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What is supply chain visibility, and why does it matter in eCommerce?

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Over the past few years, there have been a few black swans, also known as unpredictable events, in the world of eCommerce. There have been many times when businesses and customers worldwide have been left wondering where in the world their shipments were and how long it would be until they received them.

This disruption caused many businesses to examine their supply chains and the processes around them more closely. However, according to research by Zippia, this year, only 6% of companies report full visibility on their supply chain while 69% of companies don’t have total visibility.

Many organizations consider it impossible to understand exactly what’s going on at all levels of their supply chains. From shipment of raw materials and components to processing and manufacture to storage and shipping of the final products, there’s a lot to stay on top of and a lot of different players involved that have their own systems. 

At each stage, delays can be caused by any number of unforeseen events. These include adverse weather conditions, fire or natural disaster, or changes in customs laws between countries.

Good supply chain visibility means organizations can get ahead of the curve. It gives them an understanding of the likely delays caused by unexpected issues, and they can react accordingly. Recent advances have made supply chain risk management simpler and more effective than ever, which saves time and money and keeps customers happy.

If you’re looking to grow your eCommerce business, supply chain visibility must become a priority. Read on to learn more about this crucial metric and how increasing it can change the game for your organization.

69% of companies don't have total supply chain visibility

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What is supply chain visibility?

Supply chain visibility sounds relatively simple. In short, it’s a company’s ability to track products from the point of ordering them to the moment they reach the end user. 

However, for many companies, this involves multiple stages: the shipment of raw materials or components to a factory or workshop, for example, and the subsequent shipment of the finished product to a warehouse. That’s not even mentioning the final fulfillment and shipping of individual customers’ orders.

Thanks to enterprise cloud communications solution software and digital inventory management systems, companies can streamline the visibility of their entire supply chain in one place. This provides a deeper and broader understanding of how deadlines are being met as well as any circumstances that are stopping this from happening. This, in turn, helps companies give realistic ETAs and improve customer relations as well as cut costs and drive sales.

With the right technology, products and processes can be tracked using several criteria. For example, you can view all current transactions by batch number, date of manufacture, or date of order to gain a precise ETA prediction. Supply chain visibility also covers safety and legal information about products and materials and supplier information.

Key benefits of supply chain visibility

Investing in supply chain visibility may be far down your list of things to do, but the impact of this tool could alter processes across your business for the better. Here are just some of the benefits your organization will discover.

Reducing risk

A lack of end-to-end visibility can often lead to missing or unaccounted-for consignments. Inventory levels can change quickly based on surges in demand, making it hard to fulfill orders. Without proper reporting on how much is in stock, how quickly new inventory can get to you, and where expected shipments are in the world, you’ll find yourself with significant delays.

Delays can lead to loss of business and reputation. This is especially true at busy times of the year, such as Christmas, when a majority of customers need orders by a particular date.

Digital supply chain visibility solutions can not only show you what you currently have in stock but also predict future demand based on previous patterns. Using artificial intelligence (AI), your software can even make automatic purchasing adjustments to account for sudden surges or drops in demand. This vastly reduces the risk of running out of inventory during a prime time for buying as well as enables you to save money by stopping your organization from purchasing unnecessary stock.

Of course, even when you send the right product at the right time, there’s always a chance customers won’t be entirely happy with it. However, a thorough understanding of your supply chain can help streamline product returns, replacements, and refunds. 

When your customer service agents can instantly see what’s in stock and where it is, they can provide better solutions for unsatisfied customers. On top of that, your visibility solution’s AI capabilities can anticipate the rate of returns over time to ensure you’re never out of stock.

Reduce risk, communicate better, analyze results

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Streamlining communication

Making timely decisions for your business can be difficult in a fast-moving market. When you add in multiple suppliers across different time zones, problems can arise. Communication difficulties between your virtual eCommerce team and manufacturers, couriers, and customers make it difficult for you to plan in advance, respond quickly to problems, and pass on accurate information to your customers.

What your company needs are cloud communications for small businesses that help provide real-time insight into what they’re able to fulfill within different time frames. It’s important to train your employees across different teams in using your chosen visibility solution because all areas of the business can be affected by uninformed decisions.

For example, if your sales team completes a deal based on the immediate dispatch of an order but they don’t know that the product they’ve promised is on backorder, they can risk losing business and gaining a poor reputation for reliability. If, on the other hand, the sales team has instant access to the relevant data, they can create more realistic expectations and avoid having to make excuses for delays later down the line.

Feedback and forward planning

With a digital supply chain visibility solution in your toolbelt, the benefits are multiple. You’ll not only have access to real-time information about current transactions but also a buildup of rich data. Your team can analyze that data to improve procurement and shipping and optimize lead times in supply chain management in the future.

Supply chain data can also help you look at how well your current chains are functioning. That will help you make informed decisions about dropping suppliers, finding new vendors, outsourcing abroad, changing your shipping options, and much more. It will also allow you to be transparent when making deals with new customers or suppliers because you can show them how your current chain works and where they’ll fit into it. This will increase trust and give you an edge over the competition.

The figures will speak for themselves over time by clearly showing how your choices are improving operations.

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What does a high-visibility supply chain look like?

With a little attention, your supply chain can become the core of a highly polished operation. The most highly visible chains contain both depth and breadth of information.

Any member of your team should be able to establish an immediate overview of all the elements of your supply chain and how they’re working together. You should also be able to dig deeper with ease to gain a richer insight into any aspect of the chain.

This will change the way things are done in your organization. Now your product designers and manufacturers will be able to find out if all materials and components are available before starting work. Your sales and marketing teams will be able to plan their launches and campaigns to correspond with planned deliveries of actual stock.

Over time, you’ll also be able to push for greater integration between your own supply chain system and those of your suppliers and logistics operators. This will allow for easier and more profitable cooperation because teams can verify the location of one another’s orders at each stage.

A high-visibility supply chain can’t stop all mistakes from happening, but it can immediately flag issues before they snowball. Your team and your suppliers can resolve issues quickly or make better arrangements to avoid delays.

These factors will come together to create better relationships with suppliers and logistics providers, improve customer satisfaction, and increase your eCommerce conversion rate due to your enhanced reputation.

57% of companies look to supply chains to give them a competitive edge

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The benefits of inventory management and supply chain transparency are easy to see. Still, not all organizations are ready to dive into technology-driven results. After all, many factories and logistics companies have been operating in the same way for decades without significant change.

However, in a recent study by Zippia, 57% of companies surveyed believed that supply chain management would give them a competitive edge, and 70% cited supply chains as a key driver for quality customer service. The zeitgeist of supply chains is changing, and it’s time for your organization to get ahead of the competition.

Thanks to easily trackable services such as Amazon Prime, consistent and reliable fulfillment of orders is becoming a customer expectation. Companies that delay digitizing their supply chains will soon find themselves losing business as a result of unanticipated supply chain disruptions.

With AI-empowered technology behind you, you can prove yourself to be the best choice by speeding up your operations and providing better and more informed customer service. You’ll save time and money, and your consistent fulfillment of orders and timely responses to crises will win you both new and repeat customs.

Invest in supply chain visibility early, and let it guide your eCommerce decisions across the board.

Alwayne Powell


Alwayne Powell, the Director of International Digital Marketing at 8x8, is an experienced performance marketing leader with an extensive background in the digital space, working client and agency side to provide paid search, SEO and CRO solutions in the B2B and B2C sectors. They are the current Senior Digital Marketing Manager at leading communication platform provider 8x8. You can find them on LinkedIn


Published July 5, 2023