Preparing for Next Generation Cross Border E-Commerce – LogiSYM November/December 2017
The e-commerce landscape is changing rapidly. Amazon recently acquired Whole Foods to gain access to the Food retailing, Alibaba signed a deal with Singpost for E-commerce activities in South East Asia and this year’s online sales of Singles Day in China was substantially bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. On the store front, many retailers have been shutting down stores as a result of declining sales due to the shift towards digital. This shift will be accelerated by the disruptive generation of millenniums who have grown up in the digital era and will drive consumer behavior in the near future.
Both brand owners and retailers need to understand these dynamics and prepare themselves for a next generation cross border e-commerce.
The Amazon effect – raising the bar for all other companies in both B2B as the B2C arena
Amazon has steadily raised the bar from a shopping and delivery experience. Due to the introduction of Prime subscription, Scheduled delivery, Prime now (1-2 hour delivery), Prime same day delivery, consumers in part of the world can have access to a very large assortment at zero or limited upcharges for same or next day delivery.
Due to introductions such as Alexa and Dash, the ease of adding products to the shopping basked has increased with the intent to lock in the consumer into a single e-commerce platform.
As we are all consumers, we take these shopping and delivery experiences into our professional world and start to ask why certain things are not possible or take so long compared to an on-line shopping experience at for instance Amazon. Take for instance the time to set up a new EDI connection with a supplier.
Not only Retailers and Brand Owners need to ask themselves what the next generation e-commerce will mean for them but also companies operating today in the B2B arena. For instance Consumer Packed Goods (CPG) companies will need to pro-actively ask themselves questions like:
- What if a significant portion of the business would shift to on-line?
- What would be the implication?
- Are we prepared for such change?
International e-commerce: Cross border e-commerce growing fast
APAC is the world’s biggest and fastest growing B2C E-commerce region with growth rates close to 30%. E-tailers such as Amazon, Alibaba and Lazada are expected to have the highest e-commerce growth in the next 5 years in ASEAN. In Europe, e-commerce is forecasted at 16% in 2017 whereas the US will grow at a pace of 12% (source McKinsey).
Cross border e-commerce is important and growing fast at a pace of double the domestic e-commerce growth. The current cross-border e-com trade represents approx. 20% of all online shopping in which Fashion (Clothes Shoes, Accessories) is the top-grossing cross-border category.
However, Cross-border e-com is different from local e-com as local fulfillment presence in all countries is expensive and unnecessary to meet customer requested delivery time. The key challenge is that every country has its own online environment with dominant logistic and transport partners and infrastructure, consumer preferences and consumer regulations that differ by country.
Key elements for a successful cross-border e-commerce model include:
- Website in local language
- Displaying prices in local currency
- Offering country specific online payment, delivery and return options. In Europe and APAC the delivery methods by market are different from a home delivery, collect at retail store or a collect at a pick up point. The carrier landscape is different in the European markets and across APAC. This is also applicable for the Returns network. See the insert on regional differences in delivery services and returns in Europe.
- Offering landed prices to the consumer including VAT, duties and potential additional surcharges
- Applying a Business model linked towards E-commerce buying and shopping behavior (i.e. the dominance of platforms in APAC which are fragmented by country such as Lazada, Tmall, JD versus the B2C model where the brand owner sells through their brand.com website)
The E-commerce dilemma: Growth vs Profitability
Customers expect choice in delivery options, fast delivery, time defined slots and a guaranteed delivery date. This causes a typical dilemma for retailers and brand owners to offer a fast, convenient and cost-effective delivery.
Profitability is one of the key e-Commerce challenges for retailers and brand-owners due to:
- High delivery costs due to increasing pressure on final mile (i.e. speed, location, flexibility)
- High returns costs as customers expect free returns
- Increased fulfillment complexity due to piling up inventory, increase in SKU’s and inventory required closer to demand especially in seasonal fashion products
- High IT investments to accommodate full visibility across channels at all inventory locations and to enable services like track and trace
- Not one size fits all due to complex financial (i.e. tax), legislation (i.e. labor laws) and cultural (i.e. language) landscape across Europe and APAC
The DNA of pure online players versus retailers and brand owners towards profitability can be totally different. As the focus of the pure online players has been to build the platform and gain market share, other retailers that originated from brick and mortar business and brand owners have adopted a slow(er) pace of the online business and seen this as an extension of the brand or a shop in an online environment. Within the supply chain and logistics community this is reflected as well in terms of focus on Operational excellence (hence cost per unit) versus a revenue driven mindset to lock in the customer and offering a variety of service offerings to make shopping for the consumer as convenient as possible. There is no single answer how your company needs to set up the supply chain and logistics fulfilment network but it rather be aligned with the corporate objectives and initiatives.
