Do you believe in distribution elves?

Once, consumers took it on faith that their orders would arrive. Today, they want visibility into your stock, their orders and the expected delivery times. That takes more than elves.

October 27, 2011 - MMH Editorial

Remember the old days?  I mean, the really old days when you taped a quarter to a magazine coupon and sent it off to Marvel Comics, taking on faith that someone, maybe an elf, would create and ship a Jack Armstrong Club ring to you within a few weeks? 

Lord knows how those elves pulled it off. But whether it was a crystal set to a Dick Tracy wrist radio, the merchandise just magically appeared.

Today, the elves have been replaced by the Web.  That allows me to place my order, select the shipping mode, and receive an instant acknowledgment. Instead of wondering whether today is the day the mail will deliver my prize, I can monitor the shipping status on-line.  It’s still magical, but in a different way.

E-tailers create that kind of inventory and order visibility with real-time data capture and bi-directional customer and trading partner communications.  Naturally enough, their success depends upon their visibility of inbound products, warehouse inventory, outbound order and in-transit shipment status as well as the ability to provide customers with access to accurate updates on expected delivery dates and times. 

If you’re being asked by your trading partners to provide more visibility, the process should begin with a measured assessment of the types of data required, along with how, when and where it will be captured, validated and disseminated.  Next, put a value on potential benefits for your business and then begin looking at the myriad data capture, systems and communications options available.  If your trading partners are not pressuring you yet, you still might want to begin your investigation now.  You don’t want to disappoint some little kid who believes in elves, do you?

Read more columns by John Hill at Modern.
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