How global trade is prepared for retail’s ‘sale of the century’

How global trade is prepared for retail’s ‘sale of the century’

Mike Bhaskaran |

The impact of Coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns have had a huge impact on two of the most integral components of consumer spending: access to goods and disposable income. At the centre of this, is the apparel sector.

Lockdown and intermittent easing have pushed the demand for new clothes one way, down. To move into the next season successfully and progress past the pandemic, retailers are trying to move mountains of unsold stock. As the Financial Times and Forbes have recognised, 2020 could be retail’s ‘sale of the century’, as retailers turn to unprecedented sales and discounting tactics to shift inventory.

This represents an immense logistics challenge. Not only do they need to move unsold products that have built up over the pandemic, but they also need to ensure that their trade flows and storage capacities are equipped to handle upcoming seasonal trends, high volumes of customer returns, and a high churn of products. These challenges are not new to the sector, but have become more testing in the wake of the pandemic.

"The global e-commerce market is expected to reach a volume of $6 trillion by 2023"

We are staying agile in how we manage these challenges for retailers as they re-focus their attention to getting goods to their stores, third party-retailers, and other offline centres – each of which will be re-opening in different stages across the world.

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Retailers need greater visibility of where their cargo is going, which blockchain powered platforms such as TradeLens help make possible. Ports and terminals cannot settle for just being handlers of cargo; they must become sophisticated, integrated facilities for customers to move, store, and re-distribute their goods. At London Gateway for example, we use our automated facilities to support a major online retailer, based in the logistics park, to respond to their customer demands in real-time. They utilise consumer data to identify priority cargo, enabling us to deliver direct to their distribution centre as quickly and efficiently as possible.

At the same time, we cannot lose sight of how these solutions are essential for navigating the demand of e-commerce, which has soared during the pandemic with the global e-commerce market expected to reach a volume of $6 trillion by 2023. Customers around the world have become accustomed to getting the goods they want, when they want them, sometimes over-night, no matter where they’re coming from.

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But getting goods to customers is just one side of the equation. Supply chains are equally responsible for returning goods when they are rejected. Retailers’ reverse logistics capacity must be nimble enough to manage these complexities and satisfy the increasing expectations of consumers. It is not as simple as ‘return to sender’. Goods may be sent for repair, re-enter local or regional inventories, exchanged, re-routed through a discount provider’s supply chain, recycled, or disposed of.

The growth of the online retail market alongside evolving consumer shopping habits mean that reverse logistics is now an integral function of efficient supply chains. The effectiveness of this process is critical for enabling retail businesses to cater to the demands of their international customer bases, whether they are using offline or e-commerce retail platforms. Or both.

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I encourage the retail sector to assess how it could make more effective use of storage capabilities, inventory buffers, and returns logistics solutions so that its business models can stay flexible, mitigate against future disruption, and avoid the unwanted inefficiencies or environmental damage that comes with the high-churn returns culture accelerated by the pandemic.

If retail is having its sale of the century and is to come out resilient on the other side, it’s because sophisticated logistics is enabling it to.