Improving B2B eCommerce Supply Chain Operations

Reevaluating your eCommerce supply chain solution for agility, scalability, and faster time to market efficiencies
The Importance of Planning, Sourcing, Inventory, and Transportation for SCM

What is Supply Chain Management?

Supply chains and their management are very important for business success, as they provide a connection and workflow between different business departments and collaborators. Having a supply chain management system is essential, but keeping it updated and looking out to improve it is equally important in an era where everyone is taking the next step, especially in eCommerce supply chain management. This article will provide information on strategies for improving supply chain operations and making the most of them.

Supply chain management manages the supply chain, meaning handling of suppliers, product creation, deliveries to customers (other businesses if we are talking about business-to-business or B2B eCommerce), returns, and complaints having a budget and a timeline and trying to stick to them. Although the idea behind B2B supply chain management is rather old, its significance for companies' profitable success was discovered and capitalized in the past few decades, especially in eCommerce. Several vital parts of a successful supply chain are communication, monitoring, data analysis, and continuous evaluation and updating of the current strategy. Without engaging with these activities, a company cannot easily understand where its current strategy might be falling behind, causing multiple issues, let alone be able actually to correct these issues. Especially in online shopping (eCommerce), supply chains are critical for a business's success. They connect different parts of a business and different parts of the world with just a few clicks.

What is Supply Chain Management?

Supply chain management (or SCM in short) handles operations related to clients getting requested products and services. Since a company's worth is built on the supply of services or products, and given the increasing competition in almost every sector under the sun, having a good SCM system that allows customers to receive their requested products or services as fast as possible, and at the best price is important for the success of a company. Having a system that allows seamless and timely collaboration between all associated parties is vital for success. An optimized SCM system can help a company reach its targets much faster.


Why Is it Important to Improve Supply Chain Operations?

Let's use an example to illustrate the importance of improvement for SCM systems. Let's assume a delivery company, which uses a truck to deliver products from place A (warehouse) to place B (companies in a given postcode) regularly. The truck should follow a set route to reach the destinations efficiently, saving time and fuel. On the day of delivery, planned maintenance works at the specific neighborhood entrance rendered road access impossible. The truck driver had to figure out a different route to enter the neighborhood and locate the specific companies from a different entrance point; hence the optimized route was replaced from a "let's see which road this is, which company is located here expecting" chaos. The businesses got their orders later than expected, and the truck used more fuel than anticipated. This could have been avoided if the company had liaised with the city council for information on scheduled maintenance or more than one route planned in case of emergency. This simplistic example can explain why SCM needs to constantly strive for improvements, if not for satisfying their existing customers, to get ahead of the competition. Having alternative systems in place in case of emergency, trying to foresee situations that can cause disturbance of the existing SCM system, and streamline workflow and business logic to stick to timelines and budgets are signs of B2B supply chain operations are constantly being improved. For eCommerce SCM, there is an ongoing need for improvement. This area is still relatively young and constantly developing, which grew unexpectedly fast in light of the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in multiple business sectors.

Why Is it Important to Improve Supply Chain Operations?

The process of improving supply chain operations is not a short one that can be concluded in a couple of stakeholder meetings. It is an ongoing process, which means it should be reviewed, altered upon feedback, molded to the company's behaviors, or even used as a game-changer for its behavior. Think of it as self-development. It does not stop after the first promotion or the first course to build new skills. Having a good project plan is essential and sticking to it is critical. Setting goals and objectives for the company that can be translated to improvements on the supply chain is a great first step. Past this point, there are a few other things that can help towards eCommerce supply chain management improvement.

Become aware of all costs: a supply chain can have multiple parts of a company involved along the way (orders, inventory, manufacturing, customer service…), collaborating, or external collaborators (suppliers, distributors…). Each part or relationship has its expenses, which are gathered up under individual or collective budgets. Suppose all managers or key employees were made aware of SCM expenses of other parts of the company than their own. In that case, it could help with cost transparency, savings by potential budget merges, and expenses consolidation.

Maintain a good relationship with suppliers and distributors: both parties can be crucial in business sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, food. Having a long-standing and good relationship with them can be very helpful in unfortunate events or unforeseen circumstances. Having personal relationships rather than strictly professional can motivate people to go the extra mile and help out and be happier working with each other. That being said, collaborators should be audited for their performance, and personal relationships should not stand in the way of honest reviews.

Consider outsourcing: many companies keep many parts of the supply chain in-house when they could outsource some of them and save time and resources. Having a clear idea of the company's core strengths and focusing on them, rather than running around tasks outside in-house expertise, can help a company be more successful by doing more of what they know best. Hiring external collaborators for other tasks can accelerate processes and overall improve SCM by combining expertise.


Using Enterprise Resource Planning for SCM Improvement

Besides the SCM mentioned above improvement strategies, there is another key area of eCommerce SCM improvement, and this is no other than visibility across all company areas related to SCM. This can be done through enterprise resource planning (or ERP in short), which integrates the management of various key processes and sectors within a company or supply chain. In the following few paragraphs, we will provide examples of how improving SCM with ERP software integration can benefit a business's success.

Better Customer Engagement and Service

An ERP integrated supply chain management can improve customer service and customer experience. It allows for better communication across the company and between the company and its customers. Especially in eCommerce, where there is no physical interaction option, ERP integration can help make customer experience smooth and seamless by offering real-time information on the supply chain's relevant parts.

Fraud and Bottleneck Prevention

Complete visibility through ERP integration can help identify and prevent sticky points for business operations, such as fraudulent attempts or operation bottlenecks. Being able to see each department centrally, have up-to-date data, allow customers to access and alter their information, and easily connect information across departments and applications can save the company from much trouble.

Reporting in Real-Time

Imagine if an operator in the orders department needs to get in touch with the inventory or distribution department immediately, but the corresponding employee is not available. There is no other person who can facilitate this request. Not good for the company. ERP software integration can help with connecting departments and allowing employees to have visibility over other areas than those responsible for them. Real-time reporting can also help with the company's performance evaluation using up-to-date data collected automatically, rather than through laborious monthly or annual processes.

More Technology-Based SCM

Again very relevant to eCommerce, investing in a technology-based SCM system, using ERP software integration, opting for online communications, focusing on eCommerce platforms such as mobile phones or eCommerce connection to social media can be beneficial for a business. This is one of the most important SCM improvement strategies where ERP can help, as it can help a company keep up to date with technological advancements.

Inventory Management

One of the key areas of supply chain management improvement is very important for a business. Having a low or lacking inventory is not good for a company, but an inventory much higher than projected demand is not optimal. An integrated system can offer visibility across all departments, connect orders with inventory, and keep inventory at healthy levels. B2B inventory management software is vital for keeping an accurate count.

Process Standardization

Removing human intervention from processes can help with process standardization and overall improved workflow. Think of automation and robotics. Operations are optimized to a great extent, saving time, resources and improving SCM and consequently business success.

These are not the only ways ERP software integration can help with eCommerce SCM improvement. Still, this article offers a good starting point and enough persuasive examples for the attractiveness of ERP integration and its importance for businesses that aim to thrive among the competition.