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  • Writer's pictureJuli Lassow

How You Can Seize the Future of Retail

looking at the clouds through a tunnel

Previously, we’ve taken a look at the key trends shaping the future of retail, and therefore, sourcing.

We’ve seen how customers are now expecting more personalization, more speed, and more transparency in their retail experience, mostly due to the rise of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) companies that use data to power the business.

We’ve also discovered how these same trends drive innovation in sourcing, from new technology platforms such as Inspectorio and Blue Map, to new approaches for producing goods such as nearshoring and on-demand manufacturing.

It’s a lot to take in and a lot to keep up with. So, the question is, how can you move forward, thrive in the disruption, and find partners to help you seize the sourcing future?

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Take Stock of Your Current Supply Chain

Before you invest a single minute or a single dime into optimizing your supply chain, take a hard look at how well that chain is delivering for you and your customers. Don’t just examine how you’re doing today; reckon with the heightened expectations customers will have in the future.

For example, ask yourself:

  1. What sort of supply chain data do we collect today? Where do we gather it from—internal or external sources?

  2. How are we using this data to improve our business?

  3. How does our supply chain currently deliver on the three most important customer expectations of the future, that is, personalization, speed, and transparency?

  4. How does our supply chain measure up to the competition? Where are we better-positioned for the future? Where are we lagging behind?

  5. What are the small (or big) steps we’re taking to influence how our industry is evolving?

Stay Current on Sourcing Trends

If you haven’t done so already, subscribe to an aggregator of sourcing news, such as the Sourcing Journal or Supply Chain Dive.

Of course, these publications will keep you up-to-date on what's happening on the sourcing front, but I find them most useful to help determine which new strategies and technologies will have real impact and staying power.

Challenge Your Current Assumptions About Sourcing

Set aside time to question the current beliefs your company has about sourcing. You don’t need to schedule a three-day offsite to do this. You can start the effort at your next team meeting with a question or two, perhaps inspired by what you’ve read in one of the news aggregators.

For example, you may want to brainstorm: How could we bring all of our production home to the United States? Or: What if we took one of our clothing lines and turned it into a “made to order” business?

You need to have imagination in this volatile age if you want to stay in the sourcing game. A couple of years ago, hardly anyone imagined what it would be like to stop production in China, but now, this issue is front and center for many companies.

Go ahead. Dare to ask the inconvenient or imaginative question. What has the greatest chance of disrupting your business model this year and beyond?

Be an Advocate for Thinking Big and Taking Measured Risks

Retail moves fast, so approaches like “pause and ponder” or “test and innovate” might not be especially popular with your team. But knowing how to mitigate risk—by reducing uncertainty and improving outcomes—is a hallmark of high performing sourcing and production teams.

Still, you can’t play it totally safe. You’ve got to devise ways to get ahead of the volatility and chart a new course for your business. So inspire your team to deliver the best today, while positioning yourself (and your customers) to thrive tomorrow.

Commit to Forward-Thinking Partnerships

And finally, be a partner—or find a partner—who is willing to take risks. Those who dare to be bold will be the ones best positioned to stay relevant in this digital age.

If you’re a supplier, look for ways you can innovate and support your retailers. And if you’re a retailer, look for suppliers who have the future on their minds. That means:

  1. Have a strategic vision you’re willing to share with potential partners. This vision should describe how you’ll meet and anticipate the needs of the customer in the digital age.

  2. Show a passion for learning and have a proven record of testing new ideas and strategies. The best partners will have experience with multi-format channels—brick and mortar mass giants, and the latest digitally native brand.

  3. Collaborate with external resources so you can learn, grow, and go after the next big thing.

  4. Cultivate the ability to capture and process data, from having “basics” such as key performance indicators (KPIs) and ERP systems to advanced tools such as on-demand manufacturing, purchase-activated manufacturing, and 3D printing.

In Closing

And that, as they say, is a wrap for this series on the future of sourcing.

Before I sign off, let me leave you with one last thought. What lies ahead for sourcing really doesn’t hinge on the latest technology. It is, however, based on a shifting mindset—from the industrial revolution legacies of scale and efficiency to the digital age essentials of innovation and curiosity.

Embrace the change and enjoy the ride.

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