Inbound Logistics Challenges – Retailers Haunted by Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

Retailers have been working diligently on their Holiday 2014 logistics plans since May according to reporting by Inbound Logistics magazine, hoping to avoid a repeat of last 2013’s retail shipping debacle.  While visions of sugarplums may begin dancing around in the heads of consumers as the 2014 holiday season approaches at astonishing speed, visions of supply chain disruptions are the nightmare keeping transportation managers awake at night.  What steps can retailers take to avoid repeating the Santa Claus sleigh wreck of 2013?

First thing to be done is a detailed review of what went wrong last time. Forbes magazine printed an aptly-named, “Post Mortem on the Holiday ’13 Retail Shipping Debacle and Remedies for ‘14” article back in January.  According to Forbes’ assessment, “What was missing for many was the ability to see into the production and inbound delivery of goods to know exactly where all inventory and components are at all times thus ensuring customer availability” [emphasis mine].  Their prescription for avoiding the same fate this year involves a heavy dose of collaboration between factories and carriers, inventory visibility and supply chain execution.

The aforementioned IL article articulates challenges facing holiday season retailers, followed by some rules of thumb for helping retailers get out ahead of the onslaught of this holiday season:


  • Manual order tracking and inventory systems. Paper-based or spreadsheet-based order planning and tracking systems are still standard tools for many organizations. Manually tracking orders, capturing signatures, and reconciling returns on a paper manifest are wasteful, inaccurate, and archaic in today’s tech-savvy workforce.
  • Third-party providers and capacity constraints. Today’s trucking industry faces a shortage of nearly 30,000 drivers, contributing to a rise in industry-wide reliance on third-party logistics providers. Even beyond the holidays, the concept of a private company fleet that handles 100 percent of its own orders is just about extinct.

Rules of Thumb

  1. Be transparent and communicative with customers throughout the delivery process.
  2. Proactively establish two-way communication with internal and third-party personnel.

Interestingly, the common thread between both IL and Forbes’ respective assessments of the challenges (and suggested remedies) runs through the foremost features and benefits delivered by a best-in-class transportation management system (TMS) solution!  Since last Christmas (and a decade’s worth of Christmases before) TMS providers have been touting their solutions’ ability to address these needs.

  • TMS provides clear visibility into the exact location and position of all goods headed inbound from scores, even hundreds of suppliers at once.
  • TMS enables easy collaboration between factories, carriers and retail outlets via web-based portals
  • TMS automates order planning, tracking and returns reconciliation, eliminating waste and inefficiencies
  • TMS provides a crucial hedge against capacity constraints by improving resource utilization and planning, enabling longer lead times and minimizing exposure to the spot market
  • UltraShipTMS provides robust fleet management functionality within the TMS unlocking additional flexibility for companies using common carriers and private fleet resources

The time is past for retailers who haven’t yet implemented TMS for inbound logistics to do so before Holiday 2014 which is essentially already under way.  The ones that have implemented TMS are going to experience the gift of success this year.  Those that have not should tell their CFO not to be a “Scrooge” when the transportation department requisitions a new TMS in 2015.

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