Holiday Season is Fast Approaching, Compete with Amazon Without Free Shipping

If an organizational goal is to compete with Amazon at e-commerce you’re likely setting your company up for failure, it also underlines a business strategy that lacks an understanding in the power of their brand and market niche. However, this should not discourage any company or brand from striving to improve on their e-commerce metrics, operational or otherwise. In the past month we’ve seen Amazon force brand giant Nike to become part of their platform, after years of resistance. This is because Amazon is only as successful as the power, and quality, of the brands in which it transacts.

Nike, along with many other strong brands, have concerns about this partnership: counterfeit products, Amazon cannibalizing customers from the Nike web storefront platform, and eventually Amazon private label production of Nike style footwear. These are all valid concerns, and when a longstanding leader like Nike is reluctant, enterprise and SMB’s should all take notice. Amazon focuses on three main pillars of service: price- right price, not always the lowest; selection- all the selection; and convenience- best way for the customer to get to the products; however, they cannot control a brand’s connection to the customer and will never have the ability to build strong relationships across such a large and diverse network.

  1. Take Advantage of a Diverse Logistics Network

 

Amazon does logistics right; there’s no denying that the company has become a leader in supply chain optimization and operational efficiency. One reason Amazon is so successful is that they have mastered a flexible and wide logistics network; that the company primarily runs with its own employees. They also have numerous vendors who service them through Drop Ship programs therefore expanding their outreach. Various platforms exist that connect organizations that need warehousing space that have organizations with extra space in over 45 markets across North America. Using these types of shared space networks will empower businesses to proactively plan for peak times, better understand their marketplace and place the right assortment of product closer to the end consumer. By placing the product closer to the customer companies can offer free shipping without detrimental hits to their bottom line; but more importantly they can offer fast delivery and further delight the customer.

 

  1. Develop Deep, Collaborative Relationships with Suppliers

 

In total Amazon sells over 480 million products just in the USA, this is an 8% growth from December 2016; the company is also shipping a large portion of their assortment to 180 countries around the world. Their Achilles heel is forecasting! Brands know their product, assortment and suppliers better than Amazon. This creates increased risk in the Amazon supply chain which is why there is an increased effort to start sourcing most of their fast moving ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) directly from vendor factories. Their ultimate desire, as we can see in the apparel industry, is to move their supply chain directly to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).

Build trust with suppliers, create collaborative forecasting program and share in raw materials risk. Provide manufacturers and factories with visibility into your sales and operations planning data and give them a stake in the game.

 

  1. Brand and Assortment

New product launches are the best opportunity for brands to connect or reconnect to customers, educate and listen to their feedback. With a vast and global supply chain Amazon cannot understand all nuances of their vendor’s supply planning and network risk. As such, the company is searching to increase the number of drop ship partners across the country. Unlike most retailers, Amazon does not accept a fee for this program, however they pitch the service as the brand’s opportunity to place the product in the customer’s hands faster as it does not have to circulate through the Amazon network.

For some legacy products this makes sense, but for newly released products brands should be very weary of placing these into the Amazon supply chain. The optimal approach for new products is to limit and control the supply chain as much as possible, and back this up with enough marketing dollars that the needed visibility exists and sales take off without Amazon.

  1. Shipping

Shipping does not have to be free, however it does have to be hassle free on the outbound as well as reverse logistics. Analyzing Amazon’s SEC filings for 2016, the company calculated a net landed cost for products at their customer’s doors of $7.2B.

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According to Amazon’s CFO, Brian Olsavsky, the total spent on shipping increased by 30% YoY driven by the fact that more than 50 milling items on their catalog are now eligible for free two day shipping, which has also increased over 70% from the previous year. As a percentage of the total company revenue the shipping costs were reported at 53.3% a the end of 2016; this would cripple most other businesses.

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Provide customers with realistic expectations, partner with the best last mile delivery providers and keep a pulse on the average rate in the market. Exceed expectations and impress the customer by anticipating post-delivery needs, do not put the business at risk to compete with Amazon’s free shipping policy.

The best thing about not being Amazon is that your customer service team can excel in understanding your brand and product and speak to the customer from experience.  Brands can listen, receive feedback, and act on their customer’s opinions. Amazon invests in improved customer service, but without the brand and product knowledge their service is lacking expertise and revolves around product delivery and directing the customer back to the original manufacturer.

Excellent customer service, coupled with strategic management of your supply chain will set you up for a successful holiday season and a strong brand in the future. Amazon will continue to grow. Being small, nimble, innovative and true to the customer will help true brands survive and strive.

