The Early Bird Catches the Customer

By Chris Jones | 09/23/2016 | 10:47 AM

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with three companies who are in the middle of logistics transformation initiatives. While they are in diverse industries such as food manufacturing and building material distribution, they all had one thing in common – the desire to deliver more to customers earlier in the day. Not only is this strategy making customers happier but, for two of them, it is directly related to increased sales. This approach drives home a point that I have been making for the last several years: B2B customers want delivery choices that benefit their business models, not just faster deliveries. Logistics operating strategies, technology and metrics need to change to reflect the value of early delivery choice.

The value propositions for early deliveries are easy to understand.

Retailers have been pressuring food manufacturers to not make deliveries to stores during peak customer times. They don’t want cases in their aisles, and they do want their store associates on the floor and not receiving goods in the back room. Early deliveries (e.g., before 8am) are favored to keep shelves from being restocked during peak shopping times and address out of stocks before consumers enter the store. Food manufacturers that can drive a higher percentage of their deliveries early in the day are in a better position to move more product.

In the construction industry, contractors like to ensure that their crews – one of their greatest expenses – are fully utilized. Since construction tends to have a fluid schedule most materials are ordered within 24 hours of use. If the materials aren’t there at the start of the day, crews sit, costing contractors time and money. Contractors favor the distributors who can deliver early and consistently.

Driving more early morning deliveries and measuring their value.

Rather than a monolithic daily delivery strategy, the strategy needs to evolve during the day. The early morning needs to emphasize a greater number (or $ volume) of deliveries. After the early morning period is maximized, the strategy needs to focus on more cost-effective delivery.  Static delivery routes and manual planning are no longer effective. To maximize early morning deliveries, a dynamic planning process that considers the order mix and customer locations is required. In addition, delivery routes might extend over early- and later-day deliveries and need to optimize route for volume early and cost later. For short order lead-time businesses, the ability to reliably promise an early delivery appointment during the buying process is important to capturing the order.

Measuring the value of early deliveries is also a challenge for most logistics organizations. Logistics organizations are measured primarily on delivery costs and simple customer service metrics like complete and on time. However, determining the value of early delivery points to two other metrics that are equally important: incremental revenue and customer satisfaction. Tracking incremental revenue for early deliveries is possible, but requires cooperation from the sales organization (e.g., how much more did we sell when we increased our early deliveries). Tracking the service level improvement of early deliveries can be as easy as “How much did we deliver before 8am?” That is still, however, an internally-focused metric. Instead, customer focused metrics (e.g., through delivery surveys) are more telling when you are trying to determine if you are making a difference.


From the examples above, there is clear value to customers for early delivery and it is one of the many ways logistics can make a material impact beyond traditional roles. However, this requires delivery operations to be more dynamic to maximize delivery volume while keeping costs down. Technology becomes increasingly important to supporting these more complex delivery requirements.

What is your organization doing to use concepts like early morning delivery to drive more business and delight customers? Let me know.

We Have to Get Smarter About Logistics for Cities

By Chris Jones | 09/07/2016 | 2:03 PM

Cities are where the most opportunity and challenges will be for logistics for the next 10 years. They’re where the world’s population will concentrate and, consequently, where demand for logistics services will be the greatest. However, cities are trying to be more livable and green and, as a result, it will be harder for logistics organizations to operate efficiently. Instead of trying harder, logistics operations need to become smarter about how they serve cities.

Shifting Demographics

A combination of changes will drive more logistics activity into cities. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020, cities will see 90% of the global consumption growth. Also by 2020, growth in younger and aging populations will account for 50% of the consumption growth. Mobile and intelligent-device-based ordering by over 900 million people will reach $1 trillion by 2020 with most of those mobile purchases requiring some kind of logistics support to get the goods to consumers.


Smart Cities Graphic 7sep16

Data Source: McKinsey Global Institute

Will Governments or Mass Transit Make an Impact?

