Archive for the 'Supply chain management' Category

On Amazon’s bid for Whole Foods

Talk about breaking news: RetailWire panelists had a chance today to weigh in on the announcement of Amazon’s bid to acquire Whole Foods. While many panelists see it as a way for Amazon to gain a bigger toehold in brick-and-mortar retail, I view it differently:

First, the move can help grow Amazon’s brick-and-mortar footprint, but it’s more about taking the Whole Foods brand to every household in America that may order groceries from Amazon. It gives Amazon’s fresh food businesses (meat, produce, organics) instant credibility in homes without a Whole Foods location in sight.

As to the skeptics about whether Amazon can handle the logistics — can they deliver organic produce and Cheerios at the same time — this is the smartest logistics management company in the world that we’re talking about.

Finally, Amazon has a longstanding willingness to lose money in a new business where it is trying to grow market share. The days of “Whole Paycheck” may be over.

Does “free shipping” have to be a money pit?

A quick comment from RetailWire about free shipping and whether it is destined to be a money-losing proposition for most retailers:

Retailers have competed over e-commerce free shipping for a number of years, so it’s hard to envision the genie being put back into the bottle. (Customer expectations are hard to unwind, after all, when they are given a benefit for free.) The trick that Amazon seems to be mastering is the trade-off between speed and cost. Even Prime members may pay extra for same-day or next-day delivery compared to truly free shipping for an item showing up in two days; the shoppers figure out the value equation that matters to them. But will competing retailers take advantage of the solution that Amazon is providing to them?

Operations management needs a seat at the omnichannel table

Today’s RetailWire discussion focuses on the operating pressures caused by omnichannel and digital initiatives. Field managers absolutely need to be part of the planning process, and here’s my point of view:

Retailers pushing for omnichannel solutions (BOPIS, ship-from-store and so forth) absolutely have to involve store operations. There is no way to plan the costs of these services (especially in payroll hours) without field management at the table. And store management has a responsibility to speak up when pushed to “do more with less” — otherwise the costs of omnichannel programs erode the customer service that brick-and-mortar shoppers still expect.

Is there a market for “ultra-fast” fashion?

RetailWire panelists weighed in on the growing trend toward “ultra-fast” fashion. If the short lead times of fast fashion retailers (think Zara) aren’t short enough, how about two to four weeks from concept to delivery? And what sacrifices need to happen as a result? Here’s my comment:

Retailers have been too slow reacting to the fast-fashion capability of companies like Zara and Forever 21. These two companies (and a few others) have brought great supply chain management and data science to the art of getting relevant product to their customers quickly. But the key word here is “relevant”: Does a two-week lead time offer enough chance to test and reorder in depth?

Cost is another factor: Ultra-fast retailers will probably have to pay a premium for manufacturing labor close to their stores (especially in the U.S.), even if there is some offsetting saving on transportation. Fast turnaround makes sense if your store needs Stanley Cup championship jerseys tomorrow, but for the majority of goods a little extra time is worth the investment.

Another frontier for Amazon to cross?

Amazon is reportedly scaling up its infrastructure in order to tackle the major appliance and furniture markets. Panelists weighed in on RetailWire about the challenges and opportunities, and I see the upside:

I commented a couple of weeks ago that Amazon had not yet made big inroads into the major appliance market — but obviously they are headed in this direction, along with furniture. To some degree IKEA has already figured out how to generate furniture sales not tied to its showrooms, so it’s clearly an opportunity for Amazon too. No doubt that they will figure out the logistics of bulky products but this still seems like a business where customers want to “kick the tires” — so perhaps Amazon ought to test showrooms in their early test markets.

Is omnichannel really less cost-effective?

CNBC recently ran a story (linked below) about the relative costs of brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and omnichannel retail. Their results were surprising and I expressed my skepticism on a recent RetailWire post:

I was skeptical about the analysis when I saw it reported on CNBC last week. Does the study factor in the efficiencies that might be achieved by leveraging physical stores’ payrolls and inventory levels? Does it continue to look at the silos of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce as separate expense centers? Are some retailers with negotiating leverage with the big freight carriers able to achieve cost efficiencies through ship-from store and also save operating expense in their e-commerce distribution centers?

I’m also skeptical as a longtime (1982-2006) employee of Kohl’s, which is pushing its omnichannel initiatives hard. Kohl’s has always managed its expenses carefully, even in down times, and I doubt they would be pursuing omnichannel aggressively if it were truly an SG&A-buster.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/19/think-running-retail-stores-is-more-expensive-than-selling-online-think-again.html

Two new fast fashion battlers?

There’s been plenty of attention paid to Forever 21 and H&M for the past several years, but it’s worth keeping an eye on Zara and Uniqlo as they expand their footprint in the U.S.  I commented recently on RetailWire that Zara has a competitive advantage in terms of product development and supply chain:

Zara has a big head start over Uniqlo in the U.S. retail market although it has plenty of room to grow vs. other fast-fashion competitors like Forever 21 and H&M. More importantly, speed to market is in Zara’s DNA. And they offer a modified “treasure hunt” approach to the merchandise, compared to Uniqlo’s approach of key items in lots of colors. Unless Uniqlo is prepared to change its philosophy, Zara has the edge.

It’s understandable that Uniqlo would want to benefit from what Zara already knows about fast turnaround of product development — supported by great logistics management — but it may not be as easy to imitate. Think of how many e-commerce sites aspire to the level of Amazon’s execution but can’t quite get it done.