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Supply chain disruption – 3 lessons learned from past trends

Supply chain disruptions are business disruptions. There is no portion of the business that is isolated from interruptions upstream or downstream in the supply chain. As SCM become more strategic in business planning, we gain a deeper understanding of how challenges and opportunities in the supply chain can impact the overall performance of the business.

1. You are only as strong as your partners are!

Supply chain disruptions are rarely under the control of business operations or supply chain executives. Oftentimes we build partnerships to help us plan for the future and put our trust in companies to support our supply chain goals.

“Freight is the heart of supply chain management. Without the ability to quickly and effectively move merchandise around the globe, the business’ ability to succeed is limited”

Global companies agree to large ocean freight contracts to stabilize yearly transportation costs, and have a baseline budget for their expected TEU transportation.

Most SMBs will likely use an NVOCC for this service; this means that a 3rd party forwarder handles all the company’s documentation and freight arrangements door-to-door. Such a practice puts SMBs at a disadvantage which became very clear during the demise of Hanjin Shipping Line. Without their knowledge, many U.S. businesses found their merchandise on Hanjin vessels due to decisions made by their NVOCC. According to SeaIntel, at the time that Hanjin filed for bankruptcy protection, the company had 43 vessels in transit with 540,000 TEU of cargo on board.

Given the time of year, the merchandise on board of the ships was planned inventory to service the U.S. and other global consumers during the 2016 holiday season. One way in which larger businesses can protect themselves from such disruption is to take this decision in-house and assign a responsible party to manage their logistics network. In this case, companies can go directly to the shipping line and negotiate long term contracts at fixed rates. Companies should fully research the shipping lines they contract with and their terms of service. Generally, there is a high TEU requirement for competitive rates and this can often backfire if the logistics team chooses a poor partner.

2. Useful, accurate predictive analytics are key 

Data from the closing of 2016 shows that retailers had increased faith in consumer spending during the holiday season, and accordingly, increased inventory holdings in the last quarter. The National Retail Federation states that the year-end increase in import volume came as a surprise to many in the retail industry. The NFR raised its forecast to a 7% gain at major U.S. ports, from 3.2% in an earlier report, while November imports rose 11.2%, beating the prediction for a 3.6% year-over-year gain.

For manufacturers and wholesalers, customer trends often include paying close attention to the retail channel as well. Very aggressive sales and inventory management trends from Amazon, and other e-commerce retailers, created market disruptions driving many brick and mortar shops out of business. Their aggressive practices continue to take markets by surprise.

“Staying ahead of customer trend curve-balls requires alignment and communication”

At the end of 2015, days before Black Friday, Amazon reconstructed their inventory management strategy, significantly shortening their days of inventory on hand. This was a strategic move enabling the company to release cash at the end of the year, and force their vendors to enter a vendor-managed inventory system within a few weeks.

Amazon, Alibaba, and Ebay changed the way end consumers search for products and make purchases. Companies have to be prepared for last minute decision-making and must have flexibility in their supply chain to deal with spikes in demand or disruptions upstream.

Understanding shifting consumer behaviors is not a one-time effort, and must be ongoing. Successful organizations are proactive in learning about their customers’ needs and prepare to meet them ahead of time. It is imperative that this effort be shared across the organization to connect knowledge from the sales team to the supply chain.

3. Your supply chain must be flexible enough to adapt

For operations professionals, the constant goal is to continuously improve on previous processes and recognize tangible cost savings. In business, however, we cannot operate in silos. Our planning and preparation can only solve for a certain percentage of all the processes covered globally. To prepare for events such as the disruptions listed above, a company’s supply chain must be flexible and the managing team must have the tools to make last-minute well-informed decisions.  A flexible supply chain should be able to detect and respond to issues and opportunities in the short and long-term with the best choices for the business.

Understanding and preparing for operational challenges is crucial to growing a successful global brand. 

Strategic planning can make the difference between hitting the mark on profitability and customer service and failing to compete in the global marketplace. Understanding the sources of disruption in a company’s supply chain makes the operations team indispensable in drafting future growth and driving strategy to support this.

This article first appeared on TradeReady the Blog for International Trade Experts.

Congress Focuses on New Anti-dumping Investigation in Fabrics

New international trade agreements do not protect companies from price wars with foreign nationals. Congress is investigating multiple Chinese companies accused of “dumping” fabrics on the US market at prices too low for domestic companies or rivals to compete with. Current findings are more information on this investigation were released by the International Trade Organization earlier this month. Trade_ Commerce_ Antidumping Investigation

SOLAS

Maritime safety for workers and marine life is important. Businesses have a large footprint on the environment and ocean transportation still lies at the heart of global organizations.