The answer is yes but, unfortunately, not in a way that helps the movement of goods. City-based governments are actively shaping city logistics and moving much more rapidly than state and local organizations, but they’re focused on improving logistics conditions for people rather than freight. In fact, they’re making changes that actually adversely impacting freight, such as restricting delivery times, locations and vehicle size, charging for intercity access and imposing penalties for “non-green” behavior (e.g. idling). Intercity mass transit investment has also almost exclusively been targeted at better movement of people. While, private logistics organizations are trying to leverage the existing infrastructure (e.g. subways), it has been limited to “parcel-oriented” deliveries and in low resource cost countries such as China.

As a result, for the next 10 years, traditional over-the-road transit will still be the prime mover of urban goods, but it will have to get much smarter to do it efficiently, effectively and in compliance with regulations.

Three Ways to Address the Urban Logistics Dilemma

Intelligent Route Management

Delivery productivity will be key to servicing the increasing demand while maintaining compliance with a greater number of delivery restrictions. Logistics operations and drivers need to be better equipped to be more effective via smarter delivery route planning and execution. The route planning process now needs to understand a city’s operating hours and road restrictions, including construction, and the driver’s navigation system must support those commercial and physical restrictions. Because cities have such dynamic traffic conditions, the route plans must take into account time-based road speeds and when routes can be run, and real-time traffic feedback will be important to help keep deliveries in-process on track. Delivery density will also be an important factor, driving productivity. Logistics operations need to book delivery appointments that drive density and combine delivery modes to make routes more productive. For instance, routes should combine store, office, home delivery and locker deliveries.

Pool Distribution

Multi-party delivery collaboration drives delivery density and route efficiency beyond what any single logistics operation does. Pool distribution, a form of multi-party delivery collaboration, has been around since the 1980s and may be more relevant now than ever. Used heavily by specialty retailers to service malls, it uses its economy of scale and standardized processes with pool operators across North America to give participants the speed of parcel with the cost of LTL transportation. Cities are much like malls and intercity delivery could benefit from highly dense routes that reduce the truck traffic in the city. Clearly, this type of thinking needs to companies to be able to work together, even if they’re competitors. However, the pool model shows that it works and all participants benefit.

Controlled Inbound Flow

Another multi-party delivery collaboration opportunity to remove or reduce traffic congestion in cities is time-phasing the flow of goods into a given area. I had a chance to see it in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia this summer where in-town malls, multi-use developments and construction sites were using dock appointment technology to control the flow of deliveries. Much of the congestion in cities is due to the limited parking, especially for trucks. So, it doesn’t take more than a few trucks showing up at the same time and waiting in the same area to significantly affect traffic. By time phasing and load leveling available delivery locations (e.g. docks), a mall or facility operator like the Emporium in Melbourne can keep the streets clear and reduce excess driving and demurrage associated with truck waiting for openings. It also helps ensure timely delivery as the appointment times are guaranteed and stores can more effectively plan their resources. The city of Sydney is also experimenting with using parking lots and dock appointment scheduling to do localized consolidation to reduce the number of intercity trucks. This approach shows that it doesn’t take a massive infrastructure change to improve intercity delivery and there are opportunities for logistics services providers to offer new services to cities and city-based businesses.


Changing demographics say that cities will dominate the logistics agenda for the future as what has been a tough place already will become even more important and tougher to serve. However, there are a number of ways to better serve customers in cities and comply with increasingly stringent city commercial transportation requirements. There are clearly roles for retailers, distributors, logistics services providers and even facility operators and local governments to make goods move more freely though ever crowding cities. What is your organization doing to improve city logistics? Let me know.

How quick will your next logistics systems implementation be? Look in the mirror

By Chris Jones | 11/16/2015 | 5:57 AM

I recently had a conversation with the North American head of implementations at a logistics technology company about a customer who had a very complex home-delivery system implementation go live in a matter of 10 weeks. His comment was “don’t expect this to be the norm—these guys were decisive and prepared to move fast.” While there is a difference in the market in terms of logistics-solutions implementation complexity and time frames, the biggest driver in implementations is always the customer. Here are some points to consider if you want to move fast, or at least faster, in getting your next logistics solution live.

Be decisive. To move quickly through the implementation process, your organization needs to make decisions as issues or options occur. Company culture is a leading indicator of how decisive your organization will be. If your company culture is one of inclusiveness and debate, then you can forget a fast (or cheap) implementation. To know whether your organization is decisive, consider how your organization would deal with the following example: If you were implementing a mobile solution and needed to determine the reason codes for a missed stop, can you do it in less than an hour with the people in the room doing the solution design, or do you need to bring it back to a group of 30 “stake holders” who need 5 meetings and 3 weeks to hash out the options?

