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BLOG: Fulfilling potential in 2021

By Ed Bradley, co-founder Virtualstock | Tuesday February 23 2021 | UPDATED 22.02.21

Ecommerce has been brought forward by at least a decade as a result of the pandemic. This has transformed supply chains and logistics functions and has forced retailers to evolve so that they are more flexible and agile to meet the surge in online demand.

The retailers that thrived in 2020 were the ones that invested heavily in their supply chains to ensure they could keep fulfilling orders despite the various restrictions in place. These included the likes of Dunelm, B&Q, Joules and Superdry, all of whom reported a massive uptick in online sales during 2020. Those that haven’t have either gone to the wall or have lost out to Amazon and other pureplay online operators.   

The key battleground this year will remain in online fulfilment – those retailers that can fulfil orders the fastest and can respond rapidly to spikes in demand will see the most success. As part of this, technology platforms are imperative.

Some retailers are still manually handling supply chain data and collecting it from disparate systems and partners. This limits the number of suppliers they can work with as too much time is spent uploading data to spreadsheets. In contrast, however, what retailers really need are technology platforms that can simultaneously manage large volumes of data from multiple sources.

To win the fulfilment battle, it is more important than ever that retailers are collaborating closely with suppliers to provide them with the most up-to-date product and forecast data in a timely manner via technology platforms. This enables the supplier to be made aware of demand changes as early as possible so they can react at speed. Some retailers have experienced their suppliers defaulting on orders through the pandemic as they were not expecting suchlarge uplifts in order quantities from one week to another and were not receiving forecast information reports as often as possible.

Mitigating risk

One of the most effective ways retailers can manage sourcing and procurement is through setting up a dropship channel. This allows retailers to access a number of suppliers to fulfil orders directly with customers, without having to stock the product in their own warehouses. In turn, this enables retailers to fulfil demand seamlessly by scaling up ranges and filling gaps in their own inventory. It also mitigates supply chain risk and prevents retailers from losing sales or ever running out of stock. It can be switched on as a temporary measure to fill a particular breach in product lines, so retailers can continue to sell until their usual suppliers are replenished, or it can be used as a long-term measure to help pivot into new product categories that complement existing core ranges.

Due to the fact that dropship orders are fulfilled by suppliers, yet the retailer still owns the customer relationship, it is essential that there is software in place that provides the retailer with rich visibility on product availability and order progress, to allow the retailer to provide a consistent customer experience across all channels and protect their brand.

All these requirements are a consequence of changes to consumer purchasing behaviour caused by the pandemic, but they will remain long after a solution to COVID-19 has been found.

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