Google and Wal-Mart team up to combat Amazon in retail supply chain shake-up

Google has teamed up with Wal-Mart in its biggest even retail partnership to challenge Amazon in the online shopping marketplace and combat the proliferation of its Alexa-powered Echo device as a means of facilitating voice shopping.

The move is expected to have a significant impact on the retail supply chain within the United States as well offering customers a whole new way of purchasing goods.

As Forbes analyst Kevin O’Marah puts it: “It signals an acceleration in the shift from store-based retail supply chains to a hyper-personalised, smart consumer supply chain.

“The dynamics of this new supply chain will be brutal for consumer brands accustomed to shelf-centric demand.”

The new partnership marks the first time that world’s largest retailer is offering products outwith its own website in the US. It announced this week that it’s going to offer a huge array of items through Google’s online shopping platform, Google Express, and eventually through its virtual assistant, Google Home.

Wal-Mart is hoping that it can integrate its large network of stores with its digital business thanks to the new partnership.

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What’s Behind the Inventory Crisis of 2016?

The last time the inventory-to-sales ratio was this high was 2009, when we were in the throes of the Great Recession – people lost jobs, businesses closed, nobody was spending, nobody was growing.

What does it mean that inventory levels are this high in 2016? Are consumers not spending? Are we headed for another recession? Or are other forces at work?

Well, in April the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that consumer spending experienced its biggest gain in six years. And while JPMorgan recently reported an increased probability of a recession in the next 12 months, no one’s sounding the alarm bells quite yet. Besides, inventory levels have been high since last fall.

So what else could be at work?

The Marketplace

Traditionally, a drop in consumer demand would cause a short-term build-up of inventory. But businesses would eventually compensate by cutting orders and manufacturers would produce less. But as we’ve seen, demand isn’t going down. And yet, inventory isn’t moving. Why?

One major culprit is the way consumers shop. Their expectations have changed. This is the age of Amazon Prime, Instacart, Uber and Lyft. Free shipping. In-store pick-up. 1-hour delivery. Easy exchanges and returns. Above all – convenience. If it isn’t convenient for a customer to buy something they want, they won’t buy it – or they’ll buy it somewhere else. Fulfillment has usurped the throne of customer satisfaction.

Traditional retailers have struggled because of this. As young, tech-driven start-ups bite into market with the luxury of fresh starts, traditional retailers have tried to stay competitive. One common tactic has been to keep buffer inventory on hand. Out-of-stock inventory kills customer loyalty. Not being able to fulfill quickly kills customer loyalty. But having lots of inventory doesn’t equate to efficient fulfillment. That requires having a modern, flexible supply chain. Without agility, retailers often lack the competence to satisfy customer demand, let alone fulfilling profitably.

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Managing the Risks of Multinational Supply Chains

Managing supply chain risks is critical to the success of any business.

Although, the importance of supply chain risk management is perhaps most clear in Asia Pacific with its high growth rate, shifting industry trends, increasingly sophisticated consumers and expanding businesses.

An Overview

With these marketplace dynamics comes greater interconnectivity of multinational risks. According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Asia Pacific includes nine of the world’s top 15 countries importing and exporting intermediate goods.

Companies in the region depend upon goods and services from companies in other countries in order to successfully operate their businesses, and vice versa. As the region becomes more interconnected and trade flows continue to increase, protecting valuable supply chains from both existing and new risks becomes critical to the success of companies based there.

However, managing these risks can be challenging. Today’s supply chains are becoming deeper and spread over more countries. Knowing exactly what, where and how connections can impact a company’s business can be difficult.

It is not uncommon for companies to have supply chains that go down several layers, beginning with one supplier or distributor which is dependent upon a second, which in turn depends upon a third and so on. A problem at any of these levels has the potential to disrupt a company’s business operations.

As a colleague of mine once explained: “You are only as good as your weakest link.” So it is important to have clear line of sight to all of the links in a company’s supply chain. Typically, issues such as quality control and incomplete or late delivery are top of mind when considering problems with the potential to disrupt a supply chain. There is another risk that is often underestimated, but can be equally as damaging – financial failure.

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