Kill scope creep and enhancements. Most kids growing up learn the difference between “needs” and “wants.” But that lesson doesn’t seem to apply when it to comes to logistics systems implementations. I have seen more projects go “sideways” from a time perspective—and way over budget—when the scope is constantly evolving. It’s one thing to get buy-in from the end-users and another to let them drive the requirements. Every business has some unique aspect to their operation. The fact that “we’ve always done it this way” is also not an argument for more changes to adapt the solution to the past. The same goes for perfection. For a fast implementation, your organization’s mentality has to be to use what is in the product and only ask for changes for mission-critical issues.

Integration has to be a core competency. There is no doubt that IT competency integrating applications will speed up, slow down or, even worse, cripple your logistics systems implementation. It all comes down to skill set and resource availability, and the IT organization needs to be honest in its integration capability self-assessment. Don’t be afraid to call it out as a risk factor in fast-moving projects and recommend outside help and integration tools to get it done. Equally, don’t let IT “gild the lily” with some next-generation message-bus technology when all you needed was a flat file from your existing solutions to the new one. 

Know what key capabilities drive business results. Every logistics technology project should be about achieving some set of business results. However, moving fast will mean making compromises. Understand what really matters to the business and when those times arrive—and they will—know what capabilities you are willing to trade off to deliver the business value. You may not have to give up something completely, but it may be the depth of functionality provided that gets cut short.

Speed is important when implementing logistics and supply chain technology today, as the underlying business models are changing so quickly. There is an old saying, “I found the enemy and it is us,” that is so applicable when it comes to quickly implementing logistics systems. You can predict if your organization is going to be able to realistically get the job done fast or needs to change to do it. How is your company rapidly deploying logistics technology? Let me know.

What do customers really say about your omnichannel supply chain performance?

By Chris Jones | 09/21/2015 | 7:18 AM

One of the biggest challenges in omnichannel retailing, and for any other industry where selling and delivering occurs through multiple channels, is measuring customer satisfaction. Customers have expectations based upon the company’s brand and they expect it to be consistent across all of the company’s delivery channels. Too often, companies measure customer service performance using internally focused supply chain metrics that mean little to the customer. If you offer omnichannel choices to your customers, this makes understanding the impact that the supply chain has on customer performance harder to grasp, because customers often don’t rate the buying and delivery experiences separately, but rather as a bundled experience. Leading companies are trying to simplify the issue by analyzing their supply chain performance based upon what the customer really says. 

The following are two examples of retailers using customer-focused metrics.

The first retailer is considered a leader in omnichannel retailing with a good mix of online and in-store sales. They use just about every customer delivery channel possible: stores; click and collect; home delivery; and drop-shipping. They also use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure overall customer satisfaction and as a critical supply chain metric.

Recent customer analysis conducted by the retailer showed that they had better NPS results from customers who only shopped in single channels rather than across channels. As you can guess, this was quite alarming because they were fully committed to an omnichannel strategy. When they dug deeper into the issue, they found that delivery performance was inconsistent across all delivery channels and not in line with customers’ expectations of their high service brand. This doesn’t mean that customers were expecting the same performance (e.g., next-day delivery) across all of the channels, but rather that the customer experience was not uniform (e.g., delivery visibility and in-home service quality differed for similar products delivered through different channels).

The second retailer is enhancing its omnichannel strategy through more advanced home delivery capabilities, and was struggling with assessing its performance. Their traditional “all-day window” had a higher on-time delivery rating than the newly introduced 2- and 4-hour delivery windows. The retailer’s immediate thought was that they needed to focus on improving their on-time performance before moving forward. However, when they asked customers for feedback on delivery performance, their customer-focused metrics showed that the scores were higher for tighter time windows even though they weren’t as well executed as the all-day window. In the customer’s mind, they were happier sacrificing a little reliability to not have to wait at home all day for a delivery.

