Future-proofing the supply chain with your digital strategy

Pressure on the UK retail industry and supply chains has never been greater. The just-in-time model is challenging to maintain during the current crisis where we have seen shelves bare and doors closed, with retailers struggling to meet the phenomenal upsurge in demand for some products. 

Data has always been crucial to managing stock ratio and buying trends. However, without the ability to apply this data to analyse consumer trends quickly and at scale, cracks emerged in the UK’s supply chain. The pandemic caused essential goods to be in short supply due to speed of change to increase production and distribution to meet demand.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to grow and morph, with new layers and complexities revealing themselves daily. With retailers having reopened their doors in June, we are in a second phase of recovery. We do not yet fully know what the retail landscape will look like in a ‘new normal’, with consumer expectations and trends ever evolving. What we do know is that businesses are transitioning into a digital-first economy. We’ve found that 41% are online shopping more than before the pandemic and, as a proportion of all retail, online shopping reached a record high of 33.4% in May 2020. With this comes the need for reliable data and accurate analysis in order to future-proof operations in the event of another global crisis.

Technology for the future

Retailers – especially those deemed essential – need the ability to scale their operations quickly to meet changing demand. Not all retailers currently have the right visibility of their product offering and their consumers’ buying trends. Supply chains need to be resilient, yet a combination of an unprecedented surge in demand for specific items, the just-in-time delivery model, centralised resource locations and, in some cases, a lack of crucial insight into the stock ratio and buying habits of customers, highlighted weaknesses in some retailers’ supply chains. 

Even before the crisis, retailers were under pressure to ensure their product offering remained available and relevant. Visibility over their offering, consumer demand and the stock available has always been important to meet customer expectations. It’s crucial that retailers collect data in these areas, but it’s not enough to just have access to this data unless you can analyse it. Now more than ever, businesses need technology in place to interpret it appropriately and to accurately understand it in a way that provides insight. By putting measures in place to access this intelligence, retailers will be best placed to prevent the shortage in products that occurred earlier in the year, should another economic shock occur.

People are key

The upsurge in demand for essential goods in-store and online during the start of the pandemic meant a monumental shift in operations for many retailers. We saw a 16% increase year-over-year in online orders for the first quarter of 2020 in the UK. Globally, businesses in homeware saw a 51% increase in digital commerce growth over the same period, and activewear saw a 31% increase. 

These consumer trends point to the habits of many who needed to socially distance and stay at home. Yet, this increase also points to the pressure businesses and their employees were under to scale operations. Not only do businesses need to consider the demand for product, but also the immediate need to recruit, train and manage people. Without the right tools to automate processes and increase speed through technology where possible, this pressure can impact existing employees and have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing and motivation.

Organisations need to ensure that whilst they are working to meet customer expectations, they are also looking after their employees physical and mental health during this time. From employee wellness assessments to shift and management planning, it’s crucial to have the right software in place that can provide teams with the right information to remain safe and supported in the workplace. 

Online retail is unlikely to decrease in popularity anytime soon. Following a recent survey we conducted in the UK, 71% of consumers reported that they are likely to continue to buy essential goods online after the Covide-19 health threats subside. As retailers move to recover and reopen in the next phase of the UK’s response to the outbreak, they need to be conscious of their customers changing expectations and habits. 

With the right tools in place to provide insight into products, stock and buying trends of customers, retailers will be able to remain relevant and meet customer expectations. Covid-19 was unprecedented, but now is the time for businesses to implement technology that will provide useful intelligence to help support their workforce, their supply chain and their business to weather the transition into the ‘next normal’ of our day-to-day lives.