Framework for Supply Chain and Logistics decision making
In order to develop and communicate the impacts of (cross) border e-commerce and the shift towards omni channel retail, Logistics and Supply Chain professionals need to be pro-active and support the organization in a cross functional modus.
The visual below shows a framework of elements that need to be assessed when defining and rolling out strategies as each element can have a significant impact on the topline and on the cost per unit.
- Channel assortment – offering the same offering on-line as off line, exclusive product range for certain sales channels. This also includes packaging types (rainbow sets, assortments versus singles)
- Inventory management – having a single pool of inventory across sales channels (wholesale, retail, e-commerce), a segregated pool of inventory per channel and business rules for (cross) allocation decisions
- Delivery options- covering the type of delivery or pick up, whether delivery is free or paid and the speed of fulfillment and delivery
- Fulfillment and storage which is highlighted in more detail in the next section
- Last mile delivery and pick up
- Return options
- Reverse logistics network
Next generation distribution networks- migrating towards hybrid networks with full inventory visibility
Next generation distribution networks will be hybrid networks designed to cater for different products, sales channels and geographies (i.e. metropolitan versus rural areas).
The typical current distribution network consists of a Central DC in a country or region often combined with DC operations for store retail and wholesale in close proximity.
The ability to route flows in a dynamic sequence will be key for competitive performance in next generation e-commerce. This requires full inventory visibility at SKU level throughout the network and hence a fully integrated inventory management set up.
Next generation Fulfilment and routing options will need to include beyond the traditional flows: drop shipping ex vendor to the customer (e.g. bulky products), store fulfillment for an e-com order to avoid mark downs in store and enable fast delivery, replenishment from/to stores and replenishment from the combination Retail/E-com DC to stores for fast replenishment of for instance slow movers. The visual below illustrates how such network can look like including the focus of each of the flows from a cost, variety, service or inventory holding perspective.
These hybrid networks will allow retailers and brand owners to migrate closer to the consumer: fast when it needs to be fast – same day or next day enablement by means of either click & collect or store fulfillment or metro rapid fulfillment centers for specific geographies and product ranges. This will increase profitability by unlocking the inventory in the entire network to allow the sale at full price rather than at a discounted price. The table below shows several fulfillment options and their applicability.
Several retailers have started to implement ship from store. In the US due to the typical size of back rooms this is easier than in Europe or APAC given the small backroom operations. Some of the key challenges for store fulfillment include the inventory accuracy at the store, minimum inventory threshold settings of required in store inventory, training of sales associates in logistics execution and enabling the IT within a retailer to make this happen (integration of POS with an ERP/WMS with Distributed Order Management functionality to allocate and route the e-commerce orders through the network).
Next generation E-commerce: are you ready?
In order to assess the current position and the readiness for next generation e-commerce, BCI developed a Maturity Framework in five distinct areas: Customer Experience, Customer Service, DC Operations, Technology and Transport/Delivery.
This maturity framework with over 100 indicators, supports clients in understanding the current capability in a transparent way and facilitates the discussion on what is best in class in next generation e-commerce and the readiness.
Clients can use the maturity grid as a self-assessment tool in which various stakeholders from different disciplines including clients can conduct the evaluation.
Application of this next generation e-commerce framework will allow the company to clearly define the readiness for next generation e-commerce, path forward, align the e-commerce set up with the corporate strategies and ambitions including the prioritization of the required initiatives to make step changes into next generation E-commerce. Ask yourself the question: Are you ready for next generation e-commerce?
The visual below illustrates one of the maturity grids.
Patrick Haex is Managing Partner at BCI Global and has overall responsibility of the world wide supply chain consulting and implementation practice. In his role, Patrick is actively involved and overseeing many client engagements in the area of International Expansion including E-commerce and setting up the best value chain to support the geographical markets and related channels, supply chain strategy, supply chain network design, make versus buy decisions, S&OP, Transport Optimization and Implementation. Patrick has supported many Retailers and brand owners in their Cross Border e-commerce strategy and related implementations. Clients include for instance Amazon, A&F, H&M, Michael Kors, Hasbro, Tory Burch, Kate Spade, SC-Johnson, Unilever, VF, KidKraft to name a few.
Patrick has been one of the founding fathers of the Lifestyle Logistics Group in Europe.