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get caught up with traditional internally focused metrics and not understand what really matters to the customer. We can find ourselves wasting time on things that are insignificant to the customer or completely miss what is significant. This is why I am a big believer in the concept of the Customer Facing Supply Chain and what it takes to create one. These lessons apply to more than just the retail industry. How is your company using customer-focused metrics as part of your supply chain strategy? Let me know.

Geography Drives Home Delivery Strategy

By Chris Jones | 09/04/2015 | 11:47 AM

It seems to me that many companies implementing home delivery strategies are trying to ignore the impact that geography has on cost and customer service. The fear of not offering, same day, next day or even a uniform home delivery service across a broad market or nationwide is driving these companies to make poor delivery strategy choices. It’s time to reassess the impact of geography and whether a uniform service and delivery strategy is best for your customers or company.  

For example, a company in the process of implementing a nationwide home delivery service was evaluating the delivery performance in 2 of its markets. One market (a region) was performing well in terms of cost and service. The other was struggling to meet customer service targets and keep costs down. When I looked at the geography of the 2 markets, it was immediately apparent that one was conducive to short lead-times, tight delivery windows and more reliable delivery and the other one was not. The better performing market was not only dense, it was compact and there were not a lot of physical limitations to moving easily throughout the market. The poorly performing market was much wider spread, with a few pockets of density and a lot of physical limitations such as bridges and lakes that constricted easy movement. All things considered equal, one market was destined to be a winner and the other one would struggle to adequately serve customers and cost more doing it.

While it would be great to offer all customers the same home delivery service levels, it may not be practical or cost effective and could possibly damage your customer relationships. Companies with divergent geographies in the markets they serve should consider multiple service strategies to best serve individual markets and minimize the cost to serve. For example, the geographically ideal markets should get the same/next day and one hour delivery window offerings. In the case of the less than ideal markets, the home delivery service offerings should be more limited (e.g. next day and four hour delivery windows) to help ensure that deliveries can be made as promised and deliveries costs are properly managed. My experience says that home delivery service policy can be localized and customers value delivery execution as promised more than they do making more aggressive promises and not consistently keeping them.

Another way to offer greater services and minimize costs in geographically diverse markets is to use multiple transportation modes in a home delivery strategy. For example, private or dedicated fleets might be highly effective in a dense part of a market, but not adequate for widely dispersed customer bases or specific regions. In addition, the ability to be more reactive to customers is a function of being able to service an area on a frequent basis. Commercial carriers can leverage their transportation density in particular lanes to offer faster service to specific customer geographies, and most likely more effectively too. The challenge in a blended home delivery transportation mode strategy is to ensure that the modes deliver a similar “door step” level of service and provide the electronic tracking and proof-of-delivery information critical to the customer’s home delivery experience expectation.

Home delivery is experiencing a renaissance of invention and there are many new delivery models being developed that are dramatically improving the customer experience. However, geography is a “natural law” that cannot be ignored in last-mile logistics strategies. How is your company adapting its home delivery strategy to address geographic diversity? Let me know.

The Problem is not the Problem. The Problem is Your Attitude About the Problem.*

By Chris Jones | 04/27/2015 | 1:52 PM

When I heard this saying, I thought it so profoundly related to one of the core challenges to supply chain excellence, an inflexible mindset. Too often in supply chain management we are bounded by our approach to supply chain problems, not the problems themselves.

For example, one of the greatest challenges in supply chain management is to get beyond a focus on cost reduction as opposed to revenue generation. If you are a supply chain executive, you struggle to have that discussion with the rest of the executive team. One retailer I know took a different approach to describing their metrics to get their point across.

The challenge that the retailer had was to be able to justify the value-added services it wanted to offer because they would reduce the number of deliveries it made on any given route. The general thinking was that the fleet productivity would be dramatically impacted and there was no way to relate that to the incremental revenue from the value added services. The problem the retailer had was that it was applying traditional metrics and “attitude” to a new business opportunity. Metrics like cost per mile and deliveries per route were built to address delivery operations as a cost, not a revenue generator. Fleet productivity is only one point of the overall financial picture.

