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Easing Retail Supply Chain Challenges with Low-Code Platforms

Jenna Harvey, Global Manager, Emerging Industries
March 30, 2022

Ever since the pandemic hit, supply chain issues have abounded. Retailers bore the brunt of the news coverage, as shelves went barren for a host of reasons—not least demand shifts, panic buying, container shortages, and geopolitical concerns. These supply chain issues are estimated to have caused revenue losses of 5%–20% for some retailers. Often, once loyal customers switch brands or retailers rather than waiting months for products to come back in stock. 

But retailers aren’t the only ones dealing with shortages—changes in shopping behaviors, particularly around last-mile delivery, affected the fulfillment end of supply chains, too, with eCommerce growing rapidly. Some estimates claim retail eCommerce will reach roughly $1.06 trillion USD in 2022. 

End-to-end supply chain visibility was complex to begin with. Add in new variables like supply shortages and changing consumer behavior, and you have a recipe for increased complexity that can challenge even the most adaptive retail brands. Low-code platforms—which allow you to discover inefficient processes, design full workflows and enterprise-scale applications, and automate important tasks—were built to deal with complex problems and rapid changes like these. 

As retailers set their priorities for 2022, here’s how low-code can help solve retail supply chain challenges: 

  • Note demand shifts earlier: Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, demand quickly spiked across a number of categories. Most people remember the toilet tissue shortage—this was heavily driven by the move to remote work, leading to heightened demand for regular toilet tissue and a drop in demand for the commercial version used in office buildings. While this demand shift was a black swan event, retailers can’t afford to be caught flat-footed when demand spikes and supply dwindles in the future. Low-code can help you connect disparate eCommerce and other systems with enterprise resource planning solutions to note changing demand signals earlier, then make smarter decisions about suppliers or increase orders from manufacturers. Even a week’s lead time can make a very meaningful impact on your bottom line. 
  • Meet growing eCommerce demands: Consumers have grown accustomed to rapid delivery due to online giants like Amazon that have exploded over the past few years, with eCommerce making up roughly $870.8 billion in sales in 2021. Even retailers primarily known for brick-and-mortar establishments now offer eCommerce options to support changes in consumer buying patterns. Regardless, low-code platforms can help retailers overcome their last-mile fulfillment challenges by connecting them with drivers and keeping consumers in the loop on direct deliveries with automated communications and customer portals.
  • Increase transportation visibility: Better collaboration with transportation vendors gives employees more insight and adaptability. Knowing shipments may be delayed or incomplete lets store employees answer customer questions and pivot in unloading and restocking. On the fulfillment side, gaining visibility into shipment status at distribution centers allows you to plan effectively for warehouse staffing, inbound volume workload, and potential risks to order fulfillment. Having the ability to track the status of drivers and deliveries, receive real-time feeds on disruptions, and communicate with end customers—whether you operate your own fleet or outsource to a third-party logistics provider—is now an imperative. 
  • Support ESG efforts: With customers, investors, and regulatory agencies increasingly demanding that organizations implement environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts, understanding how your vendors operate becomes crucial for compliance. Reducing environmental impact and ensuring sustainability is quickly becoming a top priority for retailers. For example, transportation, product manufacturing, and resource consumption are often the largest contributors to carbon emissions. Being able to choose responsible vendors, including those with ethical labor practices, or having plans to shift to electric-powered trucking fleets, shows your commitment to ESG efforts. A low-code platform can help you build dashboards and applications that provide greater visibility into ESG metrics across both your own company and the vendors you use. The greater clarity you gain also allows you to demonstrate compliance efforts to auditors. 
  • Improve efficiency: Some supply chain issues sit firmly outside your control. You can’t prevent container shortages or vendors running low on supplies. But if you have bottlenecks within internal processes or in your collaborations with supply chain partners, you can reduce their impacts (or eliminate them completely) with improved workflow, automation, and communication tools in place. Process mining capabilities, which map out processes as done in the real world to pinpoint inefficiencies, can help further streamline your workflows so you can get products to stores and customers faster.

How low-code automation helps retail supply chains.

Supply chains get complex fast. Many retailers are looking to modern business applications to shift and respond to change. Unfortunately, for many, disjointed and internal legacy systems prohibit innovation.

Low-code platforms can help at multiple points across the entire retail supply chain process—from demand planning to transportation to fulfillment. It’s important to use a platform that has workflow and process optimization as the backbone. You’ll want to choose a platform that lets you discover inefficiencies with process mining, quickly build applications to support workflow for internal and external users, and automate manual tasks with artificial intelligence, business rules, or robotic process automation capabilities.

Of course, this must all be built on a solid foundation of data. Anything involving complex supply chains must offer the ability to integrate, process, and sort a variety of disparate data sources. You should be able to connect to legacy systems and vendor systems, even if they don’t have APIs. Nothing else would be possible without these connections.

Retail supply chains will likely continue to face disruptions. Even if some sources predict a letup in the coming months in certain areas, the pandemic and recent events have shown how fragile our supply chains truly are. Being able to gain fuller visibility into the activities across the supply chain can help you better anticipate changes and improve both your customers’ in-store and home-delivery experiences.

Want to discover more about how low-code can help retailers manage their supply chain? Learn more today