Focus on a Flexible Supply Chain to Ease Coronavirus Tension


Across the UK, businesses are patiently waiting for daily updates from the government and advisory bodies to inform them of the latest guidelines on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. Many retailers are working round the clock to meet consumer needs in an effort to restock basic supplies. In the UK, supermarkets recently cast doubt on assurances from the health secretary Matt Hancock earlier this month that food supplies would not be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak amid shoppers ‘panic buying’.

During these uncertain times, retailers are in a ‘wait and see’ scenario and need to be ready to shift their business strategy as they learn more about what precautions to take in order keep their business running while keeping customers safe. There will be no simple fix to the wide-scale supply chain disruption caused by the ongoing fallout from coronavirus – a recent report in the Financial Times warned companies to prepare for six months of disruption to the supply chain.

So as retailers look to revise their supply chain and fulfilment strategies to overcome the challenges created by the recent crisis, businesses should prepare to offer extra fulfilment options and added flexibility to help cater for changing consumer shopping habits.


More flexible fulfilment options

As consumers take the required precautions in light of the virus, they will be looking for increased fulfilment options on a variety of goods, from having groceries delivered to their home to quick drive-up options at retail store location. Being able to offer multiple fulfilment options on larger orders including home delivery, BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In-store) and click and collect will allow retailers to meet changing customer needs.


Optimising available inventory

When possible, retailers should work to establish a view of inventory across all store branches and distribution centres to drive the most optimal fulfilment strategy as demand swings wildly. Not all store locations have the same amount of staff, carry the same inventory levels, or have the same amount of operational capacity. Smart order routing will allow retailers to easily group and prioritise their fulfilment locations to operate more efficiently.

As restrictions on movement increase, retailers can implement a distributed order management strategy to leverage their local stores as fulfilment hubs. Using various fulfilment options will create more flexibility within the supply chain for retailers to adapt as they gain more knowledge on next steps.

Retailers must work to be nimble in order to put their customers’ needs first now more than ever. Yet, they must be ready to pivot as they learn more to be able to best serve those customers.


Consistent communication to customers

At the heart of a successful omnichannel order fulfilment process is execution and especially timely and accurate customer communication. If customers know the status of their order they feel confident they will receive an item, and at this challenging time for people retailers need to help, not add frustration. With intelligent order routing, retailers should be able to set up store locations and fulfilment preferences, prioritise orders, manage inventory per location, and route orders to the correct location, all at the click of a button.

As demand grows and orders take longer to deliver, or sudden demand spikes for new products, customer communication will become even more critical to ensure regular updates are being shared at every stage of the fulfilment process. For example, customers will need clear and timely communication around the availability of products, pricing and delivery. This means everything from the order initially being received through to packaging, shipping and delivery will be key to maintaining the online customer experience in times of crisis.

There have been some great examples of retailers communicating well in recent weeks. Sainsbury’s emailed its customers with the measures it is taking to ensure everyone has access to their products. For instance, it’s offering priority to delivery slots to online customers who are over 70 years of age or have a disability to give them better access to products. Waitrose also shared a clear update on new cut off times for customers that want to make changes to online deliveries. It was focused around the fact the supermarket can deliver a better customer experience as a result.

Coronavirus is putting huge strain on the country at the moment; companies must do what they can to offer solutions in response to the shift the world is experiencing – putting consumer needs first and foremost. By offering flexible fulfilment options and communicating regularly with their customers across all channels, retailers can support their customers in this heightened time of need.