In the last two decades, supply chains have changed drastically. They’ve shifted from global sources and distribution centers feeding into brick and mortar retailers to e-commerce based internet-only retailers. Online shopping is what today’s customers have come to expect.
E-commerce stores cater to every kind of consumer. According to a 2016 report by PEW research, 80 percent of Americans are online shoppers. A recent survey of 1,164 U.S. business owners conducted by Square and Mercury Analytics found that 34 percent of business owners sell through their own websites. Now, utilities, municipalities and cooperatives are beginning to tap into that trend and launch their own online stores as part of their product and kit programs, and as a complement to their other demand side management programs.
With Amazon leading the charge in establishing e-fulfillment distribution networks and offering free two-day shipping, the challenge has been for other e-commerce retailers to remain competitive. It’s not just about being the fastest, though there is no denying the relevance of speedy delivery.
What is non-negotiable is delivering an order within a convenient time frame and at an economical price point. Meeting that demand means tweaking logistics to best suit e-commerce, which is much different than the bulk product shipping typically done in our industry and many others. To be viable, the modern e-commerce logistics systems behind today’s utility-based online stores must deliver the following benefits to customers:
- Improved communication
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Cost reduction
- Improvement in efficiency
- On-time delivery
When done right, optimized logistics synchronize the supply chain so that e-commerce retailers have access and insight to inventory movement. Order fulfillment technologies integrate the front-end and back-end of online retail and reduce the chances of misplaced orders. Automated software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and real-time inventory management enable logistics to be a collaborative, streamlined effort.
The integration of key touch-points in the supply chain reduces inefficiencies, identifies redundant processes, and makes shipping and handling a turnkey operation. In this new evolution of e-commerce logistics, more and more utilities have turned to partners able to reach their customers and deliver the convenience and “Amazon experience” they’ve come to expect.