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The first few miles of a supply chain are incredibly complex — though retailers are further down the chain, all the inputs and inbound logistics are crucial to their performance and customer satisfaction. And yet, at best, most retailers have visibility into about 70% of their network of suppliers and transportation partners.

As a result, inefficiencies are rampant, disruptions have an outsized impact and employees are left to put out fires, which diminishes morale and increases turnover – the last thing anyone needs in a tight labor market. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Supply chain professionals will tell you there’s no such thing as perfect, but eliminating what we call the Network Uncertainty Factor can go a long way to keeping shelves stocked and everyone happy.

The Network Uncertainty Factor

It’s rare to directly manage 100% of your freight from the first mile to the last. Therefore, most companies, not just retailers, have limited data about their network. And when you have a limited set of performance analytics based on a small fraction of the network, or little to no network benchmarking data, decisions are often a best guess.

When the full picture of your supply chain is incomplete, it’s impossible to make accurate decisions. Instead, organizations are left to operate based on assumptions that don’t reflect the reality of today’s factors. For retailers, tackling this uncertainty presents unique opportunities.

The Opportunities for Retailers

The past few years of unprecedented supply chain chaos taught retailers a resounding lesson: collaboration is key. Having the right data at the right time to identify precisely what can be done is the only path to proactively mitigating issues and achieving mutual success.

With the right tools in place, collaborating to reduce network uncertainty can be a breeze. Those who do it well find that they 1) reduce costs and fees, 2) improve planning and 3) increase satisfaction.

According to Gartner’s report, “Critical Capabilities for Real-Time Transportation Visibility Platforms,” these capabilities constitute Level 5 complexity — capabilities that large global enterprises must have to effectively manage their supply chains.

With a solution that tackles this level of complexity, business leaders gain a deeper, clearer picture of supply chain operations — uncovering new paths to ensure supply chain operations are helping achieve business objectives.

1. Reduce Supply Chain Costs

Everyone likes to save money, and when it comes to retail logistics there are two key areas you can focus on to reduce supply chain costs:

  1. Minimizing Dwell Time
  2. Optimizing Inventory

Tackling dwell time and costs associated with inventory can transcend dollars and cents — mastering these domains will also improve your reputation among every stakeholder, especially CFOs.

Minimize Dwell Time

Dwell time is one of the more vexing challenges for stakeholders across the supply chain. It leads to imbalanced load volumes, carrier arrival delays, inefficient on-site operations and much more. It’s also a critical to achieving differentiation as a shipper of choice.

The data available on the FourKites platform helps PetSmart Transportation maximize carrier utilization and supports our goal to be a shipper of choice. Visibility is invaluable for network optimization, supporting the efficient flow of goods through our supply chain while reducing costs for the company.

– Dawn Goudie, Senior Manager, Supply Chain, PetSmart

More Dwell Time, A Lot More Problems

Dwell time is closely linked to detention costs for shippers. It can cause congestion at ports, facilities and border crossings. Perhaps most importantly, it has major repercussions for the amount of capacity available for the industry as a whole. If retailers are to successfully minimize the effects of dwell time on their supply chains, it’s required they fully understand where and why it’s occurring.

FourKites research has shown that loads with a greater level of complexity, such as mixed-pallet shipments containing orders for multiple customers within a single truck, can significantly increase dwell times — dock and warehouse crews struggle to unload these shipments as fast as they would unload trailers filled with a single type of good.

Identifying Causes Is the First Step to Minimizing Dwell

Dwell can be quickly and significantly lowered once you know where the key problems are occurring. In past collaborations with our shipper, carrier and 3PL partners, we’ve repeatedly found the following consistent, common issues that increase dwell time.

