available products, and a frictionless experience in all aspects of their journeys. It’s clear that online and in-store aren’t mutually exclusive anymore and, in fact, are stronger when paired together to create a comprehensive omnichannel approach. While inherently challenging, mastering omnichannel and creating a unified customer experience across all channels can be what sets innovators apart from the laggards.When Lionel Racing consolidated train and NASCAR operations in North Carolina in 2012, annual outbound shipments went from $25M to $75M+, inbound containers went from 75 to 300+, inventory quintupled from $4M to $20M, and warehouse space doubled to 150,000 sq. ft. Lionel’s omnichannel distribution strategy made handling the growth even more complex, as the company had to meet the rigorous requirements of each unique channel, from mass retailers and dealers/wholesalers to e-commerce, direct-to-consumer, and corporate programs.Lionel turned to technology to systematize and automate order fulfillment processes and satisfy channel requirements, such as branded boxes, ASNs and GS1-128 (UCC-128) labels for direct-to-consumer customers (e.g., Amazon); rapid turnaround for the e-commerce channel; and multiple order consolidation and vendor-compliant labeling for a mix of small package and freight shipments for dealers and wholesalers. Whether it’s the cross-docking batch process that eliminated 22 hours of processing time, or mobile scanning technology and integrated QC that achieves 100% accuracy for the dealer/wholesaler channel, logistics technology has helped Lionel to transform warehouse and shipping operations in support of its omnichannel goals.Route Planning Bakes in AgilityRoute planning technology moves the ability to plan deliveries, schedule appointments, optimize routes, dispatch orders and communicate with drivers to a completely paperless environment. This allows things like reassigning deliveries, responding to customer changes on the fly and managing exceptions tasks to be done virtually instantaneous. With more intelligent route planning, companies also have a nimbleness that’s even more critical during times like peak seasons.Edward Don & Company, as an example, requires consistent delivery for its customers of independent restaurants, national chains, healthcare, hospitality, country clubs, schools, universities and government institutions. One of the company’s mottos is “50,000 to 1, Don has your needs,” which speaks to its huge selection in foodservice equipment and supplies, and, indirectly, to the route planning technology that delivers Don’s goods every day from six distribution facilities nationwide.With companies like Edward Don & Company that deliver over thousands of items available for immediate shipment, route planning allows for those deliveries to be made the next morning in most cases—even if customers place orders the night before. The technology helps companies organize all of their shipments for the next day, optimize the amount of driving that a driver does, and optimize the number of products that go onto a truck so that each route is as efficient as possible, all of which come together to create unmatched services found elsewhere.Mobile Ties It TogetherOne of the largest food distributors in the U.S., U.S. Foods made the move from paper to a mobile solution that supports more than 5,000 drivers every day. As Federico Masias, Senior Director of IT Supply Chain Systems at U.S. Foods explains, “It’s created a new way of servicing customers by enabling drivers to receive routes, orders and manifests electronically.”With mobile devices, drivers have everything they need to wirelessly confirm deliveries and other details in real-time—including electronic proof of delivery (POD). This allows for easier capture of signatures to signify the safe arrival of items at their destination, and digital pictures to confirm if goods are free of damage and that no items are missing, which can otherwise prove costly or detrimental to a company’s reputation if not properly documented. And since some solutions also integrate different types of payment methods, mobile can quicken billing cycles even further — a clear benefit.Moving further into 2019 and beyond, we expect that transportation and logistics will continue to transform in parallel with changing consumer behaviors, preferences and demands. For distribution-intensive companies, technologies that support omnichannel strategies, route planning and mobile may be worth consideration when tackling transportation and logistics challenges to keep pace with evolving customer demands.About the AuthorBrian has over 20 years of sales and business development experience. He has worked with hundreds of companies to apply enterprise software and process improvements to drive value and cost savings in their supply chain and logistics functions. In 2012, Brian joined Oz Development and now, as part of Descartes, he is focused on market strategy and sales enablement to increase customer value. Brian has held executive positions in sales and marketing with Kewill, SupplyWorks, Eleven Technology and Computer Network Technology. He received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.
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