More recently, however, Polar outsourced this B2B business to a company called GlobalWare Solutions, which allowed Polar to move all these individual transactions onto a self-serve environment on the shoppolar.com Web site. GlobalWare holds product and handles all the fulfillment activities associated with these programs, including the pick-pack-ship and the credit card billing and invoicing. "If we are going to continue to keep everyone happy, we can always add labor to the model, but that just wasn't cost-effective. We needed to find a better supply chain, or a better way to meet the needs of those industry professionals and employee purchases, which is how GWS has helped us substantially," says Padovan.
Ensuring a Holly Jolly Supply Chain
The holiday challenges facing any given company, of course, will largely depend on the nature of its supply chain. Many consumer products companies bring in product from overseas to stock stores shelves, and visibility will be key to ensuring that those goods make it to the retailers on time, says Chris Jones, executive vice president for solutions and services at Descartes Systems Group, the Warterloo, Ont.-based provider of logistics management solutions.
"Companies that build-to-stock based on a forecast need to know whether shipments are going to arrive on time at the port of entry, given the long lead times — did the product leave the factory on time, did it get consolidated, did the container wind up on the right ship, when will it get to port, triggering when they need to pick it up," Jones explains. "That kind of multi-modal global visibility is key to making sure that you know whether you need to get into contingency plans, such as expediting."
For their part, the path to holiday success for retailers will increasingly be found in an integrated cross-channel experience, says Jim Bengier, retail global industry executive at B2B integration specialist Sterling Commerce and a veteran of more than 25 years in the retail industry. "Consumers have high expectations around cross-channel experience, and where that is going to hit retailers in the holiday season is around inventory visibility," Bengier says.
He points to research showing that both retailers and customers are likely to be looking more to an in-store pickup model — order online, pick up the item at a brick-and-mortar store. To make this work, retailers will need to have visibility into in-store inventory levels and availability, and to have that information available to consumers online. "Retailers are going to be under more pressure to have this sort of information integrated across channels, including call centers, online or in store," Bengier says.
"But," he warns, "retailers have a huge gap here — they have some integration, but in many cases it's not very automated. So it's going to be very manual, and you're going to have a lot of breaks in customer satisfaction because the retailer is not going to be able to share timely information with the consumer consistently and accurately."
CDC Software www.cdcsoftware.com
Descartes Systems Group www.descartes.com
ModusLink Global Solutions www.moduslink.com
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory www.rmcf.com
Sterling Commerce www.sterlingcommerce.com