Coronavirus: Protecting the Retail Supply Chain

No one knows how long the coronavirus will keep hold of our collective global psyche. Politicians, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies alike are working toward stemming the spread with breakthrough research and innovation. But, until we see a cure or a reduction in cases, everything from our daily commute to our shopping habits is sure to see major disruption.

Retailers are not immune to the negative impact of this global health crisis. As of now, surveys show that lead times of inventory have nearly doubled for U.S. retailers, and that problem is sure to grow as the virus spreads worldwide. As if retailers did not have enough challenges just keeping up with the evolution of consumerism, they now must face an unknown and growing phenomenon that has the potential to deal a crippling blow to a brand’s bottom line. 

Here are a few steps retailers can take to help mitigate the impact of the supply chain disruption:

Take stock of your in-stock inventory: Since Coronavirus first made news in late 2019, we’ve seen a global slowdown in movement of goods throughout the retail ecosystem. Many manufacturers in Asia have slowed or halted production due to sick employees or concerns about the further spread of the virus. This disease has had a significant global impact on inventory levels, and many retailers are already struggling to get sellable stock back into inventory. Retailers should take stock of what they have on-hand, and carefully consider their 2020 merchandising and marketing strategies to ensure continuity of product availability. To curb empty-shelf scenarios, reassess your promotions calendar to make sure you aren’t over-liquidating inventory too aggressively. That stock might have to last a lot longer than originally planned. 

Stay close to your carriers: Global logistics providers have been hit particularly hard, as flights to and from critical trade lanes are canceled and ocean liners are facing diversion and quarantine. Retailers should stay in lock-step with their logistics partners, and they should not hesitate to insist on increased visibility and communication during this critical time. Lean on your carrier sales rep to provide expanded reporting and regular logistics updates to help stay in sync with the flow of your supply chain. Carriers have access to robust reporting systems that can provide key metrics and indicators, such as on-time percentage and cargo capacity figures, to help retailers get a view into challenges that may be coming down the pike. 

Consumer visibility and communication are key: Today’s consumer demands an unprecedented level of visibility and communication when they buy online. From regular updates to an easy-to-use returns process, customers expect choice and convenience in all of their interactions. While the supply chain implications are apparent to those living and breathing ecommerce in their professional lives, retailers should make sure they are keeping in close touch with their consumer throughout the entire order journey. By proactively notifying customers about delays in supply chain or fulfillment, retailers ensure their customers remain engaged and loyal, despite the current challenging climate.

Marc Goodfriend

Marc is Global Head of Logistics & Partnerships at Narvar. He brings over 20 years of experience in supply chain and reverse logistics for ecommerce from his leadership roles at DHL and Newgistics.

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