by Robert Victor Robert Victor
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The novel coronavirus pandemic has created one of the largest disruptions to supply chains that recent history has seen. COVID-19 is affecting not only the health of the supply chain workforce, causing absences and reduced productivity, but also production processes themselves as organizations attempt to adapt to the fluctuations in demand while also implementing adequate social distancing strategies.

The effects of this turmoil are already being felt on a large scale: 40% of retailers and 35.5% of manufacturers have reported disruptions to their supply chains.

Manufacturers and retailers are doing what they can to rise to this challenge, but there’s one variable they continue to struggle with: uncertainty.

As we learn more about what’s necessary to keep people safe, organizations need to be poised to adapt their tactics to protect their customers, employees, and businesses at large. This will require great flexibility — in more ways than one.

A Responsive Workforce

Any COVID-19 response plan should start with ensuring the safety of your employees, and supply chains are no different. Larger organizations can implement strategies such as keeping sick workers at home, staggering shifts to limit the amount of people on the floor at one time, separating workers by a distance of at least 6 feet, and educating employees on proper hygiene.

After ensuring safety, begin looking to the future. How will your current workforce have to adapt to get your organization through this time? Consider the following strategies:

  • Hiring temporary workers: Your business’s workload may increase due to the absences of sick employees or the surge in demand for certain products. Hiring temporary employees may be necessary to avoid overworking your team.
  • Making teams more flexible: Considering the imminent recession, your company may need to create more flexible teams, or even reduce headcount and adhere to social distancing orders, in an effort to make it through the crisis and beyond.
  • Reskilling and upskilling: Try to reskill or upskill existing employees to fill any gaps caused by absences rather than introducing new workers into the mix. Since these employees will already know the basics, you’ll save time and resources on training. Fewer new people on the floor also means better social distancing between workers.

[Related: Supply Chain Recovery Planning]

Additional Fulfillment Options

As consumers do their best to stay out of busy retail centers, they’ll be looking for new ways to get the products they need. Consumer behavior patterns will veer overwhelmingly toward online ordering as the safest option of avoiding public areas, so having an effective e-commerce platform set up is crucial.

However, having a variety of fulfillment options is also important to give customers flexibility while aiding them in taking the necessary precautions. Customers may even be more likely to try new fulfillment options they had never used before. Fulfillment options to consider include:

  • Home delivery, especially same-day for groceries
  • Curbside pickup
  • Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS)
  • Pickup lockers

Retailers who fail to provide multiple fulfillment options may not meet customers’ needs and expectations during a disaster or pandemic.

[Related: An Essential Guide to Order Fulfillment]

Distributed Order Management Strategy

New safety and travel restrictions may make it difficult for retailers to efficiently fulfill orders via their existing supply chains. As a temporary fix, consider leveraging local stores as fulfillment hubs through a distributed order management strategy. This not only cuts down on delivery distances and allows for diverse fulfillment options, but also creates the flexibility necessary to quickly adapt to whatever new changes the virus demands.

Keep in mind that a distributed order management strategy will only work with a strong foundation for omnichannel retailing, meaning that all channels must work together to prevent disruptions and siloes, as well as effective customer communication and order execution. With the click of a button, retailers should be able to set up store locations, manage inventory for each location, update fulfillment preferences, prioritize orders, and route orders to the right location.

Customers will also need to be updated with automated communications at every stage of the fulfillment process, starting with the initial placing of the order and ending with delivery.

Enhanced Digital Customer Care

Consumers have now come to expect product shortages at local grocery stores; online ordering should provide a more reassuring alternative. That means that when customers add an item to their cart, it should still be there when they’re ready to check out — not suddenly showing as out of stock or substituted for a different product.

To provide this reassurance, retailers need to optimize their fulfillment strategy with an aggregated global view of inventory across all distribution centers, warehouses, dropship vendors, and stores. Then they’ll need to ensure continuous real-time data transfer between technologies and channels by connecting their commerce ecosystem.

Doing so will create consistent, unified cross-channel data access, giving retailers more flexible order fulfillment options and minimizing product back-order and out-of-stock instances.

Digital customer care also includes customer service. Create channels with which customers can call or Live Chat in order to get assistance with their orders.

[Related: 7 Big Reasons to Use Live Chat Tools to Provide Excellent Customer Service]

Flexibility — the Only Way Forward

Individuals, businesses, and governments across the world are adapting to keep everyone safe and healthy during this global pandemic. For retailers and manufacturers, the only way forward is to create as flexible of a supply chain as possible. This will enable us to make it out of this crisis and to prepare for a potentially markedly different future in supply chain and logistics.

If your business doesn’t have the scaling capabilities, technology, or other resources necessary to adapt your supply chain to these changing times, Hollingsworth is here to help. Our solutions ranging from warehousing to order fulfillment, state-of-the-art SAP ERP technology, and nation-wide shipping network enable our clients’ supply chains to remain flexible and successful, even amid these uncertain times.

And, of course, while we work to keep supply chains moving forward, we’re also keeping our employees and customers safe with CDC-approved and industry best practices.

For more information on how we can help promote supply chain flexibility for your organization, contact us today or request a quote today.

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