Last year taught us much about the world of retail operations, but for me, there was one major takeaway – the importance of a future-proofed supply chain. The pandemic brought challenges that we have never experienced before, and these learnings have encouraged retailers to think much more proactively, efficiently, and effectively about how to get a product from point A to B to C. We are seeing an intense focus on supply chains that guarantee lasting success, but how, exactly, can retailers ensure that their supply chains are optimized for the future?

The approach is three-fold:

Build an integrated omnichannel network that can flex with you: The events of the past year have underscored how critical it is to be flexible and move products to the locations that need them most. A fully integrated, self-managed network is key. This becomes even more important in thinking about the needs of the omnichannel shopper. To ensure customers can access products no matter how they choose to shop, whether that is in-store, online, or anywhere in between, a truly omnichannel supply chain must be fresh-focused, efficient, precise, and responsive.

“Technology is necessary and will be part of the foundation of the supply chain of the future.”

Streamline systems and processes: Another key aspect of being flexible and adaptable is having the right levels of visibility, automation systems, and processes in place. In the supply chain we support, we recently deployed an innovative AI-enabled forecasting and replenishment technology with our partner RELEX. This system is now fully deployed for two grocery brands we support. And the results have been real. Better visibility into inventory and demand patterns helps us be there for the brands we support and their customers every day. We have had a similar experience with the deployment of a transportation management system with partner Manhattan. With this system and the right processes to leverage it, we have created efficiencies and savings that have exceeded expectations.

Leverage the best of people and technology: Technology is necessary and will be part of the foundation of the supply chain of the future. The other piece is people. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply chain we manage would simply have not functioned without the thousands of associates up and down the East Coast who exhibited bravery, dedication, and care every day to ensure customers had access to groceries. We were able to leverage the best qualities of the workforce and the right technologies to create the secret sauce. And, for us, we are even putting in technologies to help care for the workforce. Two ADUSA Distribution centers are now piloting UV robots for enhanced cleaning to keep associates safe.

As retailers begin to navigate 2021, stabilizing from the pandemic is priority number one. It is not just about recovering from the past but also planning for the future. To make sure businesses are starting off the new year on the right foot, re-evaluating their supply chain operations will be an important first step. In doing so, retailers can look for opportunities to own more of their own destiny, deploy streamlined systems and processes and leverage the best of people and technology to meet demand both now and in the future.