In the 21st century, customer expectations have pushed supply chain and logistics to evolve at unprecedented speed. In 2019, supply chain will be dominated by one key realization: in order to keep up with customers, brands can neither rely on the old ways, nor place their faith entirely in new technologies. Instead, they will need to re-orchestrate their operations to place the customer at the center, and start measuring success in terms of product availability.
Given the interconnected nature of today’s supply chain, what impacts one corner of the industry is bound to create ripple effects. Let’s take a look at the challenges, opportunities, and technological breakthroughs that are going to ripple through supply chain in 2019.
The 4 Trends That Will Dominate Supply Chain in 2019
Service chains will be as important as product chains. In the digital era, visibility is just as important for customers as it is for businesses. Digitally-empowered consumers no longer see why brands should be in control of their experience. They want to dictate when, where, and how they receive communications, see advertisements, and most importantly, get their hands on products. Social media will become a bigger tool for gaining instant feedback and changing product features at the speed of demand.
In the world of customer satisfaction, last-mile delivery is just the tip of the iceberg — but it’s what customers are most likely to take note of. Businesses will thus continue iterating on their last-mile logistics strategies to boost the customer experience. In the words of Mark Bowen for IntelligentCIO.com: “Next-day deliveries, customizing delivery locations and timing on the fly, paperless billings and more such customer expectations will continue to drive businesses to embrace advanced supply chain and logistics platforms.”
Companies will be more accountable for reporting the environmental and social impacts of their supply chains. This year, major global brands came under fire for oversights in their supply chain, showing that even the most beloved logos aren’t safe from the watchful eyes of the public. Millennials (now the generation with the most spending power) are more concerned than ever with the ethics of their brands: 66 percent of Millennials are willing to pay more for a product that was sustainably produced. And with key resources like cobalt in short supply, companies like Tesla and Apple need to be extremely strategic not only in how they source these resources, but in how they monitor their suppliers and report to the public.
Read more about the future of traceability here.
Economic growth, rising energy prices, and tight supply will all continue to put pressure on logistics companies, who will have to provide exceptional service even as their labor force shrinks. It’s likely that there will be an imbalance between transportation and the supply chain requirements of large companies. Rather than putting their hopes in self-driving trucks or even in recruiting a new generation of on-the-ground employees, companies should focus on accessing better, faster data so they can direct resources where they’re needed and make shipments more efficient.
Geopolitical disputes will send reverberations throughout the global market. As sanctions on Iran go into effect and Iranian oil exports decline, global oil prices could rise, putting even more pressure on logistics providers. And the ongoing trade disputes between China and the U.S. are prompting companies from apparel to electronics to move production out of China and into other low-cost (and less contentious) regions. A recent Financial Times article stresses that now is the time for manufacturers to diversify their product portfolios to reduce risk.
Visibility, agility, and the ability to connect disparate data in the supply chain will be the way forward for businesses in 2019. Data analytics and cloud technology, combined with industry-specific innovations, can help businesses increase fleet visibility, make stocking and loading more efficient (from both a cost and time point of view), optimize delivery routes, improve communications with customers, and improve overall customer experience.