It’s Amazon’s world, retailers are just living in it
Are your ears burning, Jeff Bezos?
Attend any major retail industry conference over the last few years and one thing has been abundantly clear: Amazon is the single biggest threat to every store on the planet. But over time, that sense of fear seems to have turned over, first to awareness, and now, broadly, acceptance.
Such was the mood at the recent Retail Industry Leaders Association Supply Chain Conference, where the industry’s largest retailers, logistics providers, and technologists gathered to discuss everything from supply chain visibility, the evolving role of stores, and last-mile deliveries to the role emerging technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence. And while Amazon didn’t deliver a keynote or breakout session during the event, its name came up countless times.
However, the conversation has shifted in recent months. In the past, Amazon was viewed as something to be feared, today retailers accept its presence as just another competitor. And while some may still be intimidated by the speed at which Amazon innovates and its seemingly bottomless budget, retailers are no longer frozen thinking of how they’ll defend their business against this outside force. Retailers have picked up a few new ideas along the way, either borrowing from Amazon’s playbook or reinventing what it means to serve customers in the 21st century. And much of their hope lies in the supply chain.
Businesses don’t compete, their supply chains do
We’ve heard this before. Retailers have now picked up the refrain that it’s the supply chain that sets them apart in an era where commerce is ambient and customers expect to find products and fulfillment tailored to their specific needs. And while the audience at a retail supply chain conference are inherently biased, retailers are now investing more energy and resources to changing the way they make and move goods around the globe.
The question boils down to, “Where do I begin?”
The answer is something even the strongest retailers struggle with. And the companies that presented at RILA highlighted how the challenge comes down to building better connections between the physical and digital world, and finding opportunities to lead from within the supply chain.
To that end, Neiman Marcus made the case for advocating from within – learning the motivations and the language of the C-suite in order to turn executives into strategic partners. Walgreens and Target took a different route, explaining how diversity and inclusiveness across the workforce inject new ideas into a company and help it transform into something that reflects the community it serves. Home Depot discussed how it’s actively trying to bring in more talent and transformational leadership.
Customers matter, too
And don’t you forget it. Another way the recent RILA Retail Supply Chain Conference set itself apart from past editions was more conversation about the customer. Whether focusing on the economic and technological forces causing the retail industry’s current growing pains, or specific ways to connect the with end consumers, there’s recognition that the supply chain doesn’t end at the store.
While much of this conversation focuses on last mile fulfillment, retailers can’t forget all the things that must take place further upstream first. The conversation needs to extend beyond delivery services and bricks and clicks to encompass comprehensive inventory visibility, supplier collaboration, the changing role of warehouses, and the types of advanced fulfillment capabilities that only exist when data silos are eliminated and all shippers, carriers, and suppliers are working with a single vision of the truth.