The shopping demands of consumers place a lot of pressure on retailers to provide flexibility in their delivery channels, whether it is brick and mortar stores, direct deliveries or a hybrid delivery to the store or fulfillment from the store.  This flexibility places additional strain and complexity on the supply chain, as I have stated, the face to the consumer is the retailer, however the structure and framework is supported by the supply chain.  The two critical capabilities of the supply chain is execution and flexibility.  These are two sides to the same coin and your success depends on the success of both sides. 

First your supply chain must be flexible to support the current demands of the consumers and the business.  This can be achieved by developing a collaborative supply chain partner network that will provide the framework and foundation to your capabilities.  A collaborative network is the only framework that will provide the support and flexibility necessary to meet the current and future demands of the consumer.  This partnership should be developed in a manner that provides guidance and structure to the members and also allows the members to share in the success of the entire network.  The members of the network must understand and also subscribe to the key principle that the success of the network is the first priority.  This guiding principle should be reinforced through a shared benefits plan across the network.  Afterall, the definition of collaboration “is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together.” (Wikipedia).  The two key points in the definition are ‘shared goals’ and ‘work together’, this means that your collaborative supply chain cannot be an adversarial network of individuals whose only concern is their individual earnings and profit. 

The collaborative network both collects and feeds on information.  The information collected is based on the demands and execution of the demands.  The information the supply chain feeds on includes the execution and demand information in addition to the feedback from customers and demand planning and forecasting from the retailer.  This demand planning and forecasting must include plans for new products, potential new manufacturing partners, new stores, new consumer programs.  This information is critical to the success of all members of this collaborative supply chain.  One important point to remember here, there should be no assumptions in the communication, it is important that the information, plans and objectives are clearly discussed and understood by all parties.  Assumptions will only impact the execution and as a result the success of the supply chain and as a result, the retailer.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumers’ experience?  Improving the consumers experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?