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Katie MineckDirector, Customer Success, FourKites

There are many challenges facing retailers today. More than ever, consumers want their goods, and they want them now. Empty shelves abound, on-time delivery is king (as long as it’s in full), and disruptions from storms, pandemics, protests and more have become seemingly commonplace over the past couple years.

All of this has taken its toll on Retail supply chains. According to FourKites data, 61% of retail loads arrived late in 2018. Yet rather than give into seemingly endless challenges, a growing cohort of companies has chosen instead to raise the bar. Companies like Best Buy, Serta Simmons, PetSmart and many more world-class retailers are leveraging new technologies that allow them to empower employees, react to disruptions before they occur and do more with less.

In our recent Supply Chain Leadership Summit, we heard from two such retailers — Walmart Canada and The Michaels Stores — that have harnessed FourKites’ real-time supply chain visibility platform to maximize efficiency, free up workers from time-consuming tasks, and coordinate their logistics operations better than ever before.

Michaels Masters Appointment Scheduling

Appointment scheduling is often overlooked as a supply chain function. When it’s poorly handled, however, it can quickly become a major source of inefficiency, impacting many other segments of the organization. Streamlining the appointment scheduling process, on the other hand, can have profound impacts on the rest of the supply chain, boosting efficiency throughout the operation. There is perhaps no better example of the power of this type of digital transformation than that given by The Michaels Stores.

Michaels moves 21,000 inbound truckloads each day between its network of suppliers and their six distribution centers (DCs). After just over a year of tracking these shipments using FourKites, Michaels decided to augment appointment scheduling at its distribution centers, using real-time visibility.

“We were looking for a solution, and that’s where FourKites came in. They have a really easy to implement, great solution that solves the very simple task of scheduling appointments.”

– Jason Frerich, Director of Domestic Transportation, The Michaels Stores

For years, Michaels’ appointment scheduling process involved the carrier calling into the distribution center directly to schedule their appointment. If no one was available to take the call or the carrier couldn’t get the appointment they needed, they would then need to call the vendor and reschedule their pickup time. Seeking to move beyond this highly inefficient process, Michaels rolled out FourKites’ Appointment Manager gradually within each of its DC facilities. The improvement to workforce efficiency became quickly apparent in the form of reduced call volumes and streamlined scheduling of appointments. But that was far from the only benefit.

Since Michaels was a FourKites customer prior to rolling out Appointment Manager, it was able to not only schedule appointments more efficiently, but also instantly determine whether trucks were on track to meet those scheduled appointments. Prior to this development, yard crews would frequently waste time waiting for late trucks to arrive, while track and trace teams would spend hours bogged down in determining when late shipments were actually going to arrive. Because of the tight delivery schedules from Michaels’ six distribution centers to its more than 1,200 individual stores, delays on the inbound side would often cause compounding delays and empty shelves at stores themselves.

With FourKites, yard workers instantly know not only what’s scheduled for that day, but also whether those shipments will arrive on time. That, in turn, enables them to make informed decisions about how to use their time more efficiently, whether that means pulling in a trailer that was dropped earlier in the day, unloading a truck that arrived early or simply scheduling fewer workers for a given shift. Michaels’ track and trace team, meanwhile, no longer has to spend hours on the phone setting up appointments and verifying arrival times — it’s all done automatically! In fact, the impact to operational efficiency has been so profound that the company is currently standing up two brand-new distribution centers, which will, of course, be equipped with FourKites technology.

Walmart Leads the Way

Francis Lalonde of Walmart Canada was another customer who spoke at our Supply Chain Leadership Summit. In an interview with FourKites’ CEO Matt Elenjickal, Lalonde walked through the many positive impacts visibility technology has helped his company achieve, as well as his plans for leveraging this technology further in the years to come.

Lalonde spoke about the value of having accurate, predictive ETAs built upon machine learning and real-world data. “It’s just very exciting to see how we can progress,” he says, “and how the system starts to understand how to react in certain situations. For example, how long does it take to go from A to B in a snowstorm? And then we can make tough decisions upstream to send trailers, not necessarily full, to beat the snowstorm and make sure that we both have goods on the shelf and can keep our drivers safe.” Especially as so much of the country recovers from the recent unprecedented snowstorms, the depth of this improvement is clearer than ever.

Empowering the Walmart Canada team to make tough decisions in difficult situations, and be proactive in their decision-making, has profound implications for keeping its operations strong in throughout the pandemic, as well. Since the onset of COVID-19, Lalonde says that Walmart has had to become more flexible than ever in its operations. This new normal has necessitated that the company go back to basics, focusing on the fundamentals of a well-run store and supply chain in order to ensure that they’re able to keep their shelves full, their stores open, and their employees and customers safe.

Going forward, Lalonde is excited to explore the potential of mobile supply chain management, coordinating the actions of drivers behind the wheel with employees on the store floor, as well as with the overall corporate leadership of Walmart’s sprawling global retail apparatus. Technology is transforming efficiency on both the inbound and the outbound side of the supply chain, leading to new opportunities — and new challenges — that the company is only too eager to tackle next.

All of this, Lalonde says, “enables us to have real-time, super-dynamic visibility, almost end-to-end in our two key segments of transportation.”

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The changes in the logistics industry over the past few years have made it clear that the supply chain is no longer a cost center, but a competitive differentiator, as well. Retail is no exception to this trend, as all throughout the industry leading companies like Walmart and Michaels are taking steps to augment their supply chains with transformative digital technologies.

We are proud to partner with these outstanding leaders and help them navigate these uncertain times, and we’re excited to see what the future may hold — for both consumers and businesses alike.

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