For the past three years, Supply Chain Matters has been predicting a radically changed business environment across retail channels because of permanent shifts by consumers to favor online buying.
Last year, and updated for this year, our research report: The New phase of Online and Omni-Channel Fulfillment for B2C and Retail Supply Chains (Available for Complimentary Downloading in our Research Center) called for retail line-of-business and supply chain teams to unify organizational leadership and supply chain alignment among traditional store and online logistics and distribution strategies.
Last week. The Wall Street Journal provided more updated and quick frankly, sobering data indicating that: Brick and Mortar Retail Stores as Shuttering at a Record Pace. (Paid subscription required) Reported was that so far, this year, at least 10 retailers have filed for bankruptcy protection, which compares to 9 retailers that declared bankruptcy with a t least $50 million in liabilities, for all of 2016.
What we found to be more sobering was a cited prediction from Credit Suisse that retailers could close more than 8600 locations this year, which would eclipse the number of store closings that occurred during the 2008 recession.
The noted causes of the current wave of store closings are cited as decades of shopping center and retail store overbuilding along with the permanent shifts towards online shopping. Another cited cause was noted as the excessive debt burdens that retailers took on through leveraged buyouts or efforts to fund expensive share buybacks. The WSJ cites Moody’s Investor Service as indicating that the amount of debt coming due for 19 distressed retailers is set to more than double over the next two years.
There are obviously significant supply chain implications implied from this trending which we wanted to echo for our Supply Chain Matters readers, implications that may seem obvious, but need to be stated.
Traditional retail distribution strategies were predicated on purchasing high volume merchandise from lowest-cost and highest value suppliers, moving that merchandise into large owned or leased warehouses, and pushing that merchandise into individual stores based on selling forecasts, merchandise promotional plans, or store replenishment needs. The operations of the warehouses and the distribution to physical retail stores was for the most part, straight-forward.
Now, with so many brick and mortar stores subject to closing, coupled with the permanent moves toward online and Omni-channel merchandising and selling, the logistics and distribution model is significantly changed, and as retailers have now come to understand, can be far more expensive if not planned and executed properly.
Warehouses are now customer fulfillment centers that store inventory in volume and move that inventory to contiguous pick and pack operations within the same building, all responding to individual online orders. Fulfillment center locations are now more predicated on a combination of population density and access to major transportation and logistics hubs, as Amazon and other online providers have artfully demonstrated. Inventory management requires far more sophistication and requires far more detail related to item-level demand across selling and customer pick-up channels. Overall management of transportation costs becomes more essential, since online consumers are now patterned to shop where free shipping is offered.
Remaining physical stores will increasingly serve as extension of the online business model, meaning stores can serve as customer pickup, merchandise return, or merchandise demonstration centers. In-store labor has shifted to customer fulfillment center labor, and in-essence, the fulfillment center becomes a key presence and capability of the retail brand in the minds of online consumers.
The closing of so many physical stores comes about because of the needs or existing retailers to dramatically reduce their cost structures to deliver required profitability goals. However, we again need to reiterate that the traditional notions of viewing transportation, warehousing and logistics as purely cost center, or outsourced expenses that can be adjusted at-will is not necessarily a wise decision when considering the changed distribution and logistics considerations of today’s online world.
Retail and B2C and B2B2C supply chain capabilities must be far more agile in the ability to support an integrated Omni-channel strategy. We caution that this is not solely investments in further distribution and fulfillment center automation, since that may well be one-dimensional. Instead, it should include more sophisticated supply chain planning and inventory optimization supported by advanced analytics related to being more predictive and responsive to constantly changing online customer fulfillment needs manifested by multiple customer touch points.
The takeaway is that slashing distribution, logistics and customer fulfillment operations budgets without a context to an integrated online business model could prove to be short-sighted.
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