It’s human nature to want to control outcomes and reduce risks.
For those of us brave enough to enter the world of online retailing, that urge is especially strong. After all, each time you make a stock purchase, you’re putting your hard-earned cash on the line.
That’s why many online retailers tend to view forecasts as a security blanket, making them feel safe enough to spend significant capital on inventory long before they’re able to turn around and sell it.
But no matter how good your forecasts are, they’ll never have a 0% error rate.
Rather than place all your bets on your forecasts, a better approach is to optimize your supply chain visibility so you can take the wheel and scale your brand with more sales and cash flow to grow on.
In this article, we’ll share what supply chain visibility actually looks like and why it's never been more important for success in online and multichannel retail.
Table of contents
- What exactly is supply chain visibility?
- Why is supply chain visibility important?
- How to level up your supply chain visibility
- The best way to elevate your supply chain visibility
If you’re ready to optimize your supply chain operations, you’re in the right place. Find out how Flieber can help.
What exactly is supply chain visibility?
In short, supply chain visibility is just what it sounds like. It’s about how far you can see into your supply chain and the degree to which you can view, control and adjust each component within it.
This includes all the moving parts that contribute to your supply chain operations, from manufacturers to carriers and everything in between.
When it comes to optimizing your supply chain and ensuring your products make it to the right place, at the right time, and in the right quantities — the more information you can see, the better.
For example, you may want to have insight into your raw material sourcing all the way through to the finished products stored on shelves. Because when you’re armed with instant updates on your supply chain, you can spot trends, opportunities, and threats in-real time and make informed decisions on your next steps.
Looking for a new and visual way to improve your supply chain? Discover how Flieber can help.
Why is supply chain visibility important?
Supply chain visibility isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential for ecommerce success. In fact, your supply chain visibility is so crucial, it can mean the difference between staying in the black or falling into the red.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why it’s a good idea to improve your supply chain visibility, starting today.
Forecasts will eventually fail – especially if you have long lead times
Every online retailer knows accurate forecasts are crucial to long-term success. But even the most sophisticated forecasts can’t guarantee 100% accuracy.
Because business — especially ecommerce — is ever-changing. This is particularly true when you’ve got long production times and a challenging global supply chain climate like we have now.
To stay successful with your sales and inventory, you’ll need to drop the idea of a ‘set and forget’ inventory strategy and instead, focus on ways to continually rebalance your plans as you scale your store.
If sales increase more than you expected, you need to get inventory in sooner to avoid stockouts. If sales slip more than envisioned, you’ll have to find other outlets for your products to avoid overstocks.
Your ability to control these variables and pivot as needed is key. In the future of ecommerce, it is agility — not forecast accuracy alone — that will make or break your supply chain.
Customer satisfaction is more important than ever
Moving forward, the quickest way into shoppers’ hearts (and wallets) is through impeccable customer service.
A vital component in delighting customers is ensuring you always have the goods they want and need. Stockouts and long delivery times are a big no-no for modern consumers and will have shoppers running into the arms of your competitors.
But meeting such a high bar for customer satisfaction isn’t easy. You’ll need an eagle's-eye for supply chain bottlenecks, supported by a highly transparent system that allows you to:
- See where each product is in your supply chain.
- Spot problems before they arise (e.g., supplier and carrier delays).
- Switch to faster shipping methods in case of shortages or delays.
- Pinpoint areas for potential cost savings you can pass on to the customer.
How to level up your supply chain visibility
Improving supply chain visibility is often an overlooked task for online retailers who are firmly focused on scaling their brand via more front-facing tasks like marketing, advertising and new product launches.
But your business can only be as profitable as its supply chain allows.
Every blind spot in your supply chain is money left on the table. So, while it may seem like yet another task to add to your already full plate, you’ll gain the upperhand in the long run.
These steps will help you find ways to immediately improve your supply chain visibility.
Step back and assess your current supply chain
Before you can take steps to improve your supply chain visibility, it's important to review what you’ve already got in place and how it's performing.
Here are the questions to ask:
- Where do we have the best visibility in our supply chain?
- Where do we have the most bottlenecks and/or disruptions?
- Where does our supply chain trail become disjointed or obscured?
- What does each link in the supply chain need in order to improve visibility and alignment?
- What are customers saying about our service and product availability?
Once you have this information, you can set goals for the parts of the supply chain you plan to improve and the components you’ll need to adjust.
For example, you could say: ‘We will improve visibility into our manufacturing process by 30% in the next 3 months by unifying product development, sampling, testing, and production.’
Create a culture of continuous supply chain improvement
As your brand scales, it's easy for cracks to form in your supply chain.
You can prevent these from getting out of hand by taking the following steps:
- Update your supply chain tracking system as suppliers, vendors, and sales channels come and go.
- Set monthly and quarterly targets for supply chain optimization.
- Set goals with your suppliers and vendors to improve their service level and performance KPIs.
- Put your own KPIs in place to track your supply chain’s progress as you make changes.
- Set aside time to review your results and audit the level of visibility in the supply chain.
Lead with real-time data
To make big improvements in your supply chain visibility it's important to let your data do the thinking. But not just any data — real-time data.
The world of commerce is changing faster than ever.
Live insights will give you the most reliable view into crucial components of your store’s supply chain, such as your:
- Production times
- Goods in transit
- Inventory levels
- Customer demand
When you let the data do the talking, you also eliminate emotional decision making in all areas of your supply chain, whether it's assessing 3PL performance or deciding which freight options will best suit your store’s current needs.
Let the data lead you to the next best action and before you know it, you’ll have reduced any inventory errors, improved forecast accuracy, and boosted your sales and profits.
Use the right inventory optimization platform
It can be tempting to stick with the supply chain tools you’ve always used — even if they’re manual tools like spreadsheets and emails.
Often, it just feels easier to stick with the devil you know, rather than investing the time and energy into launching a new system, even if you know it will be better for your business.
But the best way to improve your supply chain results is to find a system that does most of the work for you. Because the right system will not only centralize your supply chain components to give you a full view over every moving part, it can also help improve your forecast accuracy and help you strike the right balance in your stock levels.
If you’re thinking about elevating your supply chain optimization system, look for a platform that includes:
- Real-time alerts and notifications
- Real-time data on your current inventory position
- A 360-degree view of your supply chain
- Integrations with your suppliers, sales channels, and carriers
- Automatically updated days of stock
The best way to elevate your supply chain visibility
Flieber is the simple, visual way to take your brand from baseline supply chain management to true optimization.
Our platform produces forecasts that are on average 40% more accurate than the 30-day moving averages most online retailers are using. But we also understand that although they play an important role in scaling your store, forecasts alone can’t save the day.
To optimize your supply chain and sharpen your inventory levels across multiple suppliers and sales channels, you must take a multi-pronged approach. That’s why Flieber unifies all your supply chain data in one easy-to-use system and provides an alerts-based system to instantly notify users of any change in sales demand, inventory availability, or supply chain stage.
Now, you can immediately make adjustments to your inventory and supply chain to achieve the balance needed, rather than reactively hoping to offset disruptions after they’ve already happened. And they will happen.
When you’re ready to see your supply chain more clearly and operate it proactively, Flieber can help. Reach out today for a free demo to see Flieber in action.