This retailer had an “attitude” adjustment about its approach to metrics and changed to a “cost per minute” calculation for its delivery resources. That way it could compare the incremental revenue for the value added services against the time-based cost it took to deliver the services. In this case, the retailer was able to determine that depending upon the mix of products and value added services, it could make more money with fewer stops on a route as opposed to a lot of stops that contained no value added services and lower margin products. Once they understood this relationship, they started to understand how their delivery operations could help drive revenue and profit.

Another interesting example of attitude change is a retailer, Sleepy’s, who implemented tighter time window bookings to benefit it as well as customers. The traditional thinking for delivery windows is the wider the better in terms of delivery operations productivity. However, this retailer found out that it was experiencing a high number of failed deliveries because its customers were not at home. Failed deliveries can be a margin killer. Think about this for a minute. If you give someone an all day window, there is a high likelihood that at some point they won’t be home during that day and Murphy’s law would clearly predict that’s when your driver arrives. A tighter time window provides more certainty to the customer and allows them to better manage their day. Sleepy’s also dynamically allocates delivery capacity to make the delivery when the customer buys the mattress to make sure it can make the delivery. Since moving to this approach, Sleepy’s has been able to improve its delivery success rate by 4.5% and reduce product damage due to excess handling.

I am sure we have all seen examples where bad supply chain “attitudes” kept a company or project from being all it could be.  It’s not easy to get beyond what we know from past experience to best frame solutions to supply chain problems. However, supply chain strategies, tactics, and technology are constantly evolving and if there were ever a place to change attitude, it is here.

*The saying “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” has been mysteriously attributed to Captain Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series.

Originally posted on Logistics ViewPoints

Using Supply Chain Information to Create a Closed-Loop Customer Experience

By Chris Jones | 03/09/2015 | 6:28 PM

Consumers want to engage with retailers more than ever and this presents and excellent opportunity for supply chains to add value to the overall customer experience and minimize costs. While delivery performance is paramount, interacting with the consumer via supply chain information is critical to maximizing the customer experience. In Welcome to the Customer Facing Supply Chain, I wrote how Woolworths in Australia is engaging customers to drive growth and cut call center volume. There is a definite strategy to what they and other Omni-channel home delivery leaders are doing – using supply chain information interactively with the customer to create a closed-loop customer experience.

This strategy goes beyond the traditional delivery process, starting when the consumer is ordering and ending after the delivery was made. The pervasiveness of smart phones, real-time systems and GPS-enabled technology make engaging the customer during the order lifecycle easier and more compelling than ever. There are five basic steps in the customer order lifecycle where supply chain information plays an important part of the overall customer experience. This approach applies even if your delivery processes are outsourced. The five key steps are broken down in the following diagram.

Figure 1: Supply Chain Information in the Customer Order Lifecycle

Notifications Lifecycle


Step 1: Delivery Appointment Confirmation. Customers want to know when their goods will arrive and increasingly they are expecting tighter time windows. With today’s higher expectations, it is not unusual that potential customers will pass up retailers that fail to provide definitive time windows during the buying process. Equally, this is also an opportunity to set expectations for the customer to minimize failed deliveries, such as the successes that Sleepy’s has been able to achieve with this strategy.

Step 2: Scheduled Delivery Notification. As a concept, scheduled delivery notification has been around for quite a while – even though far too many companies still do not do it. The new thinking is that scheduled delivery notifications need to be more granular and provide a tighter delivery window. Best in class is now less than 30 minutes for a scheduled delivery. Again, this increases customer satisfaction and reduces failed deliveries as the customer, for example, knows which 30 minutes of the 3 hour originally promised widow their goods will show up.

Step 3: Delivery Tracking. Delivery progress tracking again is not new, but new variations have been popularized by companies, like Uber. that show the car on the map and the real-time estimated-time-of-arrival (ETA). Anyone living in a large city knows that delays are inevitable and customers are somewhat forgiving if you let them know that the delivery will be late and by how much. Simple approaches to delivery progress tracking like “left the DC” notification are no longer considered valuable by customers.

Step 4: Document the Delivery. Getting the goods to there at the right time is only half the battle. Instead, what occurs at the stop may be the difference between keeping and losing the customer, so tracking what happens via signatures, pictures, scans, etc. is critical to the customer and you. As we all know, some deliveries don’t go well whether it is, for example, an incomplete order, damaged goods or it won’t fit into the customer’s home. It’s also critical to capture that your driver was at their door (through a picture) in the case where the customer was not home. Providing that information immediately after the delivery helps verify what exactly did happen for the customer to minimize claims and even fraud, or that you will charge them for the second attempt after a failed delivery.

