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Archive for the ‘Supply Chain’ Category

Imagine you are service provider and you line up a bunch of extra capacity because your customers tell you that they are expecting they are really going to need you. What should you do when your customers turn out not to have that much business for you?

If you are UPS, you don’t have to imagine. This is a problem they face at the holidays. Retailers want to make sure that there will be space for their shipments on the truck, so they have an incentive to talk up their potential. Of course, no one can tell the future so sometimes their big talk will prove to be just hot air. UPS apparently is thinking of making the initial forecasts from retailer a little more binding (UPS Tries a New Twist on Surge Pricing, May 1, Wall Street Journal).

With the retail world in upheaval, UPS is asking retailers to help pay when the extra space and workers aren’t put to use—or even when the boxes don’t match the sizes that retailers promised earlier in the year.

“If there are variations to the plan, let’s see what we can do, but we should be compensated accordingly,” said UPS Chief Executive David Abney in an interview. He said the charge isn’t meant to be punitive but one element of a broader negotiation with retailers over pricing during peak times.

UPS is apparently also thinking of imposing charges at times beyond the holiday — say for flowers at Valentine’s or when a new product release causes volumes to spike.

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There have been a handful of interesting article over the last week or two about online fulfillment centers. The first is from Bloomberg (Amazon’s Robot War Is Spreading, Apr 5) and discusses how many firms have followed Amazon’s lead and have invested in robots to help run their fulfillment centers. (Recall that Amazon bought Kiva, which we have discussed before.)

One interesting point made in the article is that the automation may not be quite what you think. For example, these robots are not reaching and grabbing items from the shelves (form something like that, see here). Rather, they are working with human pickers who load them up and then let the robot carry items from storage shelves to the packing area. That is, the robots takeover time-consuming schlepping so that humans can focus on identifying the right item on the shelves. Check out this video.

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Here is an interesting graph. It comes from Goldman Sachs by way of Quartz (A new generation of even faster fashion is leaving H&M and Zara in the dust, Apr 6).

It is showing that how sales growth relates to lead time. And while I am obliged to say that correlation is not causation, it seems pretty clear that it is good to be fast; firms with shorter lead times have distinctly higher sales growth.

The focus of the Quartz article is on Boohoo and Asos, two British web-based apparel retailers that target young shoppers. As seen in the chart, their recent performance has been smoking everyone — even Inditex, the parent of Zara. An obvious consideration here is that both Boohoo and Asos are younger, smaller firms so it is easier for them to generate rapid growth than older, larger firms. It also seems that at least Asos has done some things recently to juice its sales that are independent of its operational expertise. For example, the Financial Times reports that they took advantage of a week British pound following the Brexit vote to cut price in international markets (Asos cuts its cloth for growth but leaves less margin for error, Apr 4).

But it is still an interesting question of how a web-based retailer can benefit from its distribution structure to execute fast fashion faster.

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We have over the years had a number of posts on shipping containers but it’s not like the whole blog is about shipping containers.

But what about a whole podcast on shipping containers?

That now exists. You have to check out the podcast Containers! It is an eight part “audio documentary” on modern logistics. (There are currently five episodes posted.) I am selling it more than a little short in saying that it is just about shipping containers. It really looks at how innovations in moving freight by water have impacted supply chains, cities, and people. It is really fascinating.

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Have you ever ordered a couch or arm-chair and waited an interminable amount of time for delivery? The usual reason why getting upholstered furniture often takes forever is the fabric. From the manufacturer’s point of view, the fabric is expensive, which would be tolerable if one could count on it moving through the process quickly. However, in the furniture world, you can’t count on that. Above a certain price point, nearly every manufacturer competes on offering lots of variety. Once you pick out a couch that’s the right size and sufficiently comfy, you get handed a book of fabric samples with literally hundreds of choices. Some — indeed, most — of those options are destined to be low runners, rarely chosen options that will appeal to only a very few customers. That creates problems for the manufacturer. Holding all of those options in inventory may just be too costly. A manufacturer may hold some of the more popular variants in inventory, but for the more esoteric choices, they will wait to order the fabric after getting an order for a couch.

But what if you could print the desired pattern for the couch on site?

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This should not surprise you at all: Christmas is a big deal for Lego. According to the Financial Times, half of the company’s sales come in the month or so before the holiday (Lego makes push to avoid disappointments of Christmas past, Dec 22). But how do they gear up for that big peak in sales? Check out the video below:

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As we have posted about before, retailers using store inventory to fulfill on-line orders is a thing. It is also a thing that raises an interesting question: At what level of store inventory should a retailer stop using store inventory to fulfill on-line orders? That is, should everything be available first-come, first served or should some store inventory be held back only for those customer that wander into the store? According to the Chicago Tribune, different chains are following different strategies on this (With Hatchimals scarce, who gets dibs — online shoppers, or those in the store?, Dec 13).

Target ships online orders from 1,000 of its stores, up from 460 last year. To avoid empty shelves, Target will turn off the order pickup or ship-from-store option on some items when a store’s stockpile falls below a certain threshold, said Target spokesman Eddie Baeb. Stores that ship also get extra inventory.

An online customer likely doesn’t care which store or warehouse handles their purchase. The shopper already walking the aisles does. Exactly how many items Target holds back depends on the product and how quickly it typically sells. …

Other retailers, like Toys R Us, don’t try to guess how many items to hold back for in-store customers.

Even on Christmas Eve, the retailer doesn’t bump back online orders to help procrastinating brick-and-mortar holiday shoppers. Purchases, whatever the format, are first-come, first-served, said Toys R Us spokeswoman Jessica Offerjost.

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