Guest Column | December 28, 2020

How Retailers Can Optimize Supply Chains In A Post-COVID World

By Vikas Rajput, OpsVeda

COVID 19 Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic brought greater attention to retail supply chain matters that have been problematic even before our world changed in 2020. These include reactive instead of proactive problem solving and poor information flow processes that reduced visibility into current conditions. Among other problems, retailers were slow to integrate automated processes as well as leverage the power of AI and machine learning. As vaccines begin rolling out in late 2020 and continue through the first half of 2021, retailers need to consider the post-COVID world.

During this period of transition, retail supply chain managers can take a beat to consider how they can improve their operations and pick the right technology to help them stay competitive. Here are some steps retail supply chain managers can take to prepare for and thrive in 2021 and the years to come.

Leveraging Live Data To Improve Processes

Retail managers should talk with their teams to spot any value leaks in the supply chain. Perhaps there are problems with backorders that are turning off customers or with inbound shipments of slow-moving inventory that sits for too long. Maybe the retailer has problems with food spoilage and could use better real-time data to monitor conditions and predict better usage dates.

Many of the uncovered value leaks can be plugged with better access to rich, live data. Armed with live information, managers can make faster and more informed decisions, instead of relying on stale information or historical logs to make future predictions based on past results. The speed of today’s retail landscape demands fast actions that are backed by hard evidence.

Retailer managers can use data platforms, cloud technologies, and capabilities such as electronic logging devices (ELD’s) to monitor shipment information and combine it with external conditions data. With real-time intelligent data, retailers can avoid and proactively manage disruptive events, work with alternate suppliers to fill inventory gaps, and improve every end-to-end process.

Taking The Deep Dive Into AI

Retail supply chain managers need to prepare for the increased demand for certain goods during the 2021 rebound. It’s an increasingly consumer-centric world, which means retailers need to find any competitive edge to stay relevant. Using AI and machine learning tools can provide this edge by allowing retail chains to enhance various solutions with intelligence. Retailers are adopting AI assistants to help people find items on the shelves or online. For example, some retailers offer AI-powered apps that let users take a picture of an item (a hat, scarf, boots, etc.) and the app matches the picture with a “best match” within the retailer’s inventory.

For the retail supply chain, AI provides layers of benefits. It can break down sales channel barriers by combining data into a single view, so the retailer has visibility across all of its partners and can change delivery schedules as needed. Managers can boost revenue with an AI platform that offers alternative SKUs and label configurations and helps spot and stop at-risk orders. Advanced AI capabilities open clearer risk assessment possibilities, better workload management, and exception-based reporting due to real-time data that are provided in a usable format. AI is essential for improving the supply chain because many retailers have data, but information is only useful when it’s extracted and organized into digestible reports and formats, intelligently and purposefully.

Adding Automation To Build The Retail Brand

To function at scale, a supply chain will need to add automation into the mix. This involves more than merely adding robotic process automation (RPA) and expecting sweeping changes. Automation in the supply chain must be thoughtfully considered, with managers finding the right “how, when, and what” that creates the most impact. Intelligent systems guiding the application of RPA bots are as important as the bots themselves.

Adjusting to the “new normal” created by the pandemic has, perhaps, been easier for retail firms with multiple automated processes in place. These were simpler to scale compared to in-person, manual resources, so retailers could adjust for demand upwards or downwards in response to the crisis. When retailers add automation tools to complement workers’ jobs, then they can leverage more efficiency out of each worker and create a scalable business that can rise to the increased opportunities of 2021.

Planning For Readiness

To enable fast access to real-time data, leverage AI’s promise, and add automation, retailers need a plan. Doing this alone is challenging, so many retailers are turning to operational intelligence systems that can handle any data source in real time to produce intelligent, prescriptive, and automated outcomes, continuously. Supply chain managers needing that competitive edge in 2021 can choose a partner like OpsVeda, a full-stack operational intelligence software company that uses machine learning and automation, along with its ability to continuously monitor processes to improve every facet of retail operations. This can deliver greater agility to better prepare for handling rapidly changing business conditions.

About The Author

Vikas Rajput is Vice President & Supply Chain Expert for OpsVeda.