The ongoing COVID pandemic has accelerated adoption of real-time supply chain visibility software like no other single event previously. We’re convinced this unexpected shock to the supply chain has been the impetus for lasting changes to the marketplace, and will only accelerate the push for a more transparent and efficient supply chain for all.

Retailers who were initially slow to adopt real-time visibility are following the lead of carriers and manufacturers after several years of aggressive uptake in their sectors.

In the early days of pandemic-related disruptions, FourKites CEO Mathew Elenjickal contacted a number of retailers to talk about the issues they were facing. They shared a list of pressing issues we knew could be mitigated by access to real-time supply chain data. For instance:

  • Nearly every retailer said the ongoing crisis forced them to handle far more questions about trucks in transit than they were prepared to answer.
  • Other retailers had velocity issues; at least one was waiting a full day after taking delivery before their distribution centers (DCs) could actually allocate and ship product to their stores.
  • One retailer operating thousands of stores in remote areas nationwide – where consumers have limited places to shop – needed timely and reliable information about when daily essentials would hit critical on-shelf levels.
  • The large number of empty trucks on the roadways – up to 40% of trucks at any given time, according to industry studies – were driving empty when retailers desperately needed critical goods. Any deadhead between delivery and next pickup stop is a huge opportunity.

The FourKites network was already tracking a lot of the goods these retailers needed on their shelves, but because these shipments were considered “pre-paid”, whereby the vendor is responsible for delivering the goods to the retail DC, they couldn’t see them. After securing permission from our manufacturers and shippers to “unlock” visibility, FourKites’ Network Visibility solution provided critical information to many retailers struggling to manage the chaotic situations they were facing on the front lines.

The pre-paid shipment visibility that Network Visibility provided enabled retailers to make informed decisions across their operations that historically were very subjective. Specific results that retailers experienced during the pandemic included:

  • Better management of delays while auditing and reducing detention payments
  • Reduced safety stock by 15 percent
  • Accelerated sales throughput by shaving a full day from the time needed to allocate goods to stores
  • Cut non-productive track and trace activity by 20 percent
  • Reduced dwell time by 5 percent by reducing dock-door bottlenecks
  • Assigned goods 1-2 days in advance of their normal process to stores, since they could see exactly where the goods were in transit via FourKites’ predictive ETA

And all of this came from a single dashboard they could consult any time of day.

“Sharing data and best practices has created a common alignment with our customer,” one manager told us. “We both mutually hold our carriers to a higher standard because of the benefit of sharing data.”

Customer satisfaction rose, too: “When we have our performance review meetings, we are not talking about service, we are talking about growing the business together,” another logistics professional reported. “Transparency and a common understanding has transformed how we operate.”

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The supply chain disruptions and volatility of the last several months may well continue as the pandemic rages on. Real-time visibility is proving to be a critical tool for retailers managing through a difficult, unprecedented situation. No one knows the long-term impact of this pandemic on the industry, but we do know that visibility is table stakes to enabling the agility necessary to manage through any disruption.

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