In a post-pandemic world, it’s become apparent that it’s not just technology, but relationships with consumers that are going through a massive evolution. Whereas brands would once rely on wholesalers and big retailers to reach their consumers, they’re now able to own more of the customer journey themselves by selling directly to their target audience.
It’s certainly made this an interesting time for those working in global supply chains, which continue to pivot and transform.
“We’ve been through a couple of interesting cycles in the last few years,” observed Eddie Capel, President and CEO of Manhattan Associates.
“First, we had particular products in very high demand, so much so that there were empty shelves at grocery stores and soaring prices to keep up. Then brick-and-mortar stores got locked down and all of a sudden, quite a bit of inventory became inaccessible. From a process perspective, we had to find creative ways to unlock that stationary inventory.”
While he stops short of crediting the pandemic for digital transformations within supply chains, he notes that it accelerated processes already down this path.
“I don’t think there’s a company on the planet that’s not getting closer to the consumer. Whether it’s a bank or a pharmaceutical company, retailers or wholesalers, everybody is moving closer to the consumer. A big part of that is being able to meet the consumer’s expectations,” Mr Capel added.
“Just a few years ago, when you were looking for, say, athleisure, you might go to a multi-brand store and look around, check out different brands. But today, you probably have a much stronger brand allegiance. You’ll go to that specific store or check out their website.”
And on their part, brands are making the most of increased digitisation through data-fuelled tools (like pre-emptive modelling) to ensure a smooth omnichannel retail experience. Whether it’s in stores, online, or through social media, they’re putting their best foot forward for their consumers.
Mr Capel explained, “These brands, they want to know which sports you play, they want to be able to dress and equip you head-to-toe. They want to be able to market to you directly and this permeates across just about every industry.”
The growing role of technology
While coy expressions like speed and agility continue to be tossed around, there is something to be said about the role of technology in supporting retailers and wholesalers to bridge the gap with their consumers. Since the pandemic, innovations like contactless payments and curb-side pick-ups have come to the forefront. Stores have also transformed into hubs for returns of online purchases.
“Whether it’s changing the colour or size or style, there’s now greater movement towards returns. It’s a far cry from the days when retailers couldn’t spell the word return, and building customer intimacy means catering to this demand,” Mr Capel elaborated.
“Interestingly though, customers want an efficient, smooth return process without having to talk to anybody. That’s where the technology enablement of digital self-service like a simple return form and easy fulfillment processes, provide that imperative interaction with the consumer on their terms.”
It’s also driven forward the importance of advanced order fulfillment, leveraging technology solutions to gauge the success of the overall transaction.
“Businesses want to proactively acknowledge how they can improve their services for the consumer. How have they performed? What could they do better? It’s all ways to be more responsive and understand buying patterns.”
Retail as a ‘yes’ industry
At Manhattan Associates, which has provided unified omnichannel commerce and digital supply chain solutions since 1990, Mr Capel credits their key focus on efficiency and innovation in building successful consumer experiences.
He notes how crucial this is in today’s ‘yes’ industry where supply chains must find solutions sooner rather than later to consumer demands.
“For the average consumer who goes to a store, they don’t want to have to come back on another day to buy their desired product if it’s out of stock. Turning customers away is a no strategy, isn’t it? They want to hear yes – yes, it’s available in another one of our stores down the road, or available for curb-side pick-up tomorrow, or will be shipped to your office by tomorrow. And to cross this bridge from a no-culture to yes-culture in retail, you’ve got to have great technology enablement,” Mr Capel said.
In the past five years alone, Manhattan Associates’ investment of more than $325 million in innovative supply chain solutions continues to springboard this change.
“Just knowing the location of your particular products isn’t enough anymore. Can you sell it? What price can you sell it at? How quickly can you access it? Today, you’ve got to be an effective promise keeper or consumers aren’t going to come back to you.”
Building sustainability into supply chains
As the spotlight grows on the environmental impact of business activity, such as the carbon footprint of packaging and returns, Mr Capel agrees that there’s work to be done on refining these processes.
“The general consensus is that processes aren’t very eco-friendly. Say you order a package at 9 o’clock in the morning, then you order something else at lunchtime from the same retailer, and they arrive in different shipments on different days. It’s probably not as efficient as it should be,” he elaborated.
“It is reasonably complicated to pull orders back once they’ve started down the supply chain and we’re working on that. But some food for thought is comparing the emission cost of one delivery van visiting multiple houses of a neighbourhood vis-à-vis multiple cars driving to the same store, along with the cost of store lighting, possibly air conditioning, all of the things that go into that,” he mused.
Creating smaller environmental footprints through technology enablement remains an integral part of adapting as an industry, Mr Capel contends.
“There’s no question about it, building sustainable, resilient supply chains is critical. At Manhattan Associates, we’ve spent the last 30 years or so exclusively focused on this aspect, spending numerous resources on innovation, research and development.
“While the macro business environment continues to see changes, like current inflationary pressures, we’re acutely aware that expectations of the consumer remain high. They will always want quality, timely service and that’s what we’re here to provide.”