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March 14, 2011

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Guest Blog: Eric White on Supply Chain Security

by jparker

Supply Chain Security: Vulnerabilities and Loss-Combating Measures Retailers Can Take

The retail supply chain is subject to great vulnerability when it comes to potential losses.  The risks are obvious: goods being transported across and even between countries, changing hands several times.  Due to the large volume of goods, it is simply impossible to check every container and pallet of goods.  Over long periods of time, items are loaded and unloaded at several different locations, increasing the likelihood of damage.  All of these conditions increase the risk of loss to the retailer. 

To complicate matters more, there is no single supply chain configuration across retail.  Large retailers may have regional warehouses, distribution centers and corporate-owned truck fleets, whereas small retailers may rely exclusively on direct store deliveries (DSD) by vendors.  The risks in each of these situations are different and require targeted solutions.  Top concerns include physical security – as forklifts and high stacks of heavy inventory can cause accidents –  the security and integrity of merchandise during transport, proper receipt and verification of the right kind and amount of product at the store, and the oversight of vendor visits to prevent theft and/or administrative errors.

Retailers must take decisive steps to prevent potentially crippling losses that occur before the merchandise even reaches the store shelves.  The following are some strategic ways that retailers can help prevent supply chain losses.

Create processes

Building processes that impose consistent verification and corrective action is one of the most effective ways to battle losses occurring in the supply chain.  By narrowing the window of opportunity for purposeful or inadvertent losses to occur, retailers successfully reduce their risk and identify “red flags” before significant losses result.  For example, by having a merchandise receiving process by which particular employees are assigned and trained to manage the receipt of deliveries and compare item or pallet counts with invoices, there is a greatly reduced opportunity for losses associated with incorrect amounts or types of goods received. 

Verify those processes

It’s not enough to just put processes in place, but critical to continually monitor them for consistent implementation and proper execution.  A combination of regular and unannounced audits is a great way for retailers to determine with certainty whether or not recommended processes are being implemented properly throughout all locations.  Audits should be designed, not only to verify proper implementation, but to help pinpoint the root causes of problems in the supply chain.  When audits indicate a process failure, retailers can take action by assigning immediate follow-up tasks and notifying key players within the organization about problems that require further investigation.  Taking immediate action based on audit results is important to inciting change. 

Video surveillance provides another great way to verify that employees are properly trained and following-through with recommended procedures.  Without constant verification, processes may be little more than symbolic gestures on paper.

Control what you can

Another good strategy is for retailers to determine if there are parts of the supply chain management process that can or should be brought in-house or outsourced to prevent losses.  For example, by centralizing shipments to a warehouse, stores can receive complete loads, avoiding confusion that frequently occurs with the unloading of trucks that contain shipments for multiple destinations.  By ordering larger shipments to supply more stores, retailers benefit from larger volume orders, bigger discounts and less hassle.  In addition, if they use their own trucks to deliver items from the warehouse to the stores, they can potentially reduce risk of loss due to theft. 

Hiring a separate LP team to manage supply chain risk and losses could also be a good move.  Since the problems associated with supply chains are somewhat unique, they require dedicated solutions and resources to ensure product integrity until it reaches its place on the store shelf. The real key is to provide visibility into the problems.

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We are pleased to feature this guest blog by Eric White from Wren Solutions.  Eric has over 20 years of experience in our industry and currently serves director of retail strategy for Wren.  White maintains his regular blog at http://www.wrensolutions.com/LPXtra_blog/ and can be reached via email at eric.white@wrensolutions.com.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Kelli Woelfel
    Mar 14 2011

    Good blog. The supply chain does present so many opportunities for loss. Retailers must remember that you can control your own supply chain interactions – but if the vendor packs the carton incorrectly or uses a different pack unit of measure – inaccuracy can exist before you have even touched it one time!! Retailers should work closely with their vendor community and if necessary create chargeback programs with vendors to improve initial accuracy. These programs help both the retailer and the vendor to improve inventory accuracy and reduce loss.

    Reply

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