If you were to describe the way the world has changed over the past year to your pre-pandemic self, it would probably sound like something straight out of a bad sci-fi movie. From the moment COVID-19 entered the scene, it has been one disruption after another — especially for those of us tasked with figuring out how to keep supply chains running smoothly in the midst of all this chaos.
The global economy started to decline almost immediately at the outset, governments began imposing trade restrictions, and demand became volatile. The cracks within many companies’ manufacturing and transportation processes quickly surfaced as well. Now, the pressure is on as companies scramble to readjust their strategies to mitigate risks and maintain the flow of goods while dealing with severely volatile rates, capacity constraints, service failures, and extended manufacturing lead times.
But onward we must go. Here are a few of the ways the industry is adapting to keep itself afloat in the pandemic’s wake:
Work from Anywhere (WFA) Model
Over the years, the evolution of technology made the WFA business model possible well before COVID-19 came into the picture; however, no one really knew how people would perform outside of an office setting. Many businesses were too concerned about all of the unknowns surrounding WFA’s influence on things like communication, efficiency, and data security to make the transition.
That all changed when the pandemic lockdowns made it a necessity rather than a choice. Despite being forced into it, most companies have come to realize how beneficial the WFA model actually is from improving employee engagement, to reducing property costs, to increasing workforce retention. For shippers, the importance of having tech-enabled logistics partners became a must-have overnight.
Just as the pandemic accelerated the WFA trend, it also accelerated the move from shopping in brick-and-mortar stores to primarily purchasing goods online, permanently altering the retailing landscape. The domino effect of this rapid explosion in e-commerce sales not only triggered a huge jump from intermodal and truckload shipments to parcel and LTL, but it also caused a shift from B2B to B2C deliveries.
Ocean liners, in turn, are having to race to reposition empties across Asia-Pacific trade lanes to overcome severe capacity constraints and meet e-commerce demand, while shippers bear the weight of excessive freight rates.
The New On-Demand Mentality
Given the unprecedented (sorry, we had to) market uncertainty, more and more shippers are also working to preserve their cash flow by shifting away from a traditional high-volume, low-frequency inventory strategy. Instead of trying to predict erratic consumer spending patterns, some manufacturers have decided to stop ordering larger volumes of a product that they then have to store in favor of ordering smaller volumes at a more frequent rate.
As a result, their transportation partners have had to up the agility of their processes, specifically in regard to the last mile, to keep pace with these leaner inventories. At the same time, the inverse is also true for other companies.
Some importers are ordering in larger quantities out of the usual seasonality to stockpile goods in the U.S. as a way to ensure they have sufficient quantities to meet the ever-increasing demand. The result has been high demand and higher costs for warehouse space and drayage services. Again, the technology provided by freight forwarders and other logistics providers is key to making this shift possible.
Competition for shippers of all types was tough before the pandemic, but it’s only going to get more intense from here. Plus the expectation of faster and cheaper deliveries that existed before the pandemic is only going to increase too. This means supply chain professionals are going to have to get imaginative with how they use their resources.
Long-term success requires finding that balance between increasing the efficiency and resiliency of your logistics operations (without breaking the bank) while also maintaining a competitive edge with your customers. In order to step up to the challenge, it’s important for companies to take the time and energy now to identify and understand the weaknesses within their own supply chain operations.
After you’ve thoroughly picked your processes apart, then you can use your new outlook to take further action, whether that involves diversifying your supply base, upgrading your logistics partners, capitalizing on innovative technology trends, or even reevaluating the types of products you offer.
The underlying theme of all your decisions should be focused on nimbleness and agility. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that things can change quickly. Shippers and their supply chain partners need to be better positioned to respond accordingly.
Resetting your supply chain is not something you have to do all on your own though. Visit Jaguar Freight to learn more about how our proven expertise and industry-leading software can better prepare your supply chain for a post-pandemic world.