New regulations on weight declaration is meant to create more transparency in the transportation and logistics industry.

How will this change the current structure of the logistics market? We have seen major consolidation and M&A in the market in the past three years, more regulation will help weed out the remaining week links and leave maybe five major shipping lines ruling the oceans.

How will SOLAS affect wholesale businesses, small and large distributors, and will this regulation also create a urgent need for upgrades at manufacturing facilities around the world?

General – SOLAS Container Weight Verification 1604

Coming to a port near you July 1st, 2016. Stay informed!

Building Sustainable & Resilient Supply Chains

Recently I attended a panel discussion on supply chain sustainability sponsored by the Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals Southern California Roundtable. The diverse panel consisted of leaders from Sony Electronics, Vans,FoodLogiQ and Clean Energy Fuels and offered a rich discussion surrounding efforts to implement sustainable practices in large international supply chains and how these measures can help add resilience along the way.

Some of the key points that came of out the discussion are not industry specific and resonate across the board:

  1. You can’t change what you don’t know. The burden of carrying out an audit lies on the suppliers; FoodLogiQ offered the example of McDonalds and how the food giant required their potato suppliers to offer information regarding the growth of the vegetable, with the ultimate goal of lessening the amount of pesticides used to grow them. The farmers had to invest time and money to monitor this, but in the end this information proved valuable for the company and its suppliers. McDonalds potato suppliers now use less pesticides, costing them less in the end and protecting the land for future production.
  2. There is a new code of conduct that electronics, apparel and food manufactures expect their suppliers to follow. The sustainability program for Vans is far reaching and part of a more elaborate effort of the larger organization Vans belongs to, the $12 billion apparel and footwear international giant VF Corporation. Vans communicates with their suppliers regarding their sustainability efforts and monitors the impact of their operations as well as their products. They worked only with certified suppliers and conduct audits at manufacturing plants to ensure that the suggested guidelines are followed. Vans uses the Higg Index to measure product impact and the VF Corporation is part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a non-profit organization that strives to create a shared vision of sustainability built upon a common approach for measuring and evaluating apparel and footwear product sustainability performance.

Sony Electronics has undertaken a huge effort to phase out the usage of certain chemicals and sustainable sourcing through conflict minerals policy and management. They have implemented stringent audits with their suppliers and require them to complete a certification process prior to developing a partnership.

  1. Packaging is key. Most of the time we think a lot of the impact lies in transportation but both Sony Electronics and Vans strongly agree that packaging offers great opportunities for lessening the impact of products. In both cases their research into the company’s operations show that materials and manufacturing are the biggest impact vs retail and distribution. Lifecycle assessments offer sustainability managers an understanding of how the product fares from manufacturing to disposal. Both Sony and Vans agree companies agree that sustainability measures should spread across the organization but they point out that some of the time these measures cannot be properly valued, and therefore it is hard to get teams behind these efforts. They suggest that the best way to implement sustainability measures in a large organization is to understand your footprint, find your hotspots and go after it!
  2. You can’t do it alone! FoodLogiQ is a partner to some of the largest food chains and food retailers in the United States. Their work with McDonalds, Chipotle and now Whole Foods Market has helped these companies become more conscious about their operations and purchasing, but has also aided in educating consumers. Have you seen the Good/ Better/ Best labels on fresh produce at Whole Foods Markets? That is an effort to help consumers make more informed decisions while helping farmers undertake better measures to protect their land, lessen their water usage and practice wise pesticide control.

Finally Clean Energy Fuels is one of America’s largest natural gas suppliers for trucks clean fleet trucks. Their efforts span from servicing local garbage trucks, through partnerships with various cities around the country to supplying large cargo trucks for companies such as C.H. Robinson and Southern Counties Express. Without their efforts these companies would still be heavily dependent on oil which creates numerous pollution problems around the country but specifically here in Southern California.

Hello world sustainSCM is live!

This blog is meant to share, discuss and outline challenges and opportunities in supply chain management and sustainability. Supply chain and operations management are areas of business constantly evolving and give leadership endless opportunities for increased efficiency, cost cutting and innovation. I want to outline and debate best practices in systems innovation, data management and the building blocks for resilient global supply chains.

Looking forward to thoughts and comments!

~Irina