Step 5: Survey to Measure the Delivery Experience. The best time to gage the success or failure of the delivery is right after it happens and is fresh in the customer’s mind. Most customers appreciate participating and the fact that you make an attempt to engage them can help improve their perception of your overall customer service. Some companies do it as part of the delivery process while others wait until the driver is gone. If the actual buyer is not home during the delivery then the best approach is the post-delivery survey.

Supply chain and related technology advances are making the closed loop customer engagement strategy more possible than ever. Delivery booking and optimization technologies used during the ordering process provide the customer with the tight time windows they expect. GPS-enabled tracking tied to real-time location and dispatching systems provide up-to-the-minute status and ETA calculation. Smartphones. with scanning, signature and picture capture and flexible forms, capture what happens at the customer’s location. Bringing this all together for the customer is notifications technology that itself has gone “Omni-channel”. It is now possible to interact with the customer through a variety of mediums, including text messaging, mobile or web applications and automated voice.

Any organizations still thinking that providing supply chain information to customers in real-time is a “nice to have” are kidding themselves. The value is clearly being demonstrated every day and the technology is available now to cost-effectively make the supply chain a critical part of the customer experience. Indeed, it is amazing, when I talk to leading retailers and distributors, how often I learn about new ways for engaging customers through supply chain information. This is one area where we are clearly early in the journey to the customer facing supply chain. How is your company engaging customers with supply chain information? Let me know.

Blocking and Tackling

By Chris Jones | 02/22/2015 | 7:57 AM

This past week, I was talking to my friend, Jan-Terje, about one of his customers and the value they were getting through using their TMS for freight auditing. I will get to his story shortly, but let’s face it; electronic freight audit is not the glamorous part of logistics technology. However, it’s the kind of “blocking and tackling” that every company should do well because of the cost savings to be had and tremendous insight into how your business and carriers actually operate. Electronic freight audit also may be one of the original and best “big data” opportunities in logistics.

Back to Jan-Terje’s story. His customer, a leading Norwegian distribution company, implemented a TMS for planning and executing freight and freight audit. After a number of months in operation, the company started to review their invoices and noticed that, on a regular basis, small shipments were sent from one of their DCs in the south to locations in the far north via full truck transport. If you don’t know much about Norwegian geography, we are talking about a trip of over 1,000 miles. As you can guess, they were grossly over paying.

This company determined that their problem wasn’t the TMS configuration or rogue freight spending. The TMS was just executing what that the distribution planning system was giving it and this shipment mix was not expected. Instead, they needed to change their ordering practices and do a better job of consolidating orders and required delivery dates prior to giving them to the TMS. Without evaluating what was actually happening through electronic freight audit, this company would have not known how the TMS was being used and the impact external factors (in this case, shipment size and requested delivery frequency) were having on freight costs.

Another company that I know used electronic freight audit to get a better handle on the complexity of the billing process and the total cost for moving freight. In this case, a chemical company was using barges to move bulk chemicals. As you can guess, there are quite a few assessorial costs that could apply and that could show up well after the material was moved – the barges are not the only thing that moves slowly in the barge industry. For example, depending upon the chemicals moved, there could be a barge cleaning charge applied to the shipment. However, this charge would appear weeks (or sometimes months) after the actual shipment was executed and the initial invoice was delivered. Without the ability to synchronize all of the charges over time via electronic freight audit, this company would have not had a complete picture of the total cost to move its goods via barge.

To excel at electronic freight audit takes more than a good TMS solution. First, it takes unwavering discipline managing carriers to get them to provide the right data electronically. Second, you need onboarding solutions to deliver that data in a timely and complete fashion. The carrier community is incredibly diverse in its ability and interest to provide high quality electronically. Simply put, some carriers see this opportunity for what it is – an opportunity to reduce costs and get paid faster. Others “don’t get it” - they either don’t have the electronic capabilities or fight getting on-boarded and do a lousy job sending consistently sending the right data on a timely basis. Then there are the majority of carriers who fall in between.

