An efficient supply chain is crucial to a company’s success. The way you manage your supply chain has a direct impact on your brand’s reputation, your relationship with your customers, and your operational costs. In fact, 70% of companies say their supply chain is a key driver in delivering quality customer service and thus retaining customers.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of globalisation, increasing product complexity, and evolving customer demands, keeping the movement of items through your supply chain running smoothly is anything but simple.
To protect yourself against holdups, lost customers (and profits), and other risks, you need more than just good luck. You need a comprehensive collection of connected supply chain management tools. In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the most important but often overlooked tools you can use to streamline and optimise your supply chain.
Understanding Supply Chain Tools: An Introduction
Supply chain management is complex. It’s not just about ensuring you can effectively ship products to customers as quickly as possible. Your supply chain is an intricate logistics system, covering everything you do to manage the flow of goods and services in your organisation.
To run an efficient supply chain, you need to ensure you can track inventory levels consistently, manage incoming materials, organise warehouses, and distribute your products in the most cost-effective way possible. That’s where supply chain management tools come in.
These tools typically break down into two segments:
- Operational supply chain management tools: Order management, product sourcing and procurement, transportation management, inventory management, demand forecasting, replenishment, and freight forwarding tools.
- Strategic supply chain tools: Data analysis tools, accounting systems, customer support tools, and automation tools, which help run the supply chain more strategically.
What to Look For
When investing in new technology to optimise your supply chain, or any other aspect of your business, there are a few key factors you should focus on:
- Ease of use: The easier a piece of software or technology is to use, the more value it will deliver. Ensure your technology is straightforward, and/or comes with plenty of resources to show you how you can make the most of it.
- Integrations: Good supply chain software should integrate with the other tools you use to capture data and manage operations in your business. Look for an extensive collection of integration options, or an open API.
- Excellent customer service: Great customer service from your software provider will ensure that technical issues don’t derail your business. Ensure you can reach out to the vendor and receive a response to any questions quickly and easily.
- Budget: While it’s important to look beyond the initial price of your software to the total value it can offer your business, budget still counts. Look for a vendor that offers a range of pricing plans to suit smaller and larger companies.
- Security: Most supply chain tools will manage at least some sensitive data. Ensure the information you share with your technology is well protected with end-to-end encryption and robust access controls.
5 Tools You Should Be Using in your Supply Chain
Innovative supply chains use a combination of operational and strategic resources to minimise expenses, improve efficiency, and enhance relationships with customers. Here are just five of the top tools you should be using to streamline and enhance your supply chain.
1. Digital Freight Forwarding Software (Ship4wd)
If, like most growing companies, you’re shipping products to consumers worldwide, you need a partner that can help you to navigate complex transportation routes and connect with shipping leaders. A freight forwarder is the optimum resource for this.
Freight forwarders are companies that act as the middlemen between a business selling products overseas and the final destination for each shipment. They work with networks of carriers and partners to move products around the world, while keeping shipping expenses low.
In today’s fast-paced digital world, online freight forwarders like Ship4wd offer a more efficient way to manage the freight forwarding process.
Services such as Ship4wd provide users with an online platform, where they can:
- Compare routes, container options (LCL and FCL) and shipping strategies (air, land, or ocean freight) based on their specific product needs and budgets.
- Get real-time insights into shipping rates for each shipment and access preferred rates, thanks to the freight forwarder’s close relationship with logistics leaders.
- Book shipments in seconds, then track the progress of their products with real-time order tracking capabilities.
Ship4wd stands out in the freight forwarding landscape. It not only offers all of the features above, but also provides access to a range of other valuable services, such as bespoke support with managing customs, real-time status alerts, delayed payments, and funding options. Ship4wd can even help you find the right insurance to protect your shipments while in transit.
2. Data Analytics Tools (Heap)
Analytical tools are essential to an effective supply chain. The only way to ensure you’re stocking enough inventory and sourcing products from suppliers at the right times is to collect the right data. Analytics tools can help small business owners track everything they need to know about their customers in order to make more informed decisions.
You can determine which products sell best, and when sales numbers spike, so you can arrange for more inventory to be available at the correct times. You can also find out where your customers are purchasing products so you can ship items to closer warehouses in advance, improving your chances of offering faster delivery speeds.
Tools like Heap are particularly useful for companies looking to optimise both their supply chains and their sales strategies. Heap is a digital platform that shows you every stage of your customer’s journey, so you can improve your conversion rates, retention, and satisfaction levels.
