Companies need to focus on more flexible inventory management and effective communications with suppliers, customers and employees to help keep supply chains flowing with products, experts say.

For many distributors, wholesalers and digital sellers of business goods and services, a top priority during the coronavirus pandemic is keeping products coming in from manufacturers and other suppliers. Already, companies of all size are seeing a disruption in their supply chain, especially from China.

We brought in 20% more inventory of top-selling SKUs several weeks ago when we first learned about the virus.
Mike Connors, CEO
Bulbs.com
MikeConnors-Bulbs-com

Mike Connors, CEO, Bulbs.com

A new poll of 600 supply chain managers by the Institute of Supply Chain Management finds that nearly 75% of companies report supply chain disruptions in some capacity related to coronavirus-related transportation restrictions, and more than 80% say that their organization will experience some impact because of disruptions stemming from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“The story the data tells is that companies are faced with a lengthy recovery to normal operations in the wake of the virus outbreak,” says institute CEO Thomas Derry. “For a majority of U.S. businesses, lead times have doubled, and that shortage is compounded by the shortage of air and ocean freight options to move product to the United States—even if they can get orders filled.”

Consistent communication crucial

For many companies such as Bulbs.com, which has operated a B2B ecommerce site for 21 years and sells about 85% of its products online, the buying behavior of its customers is driving how it’s reacting to the coronavirus. “Developing plans to address this coronavirus is based on consistency of voice and actions for our customers and employees,” says Bulbs CEO Mike ConnorsWe are also identifying ecommerce and operational adjustments that have been brought on by the current situation.”

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Bulbs.com sells such products as light bulbs, fixtures and related lighting products to companies in the real estate management, hospitality, foodservice and related industries, and it began laying in extra inventory beginning in January, Connors says. “Inventories in the U.S. are being depleted and Chinese manufacturers are not back to full production,” he says. “We brought in 20% more inventory of top-selling SKUs several weeks ago when we first learned about the virus and the potential impact on Chinese manufacturing.”

JoeCicman_ForresterResearch

Joe Cicman, analyst, Forrester Research

Today, Bulbs.com has inventory coming in from about 100 suppliers and is stepping up efforts to keep customers informed of key inventory levels—and keeping the lines of communication open with suppliers. “We are working very closely with our vendors and staying on top of various scenarios,” Connors says.

Get flexible with inventory management

With supply chain disruptions becoming more likely as the coronavirus continues to shut down big parts for the U.S. economy and as manufacturers prioritize who and who doesn’t get products, now is the time for B2B sellers to be flexible about inventory management, fulfillment and delivery, say ecommerce analysts. “Ensure that you remain in communication with your customers because you are their supply chain,” says Forrester Research Inc. senior e-business analyst Joe Cicman. “Your vendors should be doing the same, so make sure you remain in communication with them as well because they are your supply chain.”

JasonDaigler-Gartner

Jason Daigler, analyst, Gartner

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B2B sellers also need to think about diversification of their supplier base and mix and max order volume while shipments from manufacturers remain in flux during the current pandemic, says Jason Daigler, research director, commerce technology and experiences, at technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

For order processing, fulfillment, and delivery, it will be important for B2B sellers to set expectations properly for extended order processing and shipping times,” Daigler says. “They should advise buyers to expect delays as logistics systems are strained while doing their best to estimate arrival dates.”

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