On the heels of Körber’s 2023 Shipping and Returns Survey, Nikki Jones unpacks some of the findings, as well as what properly integrated supply chain software can do to address challenges and realise opportunities.

In the digitally driven era of immediacy and convenience, supply chains have evolved far beyond their traditional function of simple product conveyance. They now serve as the central nervous system of the customer experience, intricately weaving together numerous elements to meet and exceed consumer expectations. 

These elevated expectations, while heralding significant opportunities for companies, also present sizable challenges. To deliver on their promise, businesses must grapple with managing larger inventories, deploying complex s*stems to handle burgeoning order volumes, and accommodating a wide array of fulfilment options – all under the strain of mounting pressures on warehouses, shipping facilities, and human resources.

To delve deeper into this critical issue, Körber and Roland Berger conducted a comprehensive survey in late 2021. Featuring responses from more than 200 companies across Asia Pacific, North America and Europe, the Körber 2022 Supply Chain Benchmarking Survey sought to identify best practices amid the intensifying complexities of the industry. The survey revealed a glaring disconnect: while 92 per cent of respondents acknowledged the pivotal role supply chain performance plays in customer satisfaction, less than a third were able to rank as leaders in end-customer experience. This data served as a stark reminder that, while the connection between supply chains and customer satisfaction is understood, the ability to deliver optimal customer experiences still eludes many.

Keen to unpack the finer points of consumer post-purchase expectations, Körber turned its analytical gaze towards the customer-end of the spectrum. The company launched the 2023 State of Shipping and Returns survey, collecting responses from more than 2200 consumers spread across eight global regions. The study aimed to shed light on the nuanced landscape of consumers’ expectations from the moment they click “buy” until the product is in their hands, and how companies should navigate any unexpected challenges along the way.

The results of the 2023 Shipping and Returns Survey offer an updated and in-depth understanding of end consumers’ views on various facets of the post-purchase experience – from shipping delays and returns management to packaging concerns. It serves as a key piece of evidence that in today’s high-stakes, customer-centric marketplace, effective supply chain management is not merely a business necessity – it is a strategic differentiator.

“The survey reveals that 70 per cent of consumers have experienced a delayed online order in the last six months, affecting their overall view of the brand,” says Nikki Jones, Marketing Director at Körber Business Area Supply Chain, underscoring the considerable impact that shipping delays can have on customer sentiment.

To combat this industry-wide challenge, Körber is leveraging the power of technology, helping its customers operate their supply chains at maximum efficiency to meet and exceed consumer expectations. According to Nikki, the company recognises that in the current marketplace, “supply chains play a central role in creating a great customer experience and driving customer loyalty.”

Navigating the often-tumultuous waters of supply chain management necessitates the use of advanced s*stems such as Warehouse Management S*stems (WMS) and orchestrating systems such as Körber’s Unified Control S*stem (UCS). Nikki explains, “WMS and UCS are key to improving order accuracy and speed.” Beyond efficiency and precision, these s*stems also furnish invaluable analytics that can help track and enhance the operational impact on customer experience.

Nikki elaborates on the benefits of centralised order management systems – particularly for companies operating across multiple sites. These solutions, she argues, have a direct and profound impact on customer satisfaction, and industry leaders are capitalising on them. “Leading businesses are ahead in implementing these solutions to promote repeat purchases and build brand loyalty,” Nikki observes. 

Nikki points out that while many companies have turned to supply chain software to bolster essential functions such as warehousing and transportation, these systems often operate in silos. The lack of integration prevents complete process automation – a significant roadblock in the quest for efficiency and optimisation. “The e-com age requires holistic visibility and optimisation by looking beyond the traditional levers of supply chain optimisation,” she says.

Learning from the early adopters of omnichannel fulfilment, particularly those in the e-commerce and food and beverage sectors, Körber has uncovered the immense potential that lies in the interconnected layers of network collaboration. Nikki emphasises the transformative role software and automation technologies play in this context, propelling the supply chain to a new level of integration and insight. “The technology-enabled supply chain brings a new level of integration and insight that only digital enablement and automated processes can achieve,” she notes.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

The heightened expectations of today’s consumers cast a spotlight on the need for both shipping visibility and accountability in supply chain management. As Nikki says: “We are all consumers at the end of the day, and our expectations continue to expand.”

“We not only expect flexibility in how and where we shop, but also faster deliveries, tracking notifications, as well as greater choice to decide where an order will be delivered,” she points out. 

Nikki Jones, Marketing Director at Körber.
Nikki Jones, Marketing Director at Körber.

The path to meeting these increasing expectations isn’t linear, but rather requires a seamless integration of different elements of the supply chain.

At the core of these expectations is the requirement for visibility, which Nikki identifies as being now firmly rooted at the centre of accountability and customer communication. From a retailer’s perspective, it is paramount to provide customers with a transparent, timely overview of their order’s journey.

BOOSTING SUSTAINABLE SUPPLY CHAINS

As the tides of the corporate world continue to shift, sustainability has emerged as a significant driving force behind business success. The move towards greener practices extends well beyond the company walls, reaching deep into the arteries of supply chains. 

“The growing pressure on companies to take action on sustainability means their supply chains are expected to be greener too.” 

As large corporations publicly commit to more eco-friendly practices, their suppliers are held to these new standards as well, reinforcing the notion that sustainability is a collective effort. “As larger companies make public promises to become more eco-friendly, they hold their suppliers to the same standards,” Nikki explains.

In line with this, Körber is playing a key role in adding sustainable value throughout the supply chain. Nikki elucidates that there are ample opportunities for implementing sustainable practices, “be it reduced energy resources, paperless processes, or optimised warehouse or transportation routes to reduce carbon emissions.”

Technology, she adds, serves as a powerful ally in these sustainability efforts, supporting companies not only in minimising their environmental impact but also in broader Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives, such as enhancing worker safety and engagement. “Technology can support companies in all aspects of sustainability and corporate ethics,” she says. 

ONLY AS STRONG AS THE WEAKEST LINK

As the tides of commerce continue to turn towards digital channels, the importance of delivering a seamless customer experience becomes ever more crucial. E-commerce is projected to account for a staggering 95 per cent of total sales worldwide by 2040, transforming supply chains into the lifeblood of commercial success. But any “supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Nikki says. 

In this new world order, technology holds the key to delivering the fast, efficient, and flexible services that customers demand, including features like same-day or next-day deliveries. As technology resources become increasingly intertwined, seamless integration and communication stand out as critical factors in the success of warehouse operations.

“Standardised integration platforms or integration tools turnkey to enable holistic supply chain information sharing to stay agile, efficient, and competitive,” Nikki says. 

This idea underscores Körber’s commitment to helping its clients harness technology to navigate the complexities of modern supply chains, ensuring that every link in the chain is robust and prepared for the demands of the future.

While the challenges of modern supply chains are undeniable, with partners like Körber, companies can turn these complexities into competitive advantages. The time to invest in a smarter, more integrated supply chain is now. 

“It’s not yet too late to invest into the smart supply chain, but time is running out.” 

This article originally appeared on MHD Supply Chain.

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