Heap can even help you to detect:
- When customers abandon your website or a product page.
- Why they abandon purchases – such as when a product is out of stock, or when estimated times of arrival indicate it will take too long to arrive.
- Who your target customers are, so you can map their buyer journey and align it with your supply chain strategies.
Heap is a particularly valuable tool for companies investing in supply chain optimization because it goes beyond looking at metrics like delivery speeds. It allows you to examine how every aspect of the customer experience contributes to better revenue and more conversions.
3. Inventory Management Software (Sortly)
Probably one of the most obvious supply chain tools any business should use is inventory management software. Effective supply chain management relies on your ability to know how much inventory you have, where it’s located, and when you need to order new supplies.
The best tools will ensure you can optimise everything from how you store products in your warehouses to how often you order new inventory. The right tools can even help you save money, by ensuring you don’t order excess amounts of low-performing products.
Sortly is a leading inventory management tool that makes it easy for business leaders to maintain complete visibility into their inventory. You can upload all of your information into the platform in seconds, then organise inventory folders by location, type, and more.
Plus, the platform comes with a host of unique features like:
- Inventory counting solutions with in-app barcode and QR scanners
- Instant alerts for when you’re running low on stock
- Product details for each item, like pictures and ID codes
- Real-time reporting features for insights into budgeting and forecasting
- Automatic synchronisation for up-to-date insights on all devices through the cloud
The company’s highly-rated mobile app is one of its most attractive features, ensuring small business owners can continue to track their inventory when they’re on the move. You can even access inventory details in offline mode.
4. Accounting Software (QuickBooks)
Accounting software is a tool that’s commonly overlooked by businesses striving to improve their supply chain. However, your supply chain and accounting process are closely connected. After all, everything from the procurement of raw materials, to the delivery of finished goods, has an impact on your cash flow and financial health.
Accounting software is crucial for things like:
- Cost analysis: Identifying cost-saving opportunities and monitoring expenses in the supply chain to improve cash flow.
- Financial reporting: Creating reports to analyse trends and revenue opportunities, and to ensure companies adhere to the relevant tax guidelines.
- Risk management: Assessing potential risks like natural disasters and political instability, and how these could influence the company’s cash flow.
- Cash flow management: Monitoring the flow of money, including accounts payable and accounts receivable, to ensure your supply chain is operating smoothly and payments are made on time.
QuickBooks is the go-to accounting software for most small businesses and accountants. It’s one of the easiest platforms to use and integrates with a wide range of tools.
It also comes with a variety of crucial features, such as invoicing, expense tracking, and financial reporting. There’s even an inventory management capability already built into the QuickBooks platform.
5. Customer Support Chatbots (Zoho Desk)
As mentioned above, effective supply chain management isn’t just a valuable way to reduce operational costs and make your business more efficient. It’s also a crucial part of building positive, long-lasting relationships with your customers.
Implementing the right inventory management, freight forwarding, and logistics tools to get your products to customers as fast as possible is a good first step. However, keeping customers informed is important too. According to one study, around 77% of the negative reviews listed about ecommerce companies online are about a bad post-purchase experience. These include references to late or failed deliveries, a lack of transparency, or a lack of tracking updates.
While you might not have the budget or personnel in your team to ensure a human being is on-hand to keep your customers up-to-date, there is an alternative solution. Chatbot services like Zoho Desk ensure you can provide 24/7 support to your customers. They can help with:
- Answering pre-purchase questions about possible delivery speeds, shipping costs, and delays that might affect the shipping experience.
- Informing customers about delays in shipments, or any issues that might prevent them from receiving a product on time (such as holiday congestion).
- Keeping customers up-to-date on the position of their order, with access to tracking numbers and real-time tracking maps.
Zoho’s AI chatbot software is highly customisable, and comes with a variety of pre-built, ready-to-deploy answers to common questions. You can add your own chatbot capabilities to the system, such as order tracking options connected to your freight forwarding service.
Plus, with Zoho, you can deploy your chatbot across a variety of channels, from your website to messaging channels like Facebook or Instagram messenger.
Choosing the Right Tools for Your Supply Chain
As supply chains continue to grow more complex and customer expectations evolve, it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to implement the right technology to support their operations. Supply chain management software isn’t enough on its own. You need to think about the entire customer experience from purchase to delivery, and how you’re going to facilitate constant growth.
With the right combination of freight forwarding, accounting, analytics, customer service, and inventory management tools, you can give your business and supply chain the edge it needs.