There are a number of lessons that have been learned over the years to get past these challenges.

  1. The electronic freight audit process starts with your contracts. If your contracts are custom per carrier, then you can expect that the onboarding process will also be custom per carrier and take a long time. It will also make “apples to apples” cost comparisons between carriers much harder.
  2. Because of carrier diversity, you need a good degree of flexibility in your carrier integration solution and, where possible, use or create carrier onboarding standards. Virtually every carrier modifies the electronic industry document standards. If you cannot get the carriers to adopt an industry standard or your standard version, you need flexible mapping tools to normalize the data. There also needs to be “low tech” portal options for the smaller carriers to enter the data manually.
  3. Your company is not in the carrier onboarding business, so work with someone who is. Mapping and carrier data management can be complex and, if the number of carriers that need to be onboarded is in the hundreds, you need a team of experts to get it done quickly.
  4. You need to scorecard carrier data performance. Do not assume that data delivery performance is consistent. This could be the most important thing you do to ensure that the solution is successful over time. Put data quality provisions in your carrier contracts.

Sometimes the best opportunities to reduce logistics cost and gain greater insight into your operations come from the most basic business functions. So what is your organization doing with electronic freight audit? Let me know.

So How is Your Peak Season Strategy Working?

By Chris Jones | 12/19/2014 | 7:04 AM

While the holidays are a boon to retailers and the rest of their supply chain, they put tremendous pressure on the entire ecosystem to meet demands that are in many cases several times the volumes throughout the rest of the year. Many industries are highly seasonal and peak season represents a disproportional percentage of their yearly business. Running the same way all year long doesn’t work for these kinds of supply chains, it’s either too costly or capacity constraints limit the ability to scale. One thing that is for sure is that failure to meet peak season demand results in permanently lost sales and possibly customers. If your business is highly seasonal you need a peak season strategy for your supply chain operations and supporting technology.

A peak season strategy is more than going to “overtime”, it is about altering the dynamics of your supply chain from the way it works during the rest of the year. Outside of peak season there is most likely more capacity than required to serve the market and the strategy is to do it for the lowest cost possible. For the peak season, low cost fulfillment is still important, but responsiveness is paramount and capacity constraints limit flexibility.

Supply chain technology is an important peak season strategy enabler to temporarily create extra capacity without having to result in adding more physical assets like warehouses or trucks. For example, an outdoor recreation retailer implemented a yard management system at their stores to give them increased local inventory capacity. The retailer was able to park trailers at the store with additional inventory and the system was able to tell store management exactly what was in the trailers without having to receive the inventory into the store. In effect, the store ended up with additional “back room” capacity and transportation costs were contained by not having to increase the replenishment frequency.

Another peak season strategy is to unlock capacity by planning more holistically and combining operations. Integrating private/dedicated fleet and commercial carrier planning enables peak seasons to scale to meet demand and contain costs. Being able to evaluate the use of commercial carriers rather than going to overtime or having a commercial carrier rather than the fleet serve remote locations can improve responsiveness, throughput and potentially be more cost effective. 

Even companies that are able to build inventory in advance of peak season have to have a peak season strategy for their operations and technology. Given lead times, neither product nor geographic forecasts are accurate causing midcourse changes to minimize stock outs or excess inventory at season end. These companies must move manufacturing to shorter production cycles or faster modes of transportation during peak season. The supporting supply chain technology has to be configured differently to execute the peak season strategy. If you are running the same settings all year, then they will not support the different goals you have in peak season. Leading companies run multiple planning scenarios ranging from customer service maximization to cost minimization to see how far they need to push their operations to meet demand as it rapidly evolves during peak season.

A peak season strategy also has to have a revised set of metrics to support the change in supply chain behavior. The definition of responsiveness has to change – what worked the rest of the year and was measured in days, may require fulfillment in hours for peak season. Costs may be higher for manufacturing or transportation to ensure there are no lost revenue opportunities in this shortened selling period. Without revised metrics individual organizations will claim victory, while the overall company fails to meet its broader goals during the most important selling season of the year.

