For as long as we’ve been exchanging gifts around the winter solstice, the holiday season has been a busy time for consumers and retailers alike. Over time, bustling outdoor markets have given way to jam-packed shopping malls and, more recently, high-traffic e-commerce platforms. While our modes of shopping have continually evolved, one thing has stayed the same: the pressure to deliver the perfect gift to the right recipient, just in time.
This year, that pressure feels stronger than ever. Consumers’ already-growing affinity for online shopping has converged with a pandemic to create unprecedented e-commerce demand; according to Deloitte, e-commerce holiday sales are projected to grow 11 to 15 percent, compared to the 2020 season. At the same time, the world is experiencing the largest supply chain crisis in history, along with volume caps imposed by major parcel carriers. As a result, many retailers are struggling to fulfill orders on time, if at all. It’s a cascading disaster: a struggling supply chain, leading to bad customer experiences, resulting in tarnished brands.
And retailers of all sizes are feeling the heat. While e-commerce might feel ubiquitous, it’s still relatively new for smaller retailers, as well as for industries like apparel, whose products are typically purchased in brick-and-mortar stores. Many of these companies have a long way to go to build successful e-commerce businesses, and cracks are appearing in e-commerce operations that companies rushed to launch in the midst of the pandemic. Omnichannel businesses, too, are experiencing growing pains, as they struggle to optimize their supply chains for both in-store and online customer experiences.
Add in the supply chain crisis, and even the largest, most prepared companies are struggling — in some cases even cutting their marketing budgets to curb demand they know they can’t meet.
Across the board, retailers are navigating a dense fog. What they need is visibility.
Most companies, big and small, are not actively tracking their consumer freight. After a purchase, the store provides the tracking number and carrier to the customer, but they don’t see any direct updates or ETAs themselves. Why does this matter? When something goes wrong with a shipment — when a package is delayed or even lost – these companies don’t know about it until the customer notifies them. Customer service and transportation teams must work with the carriers to track down the package, and by the time the customer has any actionable information, the brand reputation has already been tarnished.
Omnichannel retailers are hoping to ease some of the pressure of consumer deliveries by encouraging customers to order online and pick up in store. While this model helps combat some of the capacity constraints facing retailers, it does little to reduce the expectation of on-demand product availability. That’s where visibility can help — by giving retailers greater insight into inventory in transit so they can meet customer expectations. With those insights. retailers can quickly divert inventory to stores that are running low, and provide detailed ETA information to their customers on when their online orders will be ready for pickup.
Ace Hardware Corporation has seen great results with this strategy. According to Karen Helton, Last Mile Logistics Manager at Ace Hardware, “One of our goals for this initiative — our logistics revolution — is all around getting more deliveries to our stores to allow them to fulfill more specific customer requests. Where either a store places a special order for you, or its an AceHardware.com Buy Online pick up in store order. With FourKites, because the stores have greater visibility on those additional shipments, not only are they getting that product quicker for their customers, but stores are able to schedule their labor even better now as well.”
With FourKites’ real-time transportation visibility platform, retailers can see these delays even before they occur, and can reroute or resend shipments as appropriate. Unlike most e-commerce shipping solutions, FourKites tracks all modes and all carriers, including parcel and LTL — meaning retailers can use one system for tracking across e-commerce and traditional freight. In fact, the FourKites platform has seen a 3X increase in retail LTL shipments since the beginning of 2021, and 25% growth for retail parcel shipments. The flexible platform also makes it easy to add regional parcel companies to respond to tight capacity constraints. Additionally, FourKites offers carrier performance analytics so shippers can choose the highest-performing carriers in each region.
With comprehensive visibility, the entire business benefits, end to end. Customer service can now proactively alert customers with updates about their packages, as well as highly accurate ETAs for when they will arrive. FourKites also allows companies to send live-tracking links to customers, where they can find real-time shipment status information for themselves. That means transportation teams spend less time tracking down packages and more time on higher-value work, while consumers enjoy a better customer experience. Added together, retailers preserve their brand reputation and their bottom line.
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None of us can predict exactly what shopping — or shipping — will look like in the years ahead. But whether it’s smart wishlists or self-driving sleighs, retailers can arm themselves with a supply chain visibility solution. And we can all enjoy the holidays with a little less pressure.