19 December 2011

Technology Wars 2: The Search for More Profits

Almost a year ago I wrote an article entitled, “What does ‘demand-driven’ really mean?” in which I outlined a view of a supply chain driven end-to-end by real-time (or near real-time) demand feedback. My recollection of this writing was triggered today by an article that appeared today on the Financial Times website: “Technology: Smarter software helps minimise discounting.”

In the FT (Financial Times) article, Claer Barrett writes:

“As retailers grapple with falling consumer spending and rising costs, the smart use of technology is proving a valuable weapon.

“Creating a point-of-sale linked supply chain is the latest tactic that larger retailers are employing in order to manage inventories and minimise discounting.”

Among other things, Barrett discusses how the entire supply chain—from the retail all the way back to the manufacturer—is being forced to cope with greater and greater uncertainty. At the same time, Barrett correctly points out that today’s “consumer is more empowered than ever before” via online shopping and price-comparison options.

Barrett’s discussion of the matter leads directly to another topic on which I have written here a number of times—namely, market segmentation. [Click here for more.] Retailers everywhere are learning to collect and leverage high volumes of point-of-sale data, mostly through the proliferation of loyalty programs. [Note: I just checked my pockets. I must be a member a more than dozen loyalty programs ranging from pet supply stores to gas stations and more.]

Between a rock and hard place

Even with improved ability to segment the market and identify buying trends and patterns, the whole supply chain is still caught between the “opposing problems of excess inventory and stock shortages,” as Barrett puts it. Barrett, however, is far too gentle, I think. The horns of the dilemma should really be stated as

excess inventory versus stock-outs.

Almost everyone who has had responsibility for managing inventories of any kind knows exactly what I’m talking about. Being short on stock (low inventories) does not on whit of damage. But being out-of-stock means

  1. Lost sales of the out-of-stock goods
  2. Lost sales on other goods that may have been purchased by customers seeking the out-of-stock item(s)
  3. Potentially, customers lost temporarily or even permanently to competitors

As I have stated elsewhere, the value of losses resulting from out-of-stock conditions—if calculated at all—is almost always vastly understated.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, even though the supply chain suffered out-of-stocks on (almost always) the most popular items, they are almost never able recoup the profits on those items for which they are overstocked.


In fact, chances are they will have to liquidate their overstocked item at or below the price they paid for them. Hence, Barrett’s reference to finding ways to “minimise discounting.”

The key to creating more profits is a “demand-driven” supply chain

My article on a demand-driven supply chain suggests technology that is within the reach of almost every retailer today—not just the big-box merchants. But it requires management to seek two things that they are presently overlooking in far too great a degree;

  1. The true cost of out-of-stocks to their operations and to the entire supply chain
  2. The return-on-investment available to them for building a truly connected and collaborative supply chain

If you are a mid-market retailer, distributor, wholesaler or manufacturer, do not delay in pursuing the discovery of ways to create for yourself a sustainable competitive advantage even in a very challenging economy.

Further reading: Dynamic Buffer Management (DBM)

Richard D. Cushing is a senior solution architect at RKL eSolutions in Lancaster, PA.

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