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Avoiding Last-Minute Plans for Supply Chain’s Last Mile

Supply chain’s last mile is ripe for disruption. Thanks to an e-commerce boom and increased demand for same-day-delivery, retailers are beginning to recognize the need for consistently efficient, effective operations from the first mile to the last. Organizations are feeling the pressure to up the back-end ante by ensuring a high-performing supply chain that keeps pace with changes in consumer expectations; namely, a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Today’s retail landscape features picky consumers who expect quality products tailored to their preferences—usually at discounted prices. The concept of mass customization, combined with customer expectations that overnight delivery is included free of charge, is forcing retailers to look more closely at ways to increase agility and flexibility from the start to finish.

Product realization mastered

Retailers are intertwined with a network of supply chain professionals, whether through product design, development, procurement, sourcing, delivery or otherwise. This inherent interdependency requires retailers to work in real-time with their communities to mine local expertise to reduce the time and investment needed to bring new products to market. Even as design is being tweaked, strategies for sourcing materials and production capacity are finessed. The community provides insight into new, cheaper sources for raw materials and shares valuable feedback on supplier capabilities and factory performance.

The same mindset retailers have when collaborating with their communities to develop and design products should be the same in the last mile, as well. There’s no way to guarantee that transportation costs will remain constant or that weather won’t disrupt delivery, and uncontrollable, unanticipated events make it difficult to manage the supply chain’s final step. That’s why visibility—fostered through collaboration—can enable agility and responsiveness once the products are ready to be shipped.

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Going the distance

Top organizations also ensure insight into a five-way match, including the packing list, commercial invoice, service invoice, container information for shipment, and receiver information for earlier insight into what is actually being shipped. With as much as eight weeks’ advanced notice, the buyer is better able to ensure that what is being shipped is what he or she wants, rather than dealing with any issues when the product is received.

Retailers can’t eliminate uncertainty, but it is much easier and far less costly to manage it via increased preparation and new strategies. Preparation and awareness are the keys to building resilient supply chains that can get that perfect order on the shelf or rack at the perfect time. 

How last mile and finance work together

The supply chain, while complex and critical, is only a means to an end. Once products are designed, developed and delivered, payments must be made. The financial aspect of the supply chain needs to be optimized as well, using automation to ensure that expenses are met by income, quickly, accurately and completely. Technology gives finance the tools to manage the money aspect of the supply chain with:

  • Complete control over commercial and customer invoices, duty, freight, and other services costs
  • Invoice accuracy made possible by the same five-way match used to ensure an effortless delivery process
  • Estimated landed cost and actual landed cost comparisons
  • Integration with internal finance systems for okay-to-pay approvals and charge-backs

This model supports the collaboration that has long been aspired to between supply chain and finance organizations. With up-to-the-minute visibility into where materials are in the supply chain—whether its raw materials on the way to production or finished goods on the way to the customer—everyone knows what needs to be done and who needs to do it.

Improving last mile efficiency

There are piles of articles and studies that showcase the efforts and results of companies to improve the efficiency of the last mile of the supply chain. Lessons have been learned. Tactics and strategies have been honed. But there’s always room for improvement as supply chain is constantly evolving with new challenges and opportunities emerging every day.

This shift is quickly becoming an imperative for anyone engaged in bringing new products to market. The days of high-volume production and cheap goods have passed as consumers demand unique products made well and at a reasonable price. By treating the first mile in the supply chain as strategically as they have the last mile, companies will find fewer surprises, more opportunity, and better results.

A veteran of the tech startup world, Sue Welch is the founder and CEO of Bamboo Rose, a multi-enterprise and supply chain platform. Welch is committed to bringing the world of product development and sourcing to par with how consumers shop for goods through a collaborative B2B platform. Follow Sue at @SueWelch and Bamboo Rose at @GoBambooRose.