Common causes of high dwell times in trucking and shipping include:
  • Load Complexity. More complex orders, such as mixed-pallet loads, can contribute to greater delays at pickup and delivery facilities. By grouping purchase orders so that similar goods are delivered at the same time, or by scheduling higher-complexity loads to arrive during off-hours when delays are less likely to occur, FourKites customers have been able to successfully reduce detention throughout their supply chains.
  • Arrival Times. FourKites research has shown a direct correlation between high load volume and high dwell times, suggesting that load-balancing initiatives across both time-of-day and day-of-the-week can be key to reducing dwell.
  • Check-In Procedure. Complex or convoluted check-in procedures at facilities can quickly result in a long line of trucks and a bottleneck for both pickups and deliveries. Therefore, simplifying and consolidating check-in procedures, for example by implementing paperless check-in technologies, is an easy way to lower detention costs throughout the organization. And FourKites has integrated with Reflexis, a leading task management solution, for exactly this reason

Once you have identified the root causes affecting high dwell times within your supply chain, the potential value is high.

Here are a few quick success stories on dwell time reduction from within the FourKites network:

  • Using FourKites in conjunction with several existing logistics partnerships, Land O’Lakes reduced median dwell time by 21% per load in just three months.
  • One of the largest meat producers in the US slashed their monthly detention costs by 22% within their first year of using FourKites. This translated to a positive return on investment from detention savings alone within the first six months

Optimize Inventory

For retailers, inventory fluctuations have been a double whammy, impacting product availability on store shelves and customer satisfaction. During the pandemic, customer loyalty quickly disintegrated, as consumers responded to frequent out-of-stocks by trying alternative brands and retailers. Just recently, mass market retailers have been in the news for an influx of inventory to eliminate out-of-stocks ahead of the holiday season. So much so, retailers like Walmart were discounting inventory to make room for the time-sensitive promotions, like back-to-school or the holiday season.

As we get closer to these key retail promotions, we will continue to see disruptions materialize, consumer preferences change, and capacity run in boom-or-bust cycles. While situations and dynamics are in constant flux, supply chain managers’ are challenged to keep everything running smoothly regardless of conditions.

FourKites’ predictive tracking technology helps Walmart Canada to know precisely when shipments will arrive at our distribution centers and at our stores, so we can ensure that customers find the products they’re looking for so they can save money and live better.

– John Bayliss, Senior Vice President, Logistics & Supply Chain, Walmart Canada

Having insight into orders down to the SKU level and paired with predictive ETAs allows retailers to see exactly when – or if – those products will arrive for time-sensitive promotions. Knowing this information allows for more efficient demand, operations and labor planning as well reducing unnecessary transportation costs due to delay and fees. And the need for real-time, end-to-end visibility will only grow as adoption of automation accelerates and sales channels move beyond the physical stores. A focus on omnichannel shipping strategies and a seamless, transparent delivery will be paramount to meeting consumers where they increasingly prefer to shop: at home.

When it comes to having the right amount of inventory, having an end-to-end visibility solution can be the difference between having inventory on time and being out-of-stock. By eliminating silos and breaking down bottlenecks when they do occur, planning becomes more streamlined and customer satisfaction increases.

2. Better Planning

There’s no more fundamental concept in commerce than the supply-demand curve, and for a good reason. Over-projecting demand can lead to excess costs, losses and warehouses full of goods, while under-estimating demand can result in non-maximized revenue and unhappy consumers.

For the most part, forecasting has looked at a few trailing indicators – historical sales, high-performing regions, SKU velocity – and mixed it with a few leading indicators – economic projections, product cycles, demographics – to make a best guess at forecasts. For many companies, uncertainty is simply a part of doing business, it’s baked into their financial forecasts. But how do you aggressively minimize the impact of uncertainty when demand planning and forecasting?

There is no crystal ball to deliver perfect predictions, but what you can do is lean into the concept of network agility — flexing your strategy and operations to meet the unpredictable demands on your business.

Everyone in the industry is looking for ways to mitigate disruptions. Some companies are leveraging their logistics and technology partnerships,  often looking for internal stakeholders to help them identify ways to overcome many of these challenges. FourKites will be one of those companies that many of us are looking to help alongside us in this time of need, and really what’s going to help us in the future.

– Raina Avalon, Executive Vice President & Chief Logistics Officer, The TJX Companies, Inc.

