Merchants scramble as shipper goes bankrupt

Major retailers are scrambling to work out contingency plans to get their merchandise to stores as the bankruptcy of the Hanjin shipping line has thrown the retail supply chains around the world into confusion.

Hanjin, the world’s seventh-largest container shipper, filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday and stopped accepting cargo. With its assets frozen, ships from China to Canada were refused permission to load or unload containers because there were no guarantees that tugboat pilots or stevedores would be paid. It’s also been a factor in shipping rates rising and could hurt trucking firms with contracts to pick up goods.

While some retailers’ holiday merchandise has probably been affected, experts say what’s most important is that the issue be resolved before the critical shipping month of October.

Degree of uncertainty

“Retailers always have robust contingency plans, but this degree of uncertainty is making it challenging to put those plans in place,” said Jessica Dankert, senior director of retail operations for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade alliance with members including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target.

Plano-based J.C. Penney said Hanjin is one of several ocean freight carriers it uses and when it learned there might be a problem it began to divert and reroute its containers. It said it uses “a variety of transportation methods and ports” and does not expect a significant effect on the flow of merchandise.

Target Corp. said it is watching the situation closely, and Wal-Mart said it is waiting for details about Hanjin’s bankruptcy proceedings and the implications to its merchandise before it can assess the effect.

As of Friday, 27 ships had been refused entry to ports or terminals, said Hanjin spokesman Park Min. The company said one ship in Singapore had been seized by the ship’s owner.

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Supply Chain News: Retailers Rethinking Inventory Strategies

Are we starting to see new thinking in retail relative to inventory levels?

The reality is that somewhat under the radar, retail inventories have been rising. The inventory-to-sales (ITS) ratio measures the amount of inventory held as a percentage of one month’s worth of sales. As can be seen in the chart below, while the retail ITS is highly seasonal, the trend since 2010 is definitely up. Now, some stores are once again trying to slay the inventory beast.

For example, Tom Shortt, Home Depot’s senior vice president of supply chain told the Wall Street Journal his new message to the stores is “Get comfortable with days of inventory, not weeks.” The retailer is targeting sales growth of nearly 15% by 2018, but wants to keep inventory levels flat or slightly down – quite an accomplishment versus how retail has historically managed sales growth and inventories.

It is a shift happening across the retail sector, as companies try to figure out ways to profitably serve the growing needs of on-line shoppers while making their networks of brick and mortar outlets generate more cash.

“Chains must predict whether demand will come from the internet or a store visit, and whether they’ll ship online orders from a distribution center or a store,” the Wall Street Journal noted. “Every move of inventory is an added cost that eats away at already thin margins.”

As we reported in the Retail Vendor Performance Bulletin recently, Target stores announced earlier this year it was replacing its existing forecasting and replenishment software with in-house developed applications to manage the complexity of inventory deployment and fulfillment across its omnichannel network.

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Risk management in an evolving global supply chain

Risk management in an evolving global supply chain

The festive season has ended, and the retailers can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Their busiest time of the year means their operations have had to be resilient and robust. The supply chain is at the heart of this and it has been used to plan the Christmas period for months. But what lies at the success of this supply chain and what lessons can be learned?

Managing a supply chain in today’s global economy is fraught with difficulties. Supply chain managers have to maintain a balance of cost, agility, and sustainability, as well as manage the logistics and the manufacturing footprint. All these issues come with their own problems, but overall the trade-off is cost versus risk.

To strike a chord between cost and performance, supply chains have to be inventive. That means essentially going out into new markets, using new local suppliers, and accessing new customers. Invention comes at a cost, as these are new, unexplored areas of risk. So risk management is an important part of supply chain management in a global context.

As organisations strive for new opportunities for a more effective supply chain, so risks are more prominent. Who is that new local supplier? Can they be trusted with your product? The new country you’re now operating from – what are the geographical risks? The political risks? The legal risks?

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In the United States the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. Originally it earned its name because of the disruption caused by the post holiday crowds. Lately, however, Black Friday earns its moniker because it’s the day when U.S. retailers supposedly hit profitability for the year. Falling as it does in late November it’s become the busiest shopping day in the American calendar.

Managing seasons and public holidays is a never-ending task for retailers. If there isn’t a public holiday then there will be a new season starting, or another one wrapping up with a sale.

Of all these special events, Christmas is undoubtedly the most important, and puts enormous pressure on supply chain managers to ensure products are available and that everything moves smoothly through the season. After all, it is the weeks just before Christmas that, in many retail sectors, determine a business’s financial health; John Lewis, for instance, reportedly generates 80% of its annual profits during Christmas period.

The challenges that retailers face during Christmas naturally vary according on the sector and from company to company. For many specialty retailers, having to cope with long lead times, Christmas challenges centre around estimating the season’s demand both well in advance and accurately; not an easy task. For grocers the problem is less about lead times and longterm forecasting but more the sheer volume of everything, which requires careful capacity planning and good execution. Lastly there are those retailers for whom Christmas is a nonevent – in fact, one that might even cause sales to drop as customers spend their pennies elsewhere.

Yet while plenty has been written about the Christmas retail season and pages are devoted to analysing Christmas successes and failures, there’s very little been published about the underlying supply chain challenges. So, to address this deficit, here is an overview of the Christmas-related hurdles that supply chains face, with some suggestions on how to tackle them.
Supply chain problems are generally most readily solved one at a time, by continuous improvement of the process, and not by trying to fix everything at once.

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