Year in Review: The Trends That Defined Supply Chain in 2018 | Elementum

Year in Review: The Trends That Defined Supply Chain in 2018

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A trade war that put businesses and consumers on edge. An entire industry confronting generational shifts and talent loss. The synergization of online and offline sales channels. 2018 was not a year of abrupt change or revelations, but one of gradual developments — developments that are going to continue into 2019 and beyond.

We delved into our archive to discover the stories that shook the supply chain world in 2018. Here are the most important trends that took shape in the last year. Tune in next Tuesday to explore how these and more trends will unfold in 2019.

Trade Wars

If one story was buzzing in 2018, it was this. The Trump administration issued vigorous tariffs and counter-tariffs throughout the year, impacting everything from steel to consumer electronics, clothing, and much more. The world was shocked not because these were unprecedented (economic protectionism to some degree is nothing new in the world economy) but for their scale: a $50B tariff against Chinese goods alone was followed in September by a tax on $200B worth of goods. While some advocates claimed that the move would result in more jobs for Americans, many analysts have continuously warned against price inflations, economic slowdown, and unintended trickle effects to consumers. A different story, but one with some parallels, was unfolding across the pond this year: businesses with supply chains in the UK were dealing with Brexit and its potential outcomes.

One thing remains certain: in this time of shifting trade relationships, flexibility is a virtue in supply chain.

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Challenges to Logistics Companies

As in previous years, 2018 was dominated by discussions of the worker shortage facing logistics and transportation providers. Some companies pinned their hopes on autonomous vehicles to fill the gap, but it’s clear that the technology for self-driving vehicles — let alone big rigs — just isn’t advanced enough yet. For now, and into the foreseeable future, the logistics industry should be indexing on better recruiting and retention methods to grow its workforce.  

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For freight companies and the supply chain on the whole, rising fuel costs were also a subject of concern this year.

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Retail Apocalypse?

You’ve seen the headlines: Toys R Us shutters its windows. Sears files for bankruptcy. The “retail apocalypse” must surely be upon us. But as we explored on the Chain Reaction blog, the situation is a little more nuanced than that. Yes, people want ease and convenience. But here’s something the headlines are missing: convenience doesn’t always have to come in the form of a mouse-click. Shoppers still crave a well-orchestrated in-store experience. Read on for a look at what businesses should do about it.

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The Need for Omnichannel

In 2018 retailers started to realize that to provide a seamless customer experience, they can’t focus solely on e-commerce or brick-and-mortar, but instead need to learn how to navigate the overwhelming variety of channels through which they can market and sell their products. A key challenge for brands that want to satisfy customers and balance the books is the intelligent use of many platforms — online, social media, in-store, etc. — otherwise known as omnichannel retail. Managing inventory and revenue were already tall orders, but with the incorporation of new sales channels, it’s becoming a lot harder. But the solution remains the same: better communication across the supply chain to get products to the right place, at the right time — whether that means a distribution center or a doorstep.  

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Janie Ryan

Janie Ryan


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