Supply chain intelligence platforms can help network agility by delivering insights that truly mean something to your daily operators. Rather than seeing a broad view of each load, knowing where individual items are at a given moment and having highly accurate estimated arrival times can help you avoid a stockout or missed customer commitment.

3. Improve Satisfaction

Much like the interconnected pieces of a supply chain, a positive outcome for one strategic initiative will influence others. No area is more tied to flawless execution than customer and employee satisfaction — when costs are low, deliveries are on-time and shelves are full, everyone’s happy. As a result, customers and employees stick around longer.

Customer Service and Replenishment Rates

Customer loyalty is up for grabs. A tech-enabled, timely and transparent purchasing and pick-up or delivery experience is expected. In the past few years, consumers have flocked to whoever can provide such an experience, breaking from their tried-and-true retailers.

Thankfully, self-service tools, easily accessible by store associates, close the gap between question and answer for customers while reducing their cost-to-serve up to 33%. You can give customers the same information you have regarding the arrival of expected products, keeping everybody in the know without needing an extra phone call or email.

We collaborated with FourKites to share visibility with our retailers on the Ace intranet page and we’ve received really good feedback from our retailers. Our customers benefit from greater selection because we can sell more than just what’s currently on that store’s floor. And because the stores have greater visibility, not only are they getting that product quicker for their customers, but they’re able to schedule their labor around deliveries even better now as well.

– Karen Helton, Last Mile Logistics Manager, Ace Hardware Corporation

What’s more, having visibility of your entire supply chain network — seeing all your inventory, including inventory in transit — to make strategic decisions that best fulfill orders is game-changing, especially when disruptions continue to hit supply chains.

A frictionless supply chain and the ability to provide self-service isn’t an expense, it’s the key to retaining customers.

Employee Productivity

While labor shortages have made headlines, many supply chain leaders have shifted their focus to making the most of the labor they do have by augmenting their existing workforce with technology to be more productive. And there are other benefits as well — automation and technology can create a better environment for employees and, ultimately, a better customer experience.

For many, real-time supply chain visibility is an easy place to start. While automating track-and-trace is an obvious example, having real-time visibility can maximize your team’s productivity substantially in other areas by:

  • Giving up-to-the-minute insights into PO & SKU-level location data, helping dock workers understand which inventory is a priority
  • Streamlining yard processes with faster turn times, making drivers and gate staff more effective while reducing dwell time and human capital needed to perform functions.
  • Pushing load-level data to all members of support, purchasing, et al., to drive time-to-value for every order.

The other great benefit of labor optimization is that it allows your workforce to be more engaged and strategic in their roles, which, in turn, improves retention. When your employees aren’t trapped in the endless cycle of spreadsheets and phone calls, they can focus on meaningful problems and drive significant customer value.

Our stores love to use FourKites, especially on a Friday going into a weekend or just before a holiday, to determine when that truck might arrive so that they can plan their day accordingly.

– Rebecca Gierok, Associate Manager, Transportation, Best Buy

Visibility. Insight. Intelligence.

We get it — a complex supply chain creates complicated challenges that can feel too big to solve. That’s why we always partner with customers to understand their pain points and workflows, inside and out, and work tirelessly to create simple solutions. In fact, FourKites received some acclaim for the ability to solve complex use cases – recognition we’re both proud of and humbled by.

For example, the FourKites network already tracks a lot of the goods retailers need on their shelves, but because these shipments are considered “pre-paid”, whereby the vendor is responsible for delivering the goods to the retail distribution center, they can’t see them.

In response, we secure permission from our manufacturers and shippers to “unlock” visibility on shared shipments with a solution we call Network Visibility. The pre-paid shipment visibility it provides enables retailers to make informed decisions across their operations that, historically, were very subjective.

Retailers’ results have 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.”

Goodbye Network Uncertainty. Hello Supply Chain Intelligence.

Want to learn more about our advanced capabilities and how they can help you turn your supply chain into a competitive advantage? Request a demo.

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