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1. What is an ecommerce supply chain?

Ecommerce supply chain management: A guide for 2024

Are you navigating the vast and ever-changing world of ecommerce in 2024? Well, you're in luck! Today, we're diving into the heart of effective supply chain management in the ecommerce realm. This guide is your go-to resource for understanding how to not just keep up but actually excel in managing your ecommerce operations.

So, buckle up, and let's embark on this journey together to master effective supply chain management in the exciting world of ecommerce!

Main takeaways from this article:

  • The ecommerce supply chain management refers to the complete journey of a product from production to customer delivery, revolutionized by digital platforms and global connectivity to help large ecommerce businesses thrive.

  • The ecommerce supply chains have evolved from simple mail-order systems to advanced global networks using AI, blockchain, and automation, covering procurement, inventory management, and efficient distribution.

  • Challenges in the ecommerce supply chain include inventory visibility, customer expectations, high supply chain costs, and disruptions.

  • Learn about cost reduction in logistics and warehousing alongside effective inventory management strategies that balance demand and supply through advanced forecasting and strong supplier relationships.

  • Businesses need strategic planning and efficient resource management in shipping and logistics to ensure timely delivery.

  • Focus on incorporating sustainable practices in supply chain management and leverage Gelato in future-proofing your ecommerce businesses by reducing operational complexities and enhancing efficiency and sustainability.

What is an ecommerce supply chain?

An ecommerce supply chain refers to the network of stakeholders, activities, and resources involved in the process of delivering a product from the production phase right to the customer's doorstep. This includes manufacturers, suppliers, warehouses, distribution centers, transportation, and finally, the end consumer. Through online platforms and digital communication, ecommerce supply chains have revolutionized the process by which products and services are bought and sold globally.

The evolution of ecommerce supply chains

The evolution of ecommerce supply chains is fascinating. What began as a simple direct mail-order system in the 1800s took a groundbreaking turn with the onset of the Internet. Formerly localized operations transformed into dynamic global networks capable of fulfillment at staggering speed and volume. The 21st century has further seen structural shifts impacted by trends such as e-marketplaces, dropshipping, and the rise of mobile commerce. The key has been the ability to adapt quickly to market changes and technological advancements.

Here in 2024, the landscape evolves yet again, defined by advancements like artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and increasingly sophisticated logistics automation. Navigating this complex environment requires a deep understanding of the key stages and challenges involved in maintaining an effective ecommerce supply chain.

Key stages of an effective ecommerce supply chain

a flowchart or a series of interconnected boxes, representing the stages of an ecommerce supply chain / an infographic detailing each stage of the supply chain

Let's examine the main phases that constitute an effective ecommerce supply chain. When streamlined correctly, these stages can make your operations more efficient, cost-effective, and customer-centric. 

1. Procurement 

It all starts with procurement, where businesses source their products or raw materials from manufacturers or suppliers. Here, it's crucial you build a strong relationship with reliable suppliers who can meet your demand for quality and quantity. 

2. Warehousing and storage 

The goods procured need to be stored properly before they are ready for dispatch. Effective warehouse operations become significant here to accurately know what's in your warehouse at any given time. A warehouse management system allows for better planning and prevents both oversupply and under-supply. 

3. Order processing and fulfillment 

This is the stage where customers make their purchases, and their orders are subsequently processed and fulfilled. Irrespective of the scale, accuracy and speed are paramount in order processing. A strong ecommerce platform paired with integrated supply chain logistics can make this possible. 

4. Distribution and delivery

Finally, products need to be efficiently delivered to the customers. In today's "next-day delivery" culture, it’s essential you have a swift and reliable delivery system in place. Remember, the last thing your customer interacts with is your supply chain. Make it count!

Tackling ecommerce supply chain challenges

business owner managing their inventory/on the computer and looking focused

If you're working in the ecommerce industry, you've likely encountered several hurdles in managing your supply chain effectively. As the ecommerce market grows in 2024, so do its challenges. Let's address some of the pressing ones: 

  • Inventory visibility: In an industry where time is of the essence, having a real-time view of your inventory is crucial. However, achieving this visibility requires considerable investment in inventory management software and strategic management.

  • Customer expectation management: Ecommerce shoppers today demand speed, accuracy, and flexibility. Meeting these rising expectations while balancing cost and efficiency is a challenge that could be solved by an ecommerce integrated supply chain, which creates a feedback loop between businesses and consumers.

  • Geographical spread: The global nature of ecommerce means dealing with logistical complexities in various geographical locations.

  • Technology integration: While technology can streamline supply chain processes, integrating various systems across the supply chain seamlessly is a daunting task.

  • Supply chain disruptions: Events like a pandemic, political instability, or natural disasters can wreak havoc on your supply chain. Building resilience to mitigate these risks is often challenging and costly.

Implementing advanced management software, integrating supply chains with feedback loops, partnering with local logistics, unifying technology platforms, and diversifying suppliers are essential strategies to navigate these challenges and ensure a resilient, customer-focused operation

Six must-haves for ultimate supply chain efficiency

streamlined warehouse / infographic of the six must-haves for supply chain efficiency

A well-optimized supply chain can make or break your operations, affecting everything from inventory management to customer satisfaction. Here are six strategies you can implement to streamline your ecommerce supply chain and achieve ultimate efficiency. 

1. Advanced technologies

Embracing advanced technologies has become pivotal in enhancing and simplifying intricate processes related to supply chain management in ecommerce. Implementing technology can drive efficiency, speed up supply chain operations, improve decision-making, and enhance customer satisfaction. Here are some key technologies that are revolutionizing ecommerce supply chain management: 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI): AI tools can automate complex tasks, analyze large datasets to predict trends, and improve demand forecasting, leading to more accurate inventory management. Additionally, AI can enhance customer experiences by providing personalized recommendations and efficient customer service through chatbots and automated systems.

