Last month, some of the foremost experts in retail supply chain converged in Phoenix, AZ at the 2018 Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) conference on supply chain. Supply chain experts from a variety of leading companies including Walgreens, The Home Depot, Target, Gap, Inc, Kohl’s and Neiman Marcus highlighted what differentiates their businesses and how they are using innovation to drive change throughout the supply chain.
No discussion about the retail supply chain would be complete without emphasizing customer experience and how it is a driving force throughout the business of these retail leaders. Although the focus on customer experience is consistent with the trend from previous years, companies have new thoughts on how to serve the shopper. Retail supply chain leaders shared examples of the increased efforts to deepen engagement with customers and to personalize their shopping journey. In addition to the focus on customer experience, there were a few other key questions that the retailers kept coming back to throughout the conference.
How can you improve upon and evolve the customer experience while managing a competitive retail supply chain?
Doug Stephens, the Retail Prophet, was one of the presenters at the conference who reinforced that the challenge is not how to get people to buy but rather how to get the items shoppers want into their hands faster. Innovation around speed to deliver and retail supply chain responsiveness is the key to success in the future.
How do retailers improve customer engagement and create a positive experience to drive brand loyalty?
The changing needs of the customer are driving retailers to innovate. Companies are now not only looking at ways to compete with Amazon but how do they partner with Amazon to drive store traffic and brand loyalty. For example, in the fall of 2017, Kohl’s announced a partnership with Amazon to pilot a returns process for Amazon in key markets. The Amazon Returns at Kohl’s initiative created a convenient location for Amazon customers to return eligible Amazon items for free within the Kohl’s store.
Are retail supply chains becoming more complex in response to increased shopper expectations?
Throughout the conference, there seemed to be a consensus from the attendees and the presenters that the complexity of supply chains today is continually increasing. This increased complexity is being driven largely by higher expectations and the more affordable access to innovative next-generation technologies designed to improve efficiency.
During the event, there were several case studies on how leading retailers are applying machine learning and artificial intelligence for inventory planning to execution and fulfillment. Blockchain technology in logistics was also a very popular subject to the conference attendees, but it was clear that retailers are still trying to understand the right application.
Is omni-channel a thing of the past?
This year there was a clear shift away from thinking about the retail supply chain as omni-channel but instead as a single channel. Customers are looking for a transparent method of fulfillment that provides them access to the item when they want it, regardless of whether it is in the store or online. The only channel that matters is where your customer wants to buy and leading retailers need to have the capacity to get it to them quickly. Gone are the days when shoppers would be accepting of a 7-9 day delivery window for something they could buy down the street.
As the retail supply chain grows more complex, innovation and emerging technology are more important in your path to meeting shopper expectations. If you’d like to hear more about our perspective on the retail supply chain, please subscribe to our insights below.