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Three ways online retailers can overcome supply chain turmoil

online shopping

The pandemic recovery is finally in full swing. But the huge increase in online shopping over the past 18 months coupled with ongoing supply chain disruptions across multiple industries means that many businesses aren’t yet in full control of their destiny.

As someone on the frontlines of the retail and manufacturing industries, I have seen countless companies experiencing product or parts shortages in the last 18 months due to supply issues. It’s a particularly frustrating challenge as no one has control over the levers that guide the global economy. Patience is required, of course, but I’m always careful to remind business leaders that they are not completely powerless in the face of this challenge.

At Pivotree we advocate for frictionless commerce – removing all the technology, design and process barriers that interfere with optimal e-commerce performance, and which if not addressed can leave online shoppers feeling disillusioned and unlikely to make a return visit. According to recent research we did with Environics, 49 per cent of consumers who shopped online in the previous six months said they were dissatisfied with their overall e-commerce experience. Clearly the stakes are high. The good news is there are measures that retailers can put in place to help minimize the impact of inventory uncertainty and ensure that customers aren’t put off when they can’t find what they’re looking for. The goal is to do everything possible not to let inventory issues turn into an unnecessary and potentially costly point of friction for shoppers.

If your business finds itself in this position, it’s time to take action. Here are three tactics to consider to help manage through this painful – but temporary – period.

online shopping

Revisit your supplier onboarding strategy

Let’s start with the worst case scenario. Your business is completely out of an in-demand item, while your competitors still have some in stock. It’s a position retailers don’t want to find themselves in, so take the necessary steps ahead of time to try and avoid such an outcome. Many, if not most products, are available from multiple suppliers. Being able to quickly onboard new suppliers, along with their product catalog is a major key to success in a supply chain challenged world. Having multiple sources also allows you to shop around and ensure you are getting the best deal.

Now’s the time to make your vendor onboarding process as smooth and automated as possible. Besides the obvious benefits of getting access to more product, a modernized vendor management system can also help retailers better track supplier contracts and use data to help gain more favorable terms over pricing.

Substitute and replacement prompts

Business leaders are also online shoppers, and they can relate to the experience of browsing for a product online, finding the perfect item, only to learn that it’s not in stock. Aim to do more than simply deliver bad news to frustrated consumers and hope for the best. Implement a solution that will automatically flag similar products to the one that’s not available so that the shopper is offered a viable alternative.

Granted, shoppers may not bite, but if they do walk away, they will do so after being provided with good service and a viable alternative. The result is a far more frictionless shopping experience that is more likely to encourage them to make a return visit.

Automatic inventory transfer processes

Seeing that a searched for product is not in stock nearby is bad enough. Realizing that no other stores within driving distance carry it either can be especially disheartening.

Instead of showing customers a map of stores that can’t help them, essentially your out of stock item the customer’s problem to deal with, savvy online retailers are building automatic in-store transfer processes that arrange for an item to be shipped to a nearby store. From the customer’s point of view, the product is simply in stock nearby, and they don’t need to see the steps being taken behind the scenes to make that actually possible. So if the buyer is located in Portland and the nearest item location is Seattle, that transfer is automatically arranged. The behind-the-scenes activity remains invisible. All the customer sees is that the product will be in stock at their chosen location in 48 hours. Even if they opt not to wait, at least they are provided with a viable pick up solution and left with a favorable, frictionless experience.

As the U.S. moves into the post-pandemic era, I’m reminded of the old saying about focusing on what’s in your control and not getting lost in what you can’t. These may be challenging times, but the prospects for e-commerce have never been brighter. Don’t let short-term obstacles get in the way of a long-term vision. Start taking steps now to build a frictionless strategy to protect yourself against supply chain turmoil. By doing so you can set your business up for long-term digital success.

Written by Derek Corrick.

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Derek Corrick
Derek Corrick is General Manager, MDM, at Pivotree Inc, a global leader in frictionless commerce solutions. Derek Corrick is an experienced Information Management practitioner with an abiding commitment to the success of his customers.

As Pivotree’s General Manager for MDM, he leads a team dedicated to helping companies leverage their information assets to deliver clear and measurable business results, increase sales, drive enterprise efficiency, and enhance customer experience/engagement – all while reducing business risk. Prior to joining Pivotree, Derek founded and managed successful MDM and Information Management practices at two leading consultancy firms, and served as executive vice president for a major MDM solution provider. His passion spans MDM implementation excellence, change management, business development, and digital transformation.


Derek Corrick is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.