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The critical role of logistics during 2021’s peak season

By John Chen, Vice President Asia, C.H. Robinson

The end of the year typically calls for cooler weather and holiday festivities in many parts of the world. For stakeholders dealing with freight transportation, logistics, and supply chains, the year-end season is also their busiest time of the year. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday and the ubiquitous Singles Day on 11 November, businesses and consumers alike are feeling the pressure to get their holiday shopping done in time.

The value of goods sold through online marketplaces in Southeast Asia is expected to nearly double to US$254 billion in the next five years, proving that the increase in online shopping triggered by the pandemic is not about to slow down. Indeed, such numbers are only about to trend upward as more individuals get vaccinated and country-wide restrictions ease in time for the holidays.

However, when coupled with recent disruptions such as the Yantian Port congestion and the ongoing backlog from the pandemic – it is likely that 2021’s peak shipping season will stretch global logistics networks even further. Moreover, business leaders will find future disruptions more complicated and harder to solve due to the magnitude of the trade lanes in the networks. To rise and stay ahead of these upcoming challenges, organisations will have to make data-driven decisions and maintain flexibility within their logistics strategies.

Visibility through streamlined data

Past supply chain disruptions must be seen as lessons for businesses that rely heavily on consistent domestic and global shipments to serve their customers. It has become clear that shippers can no longer depend on legacy systems and manual processes, such as waiting for estimated arrival times within excel sheets or making multiple calls to shipping agents for tracking information.

In a time where supply chain disruptions can be mitigated with up-to-date information, visibility through data will be the ultimate tool for peak season logistics. With the use of data, predictive modelling and scenario planning, a business with manufacturers in China and Vietnam can ensure their Singles Day shipments are planned for in advance amidst a fast-evolving logistics environment.

With a multitude of data, logistics leaders can often feel overwhelmed with endless information and possibly miss out on important insights that may make or break an important shipment. Visibility platforms can help businesses regain control over their data. By tapping on data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, these tools provide business leaders with all information about their global supply chain in one place. With such information on hand, a retailer in Asia would be able to focus on providing timely updates to festive season customers, while managing costs through the oversight of inventory in motion.

Ultimately, companies can build stronger and more agile supply chains, while taking advantage of the platform’s visibility to rethink the network structure and geography of their network. In turn, these insights can be the framework for forward-looking strategies for the company’s next holiday season.

Maintain flexibility through technology and partnerships

For many supply chains across the globe, the past year alone has been a test for those who have adopted technology within their networks, and a warning for those who have not. Indeed, Gartner found that challenges stemming from the pandemic and recent disruptions have created a stark contrast between reliable and unreliable providers.

As retailers and e-commerce businesses gear up for their biggest annual sales, information advantage will be the name of the game. Having a ‘near-sighted’ lens through technology allows business leaders to evaluate current trends and help identify any issues such as backlog and delays in shipments once they arise. Companies can make use of these insights to remain flexible – such as adjusting their delivery estimates to customers, and potentially explore alternative modes of transport and routes for crucial shipments ahead of time. With the multitude of orders piling for upcoming holidays, businesses relying on suppliers in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam need to bridge the divide between legacy systems and modern capabilities

When needed, retailers should also consider collaborating with a logistics partner that can give data-driven market insights to drive smarter solutions for their business. From historic trends to what-if analyses, such logistics partners often leverage connections across suppliers and carriers to provide the intelligence necessary to help businesses optimise their ordering of inventory and production costs – which can have a positive impact on peak season profitability.  

Plan ahead to stay ahead

As the saying goes, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.” While it may be impossible to predict all disruptions and unforeseen challenges during the upcoming peak season, businesses that stay on top of their data through technology and collaborations with the right providers will be the ones to remain afloat through any incidents. Moreover, with the right preparation, peak seasons can become the platform for building lifelong customers and annual revenue windfalls for businesses.

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