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Behind the scenes and across many industries, supply chain management is changing. Approximately 60% of businesses have found that evolving to a more customer-centric approach increased profits, outshining competitors who don't make an effort to focus on the customer. To bring your business into 2019, you need to explore the customer-centric supply chain. What is a customer-centric approach—and why is it so important?

The World of the Customer Has Changed

Consumers are now living in a global, always-on, easy access world. They now want to complete a purchase through whatever venue they choose, whether it's walking directly into a store or checking an app on their phone. Customers are using multi-channel approaches for a single transaction, checking inventory online and sending products to physical retail stores. And, customers have become comfortable doing this—while once customers were wary of completing large transactions online, they're now embracing it, looking for everything from phones to cars online.

When customers do visit showrooms, they are often researching products that they can buy online at a cheaper price, and sometimes from a different retailer altogether. Customers are willing to wait for products to be delivered to them in order to get the best deal. An entire generation is growing up with the idea of purchasing online as the "default." All of this means that customers are more mobile, educated, and deal savvy... and that businesses must change to meet their shifting needs. 

Even small and mid-sized businesses are now working on a global scale, finding their customers geographically and economically dispersed. The only way businesses are able to consistently and reliably fulfill the needs of these customers is to build customer-centric business processes. But there's good news there, too: a customer centric supply chain can radically change an organization's profit potential.

Omni-Channel Sales and Omni-Channel Fulfillment

Users today interact with companies and brands across a multitude of channels, from the company's website to third-party marketplaces and social media accounts. Organizations can no longer afford to pare their presence down to just one or two verticals: instead, companies need to be willing to handle and integrate multiple channels for their sales and fulfillment strategies. And that means they also need to be able to consolidate their information as well.

Through omni-channel sales and fulfillment, customers get the same experience with the brand regardless of whether they connect to the brand through one location or another. Brick-and-mortar stores have similar in-store experiences to their online store experiences. Better and more accurate, real-time inventory management both makes it easier for the store to make sales and ensures better customer service.

Omni-channel sales and fulfillment strategies ultimately streamline the organization's own business processes. Rather than tracking sales, inventory, and logistics through multiple channels, the organization is able to view the status of all of its sales on-the-fly. More importantly, the relationships a business builds with its customers, as well as its sales and transaction information, is consolidated into a single, easily-analyzed and consulted resource.

Predicting and Forecasting Demand in Supply Chain Management

With a multitude of new channels to track, organizations without a customer-centric, omni-channel approach will find it difficult to analyze their sales and predict and forecast demand. When all of the data isn't available, a company may not be able to immediately see when demand for one product is growing, or whether a product is more popular on one channel than another.

This is of critical importance, because modern businesses must be more agile than ever. A consequence of the new customer-centric supply chain is that businesses must often radically alter their inventory based on observed trends. As competition is likely to move very quickly—and customers have access to a large number of competitors—businesses that are not agile will fall behind.

Having large volumes of inventory, being unable to predict changes, and being slow at forecasting demand will ultimately bog a company down in unnecessary stock, making it harder for a company to remain agile and make necessary changes. This is a failing of the traditional supply chain model—in which results were often more consistent—and a boon for a more customer-centric supply chain.

With the right data, omni-channel business processes, and a customer-centric approach, a business can remain lighter and more agile through faster and more accurate predictions. Businesses with a customer-centric approach will be able to see increases and declines in sales more quickly and will be able to glean actionable insights through artificial intelligence and machine learning. This means that organizations are also able to operate in a leaner, responsive fashion. All of these are positive side-effects of a more customer-centric approach.

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About Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK'S Vice President of Marketing and Communications. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team. In his free time, Michael enjoys working with the Wounded Warrior Project, fishing, and improving his cooking skills.

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