Comment | 12 January 2021
UK industry faced greater challenges than ever before during 2020, which was a year like no other.
As the country moved through the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure behind goods reaching shelves (physical and online) that we often take for granted was made clear. Reliable, flexible and agile supply chains were the difference between success and failure, which has put guaranteeing these traits high on the agenda.
The lessons learnt through these widespread experiences will be crucial for all companies – from retail and grocery, through to manufacturing and construction. Realigning strategies and future-proofing businesses to prepare for a new era of customer and supplier relationships is a priority for many.
When looking to the future in this way, it’s likely many companies will need more expert support than ever before. A key component of most plans will be collaboration – and working closely with a third party for a modern logistics solution that reflects the post-COVID-19 world is an excellent example of putting this mindset into practice. There are key reasons why collaborating in this way could bring game-changing results to those who embrace it.
What the pandemic has taught us is that businesses now need to be far more flexible in their operations to meet changing sales and demand levels. This extends beyond the traditional stockroom holdings and means many companies must consider offering more flexible delivery options. Speed does not always mean convenience, instead modern consumers demand the ability to choose what’s right for them; for example, click and collect, last-mile delivery time slots and flexibility around returns.
While some companies may be able to cope, others won’t have the expertise or infrastructure to adapt their operations or, in some cases, develop a logistics service that meets their customers’ needs. A specialist third-party provider can bring efficiencies to this process that most cannot replicate themselves. Having worked together to understand the new direction of the business, a third-party supplier can manage both surges and drops in demand quickly by utilising its fleet of vehicles, network of sites, teams of people and established processes to react to the situation.
Collaboration also brings opportunities for companies to benefit from crucial time and cost savings through working with others that have complementary needs. Shared storage facilities and strategic consolidation of goods for transport are here to stay as companies look to increase efficiencies. This is especially evident with urban deliveries, due to the changing regulations around emissions.
Take Wincanton and Waitrose’s Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC) as a great example of collaboration in direct response to consumer demand. With the opportunity afforded by the rise in online grocery shopping across 2020 – a trend that’s unlikely to reverse, even post-COVID-19 – Waitrose has partnered with Wincanton to create and operate a CFC (or ‘dark store’) to make more capacity available to customers in the West London area. This partnership allows the supermarket chain to tap into Wincanton’s vast home delivery and supply chain experience to bring a new operation into place at the pace needed to better serve its customers.
Safety guidelines to meet government standards and COVID-19 compliant practices have been a huge issue for many businesses. The need to adapt operations quickly and efficiently has put decision-makers under pressure, with new processes required around every corner. Partnering with a third-party can remove this burden, with the work ‘outsourced’ to an expert already undertaking the same measures for others across a range of industries.
When you also consider the need for greater attention to employee wellbeing - whether supporting staff through lockdown, remote working or illness; or wider safety within warehouses, trucks and offices - the present situation places a huge time and resource burden on companies trying to manage this alone. Allowing a logistics specialist to control all, or some, of these aspects gives the company reassurance and frees up their own resource to concentrate on other business priorities. It takes away pressures around staff recruitment and retention, and adapting to sudden changes that require new approaches and policies.
Businesses need to be looking beyond stabilising and creating a new version of the pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’. Pushing growth and efficiency, as well as differentiating from competitors, is still important.
With change and restructuring needed to meet a different set of customer needs, there is a real chance to bring new ways of doing things to the fore. In many sectors, we have already seen a vastly accelerated adoption of new technology and methodology, necessitated by the pandemic, that will have long-term benefits.
For example, visibility throughout the supply chain will be a key tool for the future. The ability to monitor and analyse the real-time movement of goods, assets and people will provide a much-needed understanding of the effectiveness and efficiency of processes throughout the business – and crucially where improvements can be made. The use of data and technology is gathering speed as companies look to experts to help understand their business inside and out. In an increasingly eCommerce and digital-focused logistics industry, the ability to use advanced technology to stay one step ahead will be vital.
The pace of innovation has rapidly accelerated during 2020. Third-party logistics companies are best placed to drive digital collaboration, synergies and best practice to ensure that technology is used to deliver better outcomes operationally, financially and most importantly for the end customer.
Wincanton’s W2 Innovation programme is designed to innovate through technology to bring new and improved products and services to the market, as well as better ways of doing things; for example, robotics and asset optimisation. Wincanton works with both established strategic partners and emerging innovators through its W2 Labs programme to ensure that we can bring new propositions to the marketplace, such as our oneVASTwarehouse.com space collaboration platform and our Carrier Management Service powered by Sorted.
No business can thrive alone. Working in partnership with experts in different components of their operations will be key for companies in various sectors to emerge from the pandemic in a strong and stable position. This approach to partnering with a third-party logistics expert and the application of a strategic and collaborative mindset will also ensure that future events, be that Brexit adaptations or further pandemic-related adjustments, will not cause the same shock as it has done previously. Companies can then focus on what they do best – servicing the customers who depend on them.