Christmas is under threat.

Customers are being told to get their Christmas shopping orders in now as serious congestion in global supply chains causes massive delays on shipping new consumer goods into the country.

With the ongoing restrictions in various parts of the country, demand for online shopping ahead of Christmas 2021 is expected to be greater than ever. Coupled with Australia Post’s ongoing delays and service interruptions, it is safe to say that there is a very real risk of the holiday season being cancelled.

The perfect supply chain storm is upon us

Consumers’ pent- up demand and appetite, already at record highs due to border closures and lockdowns, has compounded the limited capacity of global freight. In addition, the disruption to global supply chains have spurred shortages of consumer products and made it more expensive for companies to ship goods where they’re needed.

The latest obstacle is in China, where a busy terminal near Shanghai was shut down after a dock worker tested positive for COVID-19. Major international shipping lines had to adjust their schedules to avoid the port, while flagging consequent delays to customers. Added to the stretched supply chains already suffering from ongoing container shortages, coronavirus-related factory shutdowns and the lingering effects of the Suez Canal blockage in March, current delays are expected to stretch well into next year.

The various events, while seemingly isolated, have a profound effect on nearly every point in global supply chains. While retailers have been stockpiling products ahead of Christmas, they still risk running out of stock, with replenishment lead times stretching out longer. The supply chain crunch affects every sector, from home and leisure goods to fashion and electronics.

Customer experience first

Missed or late deliveries at Christmas can impact hugely on the customer’s emotional response to retail brands. Retailers should seize the opportunity to build a deeper level of customer loyalty by demonstrating they can be trusted to deliver in the most demanding of times. There are solutions that can help improve operational efficiency and make the holiday season a happy one for customers.

  • Improve visibility – Having clear visibility of the supply chain at every step, from the order placement, through the dispatch to the tracking of the item until delivery is critical in meeting non-negotiable deadlines. Most supply chains use a variety of logistics service providers, transportation service providers and other partners. A multi-party supply chain “control tower” can ensure all activities are coordinated and controlled, and any problems in the supply chain can be easily found, monitored and even prevented.
  • Customer experience first – Beyond focusing on stock levels and making sure there’s enough goods on the shelves, retailers should provide a more personalised and seamless experience across multiple channels. Customers gain trust in businesses that can handle even the busiest of shopping days. BluJay research indicates that 67 per cent of supply chain companies believe that customer experience (CX) will become the number one brand differentiator. This means providing different delivery options, including click and collect, free shipping or contactless delivery. The Christmas period presents an opportunity to boost not only profits, but also customer satisfaction. The influx of online sales now must maximise the convenience for shoppers ordering online, including an easy and fast returns process.
  • Mobile solutions provide benefits from first to last mile – Mobile capabilities can help to streamline daily processes and manage shipping spikes across multiple industries, whilst improving customer experience and satisfaction. With active messaging, staff can manage and move products faster through the warehouse and even group together multiple packages for a single customer shipment. Further cross-dock capabilities allow for a guided loading process while simultaneously building a manifest for the driver through item scans and provide real-time item tracking on freight movements. This visibility allows sellers to closely monitor inventory levels and respond to issues and opportunities immediately.

While an extended peak Christmas period can cause an uplift for online retailers, it is imperative that they make the process for customers as easy as possible when it comes to receiving their goods. Retailers must ramp up risk-mitigation plans, focus on customer experience and invest in optimal technology to make their supply chains more resilient and ready for the onslaught.

Paul Soong is regional director for Australia and New Zealand at BluJay Solutions, now part of E2open.