The secret to meeting demand in retail? Simple: collaborate with suppliers more closely, according to Sarah Windham-Luck, director of retail UK & Ireland at Office Depot.
‘There’s no doubt that this is an era of squeezed margins where, for retailers especially, a key priority is ensuring profit is protected as much as possible in each area of activity.
‘However, it can be difficult for retailers to implement a fully visible process for managing the flow of stock which signifies the importance of close collaboration with supply chain partners. Visibility is paramount, not only because returns have become a normal and regular aspect of modern consumer behaviour, but because the longer items are out of the supply chain, the less profitable they become. Dealing often with a varied store estate and a disparate supply network means that, for many retailers, it can be difficult to retain control over returns. The faster returns can be processed, the more likely they are to still generate maximum profit.
‘The role of supply chain partners is essentially to encourage and implement the flow of information (and product, naturally!) throughout their own supply network, as well as the one they’ve established with their retail customers. However, making this work is about more than just paying it lip service – in order to properly support the sector, suppliers must ensure that regular operational meetings are held with their retail partners to anticipate issues early and to address them quickly and efficiently.
‘To ensure proposed solutions are relevant and fully embedded, suppliers need to have a strong stakeholder network within the retailer and be fully integrated in their culture and processes.
‘By working in close collaboration, suppliers can help make certain that items, which have been returned are processed and back in the supply chain in enough time for them to be sold at the maximum RRP. Furthermore, as ‘omnichannel’ becomes ‘total retail’, this requirement is only going to become greater.
‘The lines between channels are becoming increasingly blurred as m-commerce, in-store consumer specific marketing, online purchases and click-and-collect all merge into one total retail experience.
‘Suppliers must actively help retailers in meeting the ‘right now, any time’ culture head on, in order to better guarantee availability.
‘However, if this isn’t capitalised on by the retailer, ensuring they have full visibility of stock on immediate standby, competitors can quickly steal the march. Suppliers worth their salt must, therefore, recognise the role they can play in managing stock flow into stores efficiently.