  • Blockchain: With its focus on transparency and security, blockchain technology can help track products throughout the supply chain, verifying authenticity and improving accountability. It also streamlines payment processes and contract enforcement, reducing delays and fraud risks in transactions.

  • Internet of things (IoT): IoT devices can provide real-time inventory tracking and facilitate automation in warehousing and distribution, enhancing speed and accuracy. These devices also enable predictive maintenance in supply chain equipment, preventing downtime and optimizing operational efficiency.

2. Effective cost management

Cost management is central to ecommerce supply chains, helping businesses identify potential savings and boost profitability. A significant aspect involves reducing overheads, such as warehousing and logistics expenses, without sacrificing quality or customer service standards.

Effective cost management in supply chains often leverages the power of technology, employing analytics and automation tools to identify areas of excessive expenditure. It's crucial to consider costs associated with returns and refunds, which can often be overlooked but significantly impact the bottom line.

Implement cost-effective strategies, like dropshipping and just-in-time inventory, to reduce holding costs and mitigate risks associated with unsold inventory.

3. Robust inventory management

Effective inventory management begins with accurate demand forecasting. By studying sales data, seasonal trends, and market analysis, businesses can anticipate customer needs and plan accordingly. 

As ecommerce businesses expand to new markets, maintaining a close eye on local demand patterns becomes crucial.

On the supply side, building strong relationships with suppliers helps ensure fast, reliable stock replenishment. Inventory management systems can automate reordering based on predefined thresholds, preventing stock-outs and overstocking. 

Advanced solutions like Gelato’s print on demand services can further simplify this balancing act, reducing the need for physical inventory and enabling just-in-time production based on real-time demand.

4. Seamless shipping and logistics

Ensuring timely delivery in ecommerce goes beyond merely getting products to customers. It represents the crucial final stage in the supply chain and one that directly impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty.

To ensure seamless shipping and logistics, ecommerce businesses need a mix of strategic planning, resource management, and efficient execution. 

  • Strategic planning: Optimal delivery routes should be mapped out to reduce delivery times. This not only saves resources but also ensures quick order fulfillment.

  • Resource management: Effective management of available resources like vehicles, drivers, and fuel can significantly drive down logistics costs and enhance efficiency.

  • Efficient execution: The actual pick-up, transit, and delivery process needs to be monitored and managed meticulously. Using real-time tracking and notifying customers about their delivery status can enhance transparency and customer satisfaction.

5. The role of supply chain management in customer experience

The end game of supply chain management is an excellent customer experience. But why is customer experience such a vital component in this journey? 

That's because a well-managed supply chain allows ecommerce businesses to fulfill customers' expectations more consistently, thus contributing to a superior overall experience.

Think about it; you're in control of scarcity and overstock situations, ensuring the right products are always available and customers don’t leave empty-handed. Timely and efficient logistics means that customers receive their orders when they expect to, increasing satisfaction rates.

Quality issues are avoided as robust supply chains ensure only high-quality, defect-free products are delivered to customers.

An effective, well-run supply chain is the unsung hero in creating happy customers, and ultimately, that's the end goal!

6. Sustainable supply chain practices

In recent years, sustainability has become a critical factor that influences the operation of ecommerce supply chains. Businesses are striving not only to optimize their processes and reduce costs but also to do so in a way that minimally impacts the environment.

This 'greening' of the supply chain primarily involves:

  1. Reducing waste through efficient inventory management

  2. Maximizing route efficiency to reduce carbon footprints in logistics

  3. Using eco-friendly packaging materials

  4. Encouraging suppliers to adopt sustainable practices

  5. Scrutinizing the end-to-end supply chain to identify areas where environmental harm can be reduced without sacrificing efficiency.

Moving forward into 2024, green supply chain practices will likely become a standard expectation rather than a differentiation point. Therefore, ecommerce businesses ought to prepare to integrate sustainability as a core function of their supply chain management strategy now.

Future-proof your ecommerce supply chain with Gelato

In 2024 and beyond, successful ecommerce relies on future-proofing your supply chain, and that's where Gelato comes in. Known for efficient localized print on demand services, Gelato reduces inventory management and logistics complexities significantly. Unlike traditional models, Gelato takes care of production, shipping, and logistics of products, like t-shirts, wall art, mugs, phone cases, etc., on a global scale, allowing businesses to focus on growth.

This not only optimizes efficiency but also cuts costs and carbon footprint, aiding in sustainability. With the ability to print products closer to their destination, late shipping woes become a thing of the past.

Sign up for Gelato and fulfill your supply chain needs effectively and sustainably.

Supply chain management in ecommerce FAQs

What is the concept of commerce supply chain management?

Supply chain management in ecommerce involves overseeing the entire journey of products from manufacturing to delivery to the customer. It coordinates various processes like procurement, inventory management, order fulfillment, and shipping, ensuring efficiency and customer satisfaction in the digital marketplace.

What role does supply chain management play in the business-to-business model in ecommerce?

In the business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce model, supply chain management plays a crucial role in ensuring smooth interactions between companies. It manages procurement, inventory, and logistics to meet business demands, facilitating seamless transactions and maintaining consistent supply levels for businesses. Effective supply chain management also enhances efficiency, reduces operational costs, and improves customer satisfaction, fostering strong business relationships and a reliable network for ongoing commercial success.

How is ecommerce changing supply chains?

Ecommerce is revolutionizing supply chains by introducing advanced technologies like AI, blockchain, and IoT. These innovations enable real-time tracking, efficient inventory management, and faster delivery. Ecommerce has transformed supply chains from linear models into dynamic, interconnected systems capable of rapidly adapting to market changes and consumer demands.


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