May 17, 2020

Five ways e-commerce businesses can save time in peak season

By Jon White, MD InXpress
7 min
Five ways e-commerce businesses can save time in peak season
Many have the dream to be their own boss, with 64% of Britain’s workforce wanting to set up their own business. But free time is like gold dust, with...

Many have the dream to be their own boss, with 64% of Britain’s workforce wanting to set up their own business. But free time is like gold dust, with another recent survey revealing 39% of small business owners work more than 60 hours a week - and it gets more intense over peak periods. 

All e-commerce businesses are constantly under pressure to innovate and transform, but from incorporating streaming into your ecommerce platform, tailored FAQs, smart merchandising and ‘try me’ features, there is a lot to be considered. With so many options available, it can often be overwhelming, meaning innovation is often overlooked. 

It’s not through lack of knowledge, but when juggling duties such as keeping on top of orders, daily business operations and pressures over customer demands, it can be hard to maximise your time. Unfortunately this means having any free time to dedicate to innovation and transformation is rare. This is especially true if you can’t justify hiring many new people, or if you’re a one-man-band. 

We all want to sell more, but you can become your own worst enemy if you just invest in boosting profits. If you instead prioritise saving time to innovate and make better informed decisions, you’ll be able to sell more without facing burnout or lack of resources. 

We put so much pressure on the here and now that it’s hard to focus on the future. Free time is important for innovating but also for mental health and wellbeing, especially during peak seasons such as Christmas. 

Read on to find out how to implementing new systems and processes can reduce unnecessary time burden:

 

Automation

Some customers have reported saving up to 750 staff hours since using e-commerce integration techniques. One of the main purposes and benefits of automation technology is saving time and streamlining your processes. Utilising automation can be the difference between soaring and sinking. 

As a business scales, demands become more complex, tasks mount and tedious work becomes even more tedious. Systems that used to work can break down at the drop of a hat, and instead of looking into where you can boost efficiencies, companies often end up cutting corners. Of course, if you don’t invest, your time won’t be spent on innovating, it will naturally be spent on what’s urgent at the time. 

E-commerce software can turn tasks and processes within your business such as inventory management, online store creation, purchase and payment facilitations into automated systems. These intelligent systems can tackle the above tasks and offer the best, most time-efficient alternative which is tailored to the needs of your organisation.

 

Shipping Savings

Shipping can be one of the biggest burdens of e-commerce; racking up heaps of costs and time. In peak season, you’re likely to be dealing with high volumes of deliveries and a wider range of goods, and any delay in shipping can mean customer service, social media and investigation needs to be underway to avoid conflict, spending even more valuable company time. 

Perhaps you have been up late processing orders. Or you have stood in line for the Post Office every day this week to deliver the goods that your small business sells at this time of year. Now, something has gone wrong and it is up to you to sort it out. Does this sound familiar?

Occasional issues are bound to happen when you’re shipping in large quantities, whether you’re a small or a larger organisation. If you invest in a dedicated shipping specialist who can do all of this for you - handle the process and deal with any problems that come up, so your social media team (or yourself if you’re self employed) don’t have the hassle of dealing with every single task. Look at price comparison tools to find the quickest deal without having to scour the net. After all, if there is a problem it won’t just be your customers who will suffer, it will be your reputation - everyone remembers the bad experiences they have.  

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Admin burden

Ah, how many hours a week do you think you spend on shipping-related admin? If you double it, you’re probably almost correct. 

Think about the last set of shipping invoices you processed. It was likely a sizeable pile of individual invoices, all with separate payment terms and bank details. Even if you already have them set up in your system, it will have taken a good chunk of time. An alternative solution would be a system that consolidates all of these invoices into a single-click solution, allowing you to settle all your carrier payments at the click of a button. 

If you track your time, you’re also more likely to spot places that are time-heavy and where you can cut back on - it’s just like looking at a bank statement. You’ll identify tasks and duties in which you can cut down on, freeing up time to carry out more profitable and beneficial jobs. 

There’s also a whole host of apps you can download which allow you to create schedules of tasks. Free apps like Plan have insights features which tell you, without you having to write it out and analyse it, how much time you’re spending on each project. Trust me - you will soon be shocked at how much time you’re spending on internal admin! 

 

CRM

A good CRM (customer relationship management) system can work wonders, and increase sales productivity by up to 34%. Not only does it help you to become more customer-centric,a CRM system also creates a single source of data entry for end-to-end business processes. It can look at your site and goals, and by integrating a sales automation system within the CRM model, can help use a process-driven cloud based software to enable complete control of your business. 

You can automatically tailor advertisements to the right person, and save time in traditional marketing. There are less data silos as it also increased the quality of communication by more than 50%.  You can keep track of what your competitors in one single place, boosting the chances of you knowing what they’re doing, and how you can do the same. 

 

Social Media 

‘Tis the season for brands to push themselves on social media! From working with influencers to showcasing your festive adverts and keeping in touch with customer enquiries, social media can be a full time job even for the smallest businesses. 

But if you use a social media management tool, you can schedule posts months, weeks and days in advance. You can keep the regular posts ticking over, giving your team time to be reactive to news stories and responses in the run up to the peak season, and not be thinking of the daily tweet or Instagram post. 

You’ll also be able to take advantage of analytics features, to see what posts do well and not so well, so you can innovate your offering and making a much better, well-informed decision on content, timing, and even the platform you’re using. If you only have budget for one marketer in the business, invest in social media management platforms. It’s the best way to use your time more efficiently. 

There are a whole host of other factors you can do in the spending season, and throughout the year to boost productivity. Keep up to date with industry news by dedicating 10 minutes a day to looking online or listening to the radio or podcasts.

 Use email marketing tools like MailChip to create straight-forward but effective emails and track the successfulness of your emails, and you can even use website-blocking tools to block sites that might make you procrastinate, like social media for your own use, at a time when you need to be innovating. If you’re a larger team, invest in team software to keep communications visible such as Slack or Microsoft teams, which keep it all in one place, enable easy collaboration and integrate with other services you use.  and quicker than email. 

 

Just whatever you do, don’t stop innovating.

 

By Jon White, MD InXpress

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Jun 11, 2021

NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience

NTTDATA
supplychain
Supplychainriskmanagement
Procurement
6 min
Joey Dean, Managing Director of healthcare consulting at NTT DATA Services, shares remodelling strategies for more resilient supply chains

Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.

The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.

A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach

“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.

“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.

But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?

“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.

Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes

So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry

“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality. 

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”

Evolving Procurement Models 

From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view. 

“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.

“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”

“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”

But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?

“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.

The Challenges

These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.

On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”

He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”

As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”

 

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