Peak season performance is what makes or breaks many companies’ yearly financial performance. If your business is highly seasonal and your supply chain strategies, systems and metrics are the same year round, you don’t have a peak season strategy and that is hurting your top and bottom line. So how is your peak season strategy working? Let me know.

Welcome to the Customer Facing Supply Chain

By Chris Jones | 10/05/2014 | 12:24 PM

It’s amazing how many companies are turning to their supply chain for competitive differentiation. You know that this is true when you start seeing commercials and sales pitches promoting supply chain capabilities. However, the difference we’re now experiencing is that companies are exposing their supply chains directly to their customers with capabilities that are intended to benefit the customer as opposed to just themselves.  What makes this strategy more interesting is that the customer and company benefit at the same time. Welcome to the age of the customer-facing supply chain.

The notion of the customer-facing supply chain occurred to me when I had a chance to see what two companies, Woolworths and US LBM, are doing with mobile apps used by their customers that are powered by their supply chain systems. In both cases, their supply chain and supply chain technology have become part of the “front office” helping them make their selling proposition more compelling and sticky.

Woolworths, the Australian retail powerhouse, has a 30 second commercial that sums up their entire proposition for online grocery and home delivery. In this commercial, they do a phenomenally simple job of demonstrating how easy and seamlessly it is to order and get groceries delivered. Behind the scenes from a delivery perspective, delivery appointment booking and real-time delivery tracking are all part of the customer-facing apps. What’s interesting is how they engage the customer post-ordering. When customers book an order they have 3-hour delivery slots, but when the orders are to be delivered, the slot narrows to 30 minutes and the customer is notified of the tighter time window. In addition, they have a simple real-time “ETA” button that the customers can use to determine exactly when their delivery will arrive. When you evaluate their results, there is an interesting mix that says they have dramatically improved their customer satisfaction. Online revenue is up over 50%, yet the number of customer calls to the call center had been cut in half! Their customers no longer wonder where their deliveries are.

US LBM is the 13th largest building products distributor in the US. This video shows how they are benefiting their customers and themselves (full disclosure: US LBM and Descartes created this for an award submission). US LBM built an application to improve contractor productivity that is tightly tied to their real-time supply chain systems. If you didn’t know it, construction is a highly dynamic business with most of the ordering and delivery happening in less than 24 hours. The challenge for US LBM’s contractor customers is that they are always on the go and need to know exactly when their material is arriving to efficiently schedule their crews. The benefits of improved visibility to the contractors are obvious, but equally US LBM benefitted from it as well with a 35% improvement in on-time delivery for many of their locations, while cutting costs by over 10% and turning around trucks 30% faster.

So what do these two companies have in common? Yes, they have operational excellence. More importantly, they have moved from an internal to a customer facing supply chains focus, providing the customers with the supply chain information they need to make their lives or jobs better. Both companies took some risk to expose the supply chain processes and information directly to the customer. If they are not performing well and don’t have the right data at the right time, the customers know it instantly. However, the results are compelling.

While the opportunity to use the supply chain as a competitive weapon is big, the implications for the kinds of supply chain technologies required are as well. Several times, I mentioned the need for information to be delivered in real-time, and that the information itself has to be created in real-time. Yet, it’s amazing to see who many supply chains try to operate in real-time, but their systems cannot. The best people and process alone will not get the job done when you need to share actionable information with your customers. The technology measuring stick is very simple. If your supply chain systems are still living in a “batch” world and don’t include real-time GPS updates, then it’s likely that instead of being enablers, your technology is an inhibitor to achieving the customer facing supply chain.

Making your supply chain part of the “front office” can unlock value for your customer and your own company. However, the greatest challenge to getting there may come from your existing supply chain systems’ capabilities. Has your company created a customer-facing supply chain? Let me know.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Chris Jones

Chris Jones

Chris Jones is Executive Vice President of Marketing and Services at Descartes Systems. Jones has spent more than 30 years working with manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and logistics providers to improve their supply chain operations. One of his primary missions is to identify and leverage new and counter intuitive activities that make a difference in the business. Jones has held senior positions at Kraft Foods, Descartes, and Gartner. He has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.


Popular Tags

Subscribe to DC Velocity

Subscribe to DC Velocity Start your FREE subscription to DC Velocity!

Subscribe to DC Velocity
Go digital