The Retail Golden Quarter: How to stop supply-chains impacting sales


With Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, retail’s peak period is nearly upon us. Online shoppers will flock to ecommerce sites in search of deals on everyday essentials, gifts for loved ones, and wish-list favourites. The opportunity for retailers at this time is big: Mintel found that Black Friday sales reached an estimated £12.3 billion last year.

But alongside high volumes of orders, recent years have also seen significant supply chain disruption. Data from project44 shows that parcel on-time performance (OTP) dropped from 87% in November 2019 to 80% in 2020. In 2021 it fell again to just 75%, frustrating shoppers in the run up to the festive season. Supply chain visibility, from origin to the last mile, is a crucial factor in determining whether retailers improve on these benchmarks moving forward.

External factors like the recent Storm Ciaran, and the general spike in extreme weather internationally, are heightening pressures for supply chains in the golden quarter. With no sign of these events reducing anytime soon, organisations must become more agile to beat the disruption and avoid lasting impacts. At the heart of this is access to real-time data insights.

Of course, a decline in service levels in the face of high order volume is difficult to avoid. But retailers can leverage technology to enhance their supply chain agility and improve on-time performance. Real-time transportation visibility can drive greater velocity, predictability, and collaboration. In the coming months, this could make all the difference to delivery performance and customer satisfaction – or lack thereof.

More visibility, better decisions

Supply chain visibility is fundamental to the success of last-mile deliveries. With better visibility comes better planning, and predictive insights are the first line of defence for delay mitigation. Intelligent tracking data can be used to proactively detect issues before they happen. Delay and exception risks across all carriers are identified using machine learning, pre-empting negative delivery experiences. Associated changes to staffing demand can also be predicted and addressed.

In contrast, scattered carrier data limits both retailers’ ability to understand the status of deliveries and their agility when making necessary changes, especially with last-mile carrier diversification on the rise. But by using a data-driven platform, organizations gain a unified view of not only their in-transit inventory, but also real-time transportation visibility across the supply chain, aiding to predict delays ahead of time.

This presents a major opportunity for decision makers. They have all the information they need to make informed decisions regarding delivery network design, distribution strategy, and outsourcing. Equally time-sensitive operational decisions such as inventory routing, scheduling, and vehicle dispatching can be made faster, with an accurate view of the unfolding situation.

Better, faster decisions mean superior on-time performance and happier customers. Indeed, research from IDC found that over half of companies think sharing information in a structured digital format significantly improves supply chain performance and response velocity – how quickly they can make informed decisions.

Mitigating delivery issues

Delays happen. And this is especially true during retail’s Golden Quarter. Adverse weather conditions, labour shortages, customs delays, and sheer volume of orders can all cause delivery setbacks. However, their impact can be significantly reduced by effective planning prior to disruption and improved collaboration when issues do arise.

Predictive insights are the first line of defence for delay mitigation. Intelligent tracking data can be used to proactively detect issues before they happen. Delay and exception risks across all carriers are identified using machine learning, pre-empting negative delivery experiences. Associated changes to staffing demand can also be predicted. For example, if there are going to be problems with a large number of orders, more customer service representatives can be enlisted to provide support.

Expedited recoveries also depend on collaboration. Predicting a potential problem is only the first step, and a response must then be coordinated across multiple teams. With a unified platform that acts as a single source of truth, relevant teams can all access the same data and tools. This facilitates frictionless cross-team collaboration and workflow management.

Communication is key

Greater visibility can also inform more effective communication with customers. Customers expect timely updates on when they can expect their orders to be delivered. This will be especially true over the holiday season, where every gift-giver will be keen to know whether their order will be delivered in time for their celebration.

Historically, last-mile delivery has been associated with uncertainty and stale, outdated updates. Providing customers with real-time updates – including those informed by predictive analytics – makes this a thing of the past. What’s more, unified platforms enable personalized updates to reflect complex orders that are split into multiple shipments. Customers will always know the answer to the question, “where is my stuff?”

Virtuous cycles

In a time of high order volume and even higher customer expectations, there is pressure to deliver outstanding performance and experiences. However, for many businesses the unrelenting supply-side bottlenecks and increasing transportation costs are impacting their ability to meet customer demands and forcing them to pass costs on to their customers. Technology enables retailers to work smarter and make better decisions to mitigate this effect. Plus, a unified, intelligent supply chain approach unlocks two virtuous cycles for retailers.

By boosting customer satisfaction, retailers can drive loyalty. Positive retail experiences mean more orders, which in turn are more opportunities for positive experiences. Competition for customers is at its highest on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and timely deliveries and useful communications could shift the dial in a company’s favour.

Equally, platform adoption can become a flywheel for further innovation. Real-time visibility supports the use of automation, AI, ML, streamlined workflows, and more. Not only can retailers deliver better delivery outcomes to their customers, but they can save time and money through new operational efficiencies.

This Golden Quarter, retailers stand to achieve more than sales.