As supply chain and logistics trends continue to evolve amid new challenges, digital tools make a big difference in the ability of companies to source products and ensure deliveries to customers, writes Yikun Shao, the head of supply chain for North America at

Yikun Shao - Alibaba

Yikun Shao, head of supply chain for North America,

Businesses have been carefully watching the state of global supply chains as they have had to maneuver around obstacle after obstacle to ensure they meet the increasing demands of customers. In 2024, businesses will continue to feel the brunt of existing challenges, as well as meet new ones, and it will be critical to anticipate and find new ways to manage these issues while living up to customer expectations.

Crowdsourced delivery allows businesses to scale their shipment operations and achieve delivery timeliness and efficiency.

Of note, nearly four in ten (38%) small businesses think the global supply chain outlook will have a negative impact on their business, according to an survey, so it will be important to watch for changes throughout the year and monitor for potential concerns.

One of the most pressing challenges the industry faces is a shift of issues from the supply to the demand side. On the supply side, more raw materials are available, and there are fewer transportation obstacles.

However, on the demand side, there has been rising inflation globally, and backlogged inventory, especially in the U.S. and E.U., has led to a decrease in demand, compounded by decreased demand for certain products. While the U.S. saw a return to pre-pandemic consumer holiday season spending in 2023, businesses may still want a more conservative approach and order products in smaller quantities, meaning that meeting shipping requirements may become more difficult. Demand is not able to meet the products that the supply side is able to provide.


On top of this, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing as supply chains are still readjusting from related interruptions. There is more stability, but recovery takes time, especially as new challenges arise.

Mounting Concerns Businesses Should Monitor

Businesses are also facing a number of additional issues that could spell trouble for them throughout the year that they should be watching carefully:

  • Cyber attacks: Threats from bad actors continue to be a growing issue. Small businesses are three times more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals, and the cost of cybercrimes to small businesses reached $2.4 billion in 2021.
  • Labor and government shutdowns: 70% of small business owners say a government shutdown would negatively impact their business, and 93% say it would hurt their revenue. Additionally, labor strikes can also impact small businesses by disrupting vendors or shipping partners.
  • Natural disaster events: With 2023 on track to be the hottest year on record and extreme weather events increasing, supply chains could be increasingly disrupted by natural disasters and unworkable conditions.
  • Panama Canal disruptions: The drought in Panama, largely caused by the El Niño climate phenomenon, has caused major delays and bottlenecks for those in the logistics industry. Scientists believe climate change may be prolonging dry spells and increasing temperatures in Panama. As such, the situation has become dire and expected to continue into at least mid-2024, as the number of ships allowed through the canal will decrease into February.
  • The state of the U.S. economy: 47% of small business owners feel the economy will get worse in the next 12 months, and 58% said their business is being impacted by higher interest rates.

It will be crucial for businesses to monitor these and other issues and adapt as necessary by tapping into innovative industry tools and resources.

Digital Tools Address the Changing Supply Chain Landscape

As supply chain and logistics trends continue to evolve, digital tools can make it easier to manage operations to ensure on-time deliveries. There are a variety of tools on the market that can help businesses stay up-to-date on shipping and inventory processes. Companies can also invest in data analytics programs to assess patterns in inventory management and customer demands. There are even technology offerings that can help model and then execute on needs as supply chains come under greater stress. The goal in utilizing digital solutions like these is to predict trends, streamline processes and increase efficiency no matter the current supply chain landscape.


To make the biggest impact, specifically engineered intelligent tools, like’s Smart Assistant, are also available, and they can provide better insight into the sourcing process. They can include features surrounding supplier transparency, direct communication with translation, shipment tracking, protections for wrong or delayed orders, and digital inventory awareness. These functions allow businesses to keep tabs on their orders and adjust to changes to time orders accordingly and, most of all, have peace of mind when sourcing their products.

However, employing digital tools is just one avenue businesses can take for upping their supply chain game.

Alternative Shipping and Warehousing Methods

Thinking outside the box when updating your shipping practices can also help to increase efficiencies, meet the growing demand for faster deliveries and stay resilient during supply chain setbacks.

There is a newer phenomenon in the form of crowdsourced delivery. This allows businesses to scale their shipment operations and work with other businesses to achieve timeliness and efficiency in deliveries. This communal form of shipping will continue to grow and become highly utilized in the coming years as technology becomes more widely adopted.


Beyond crowdsourced delivery, the localization of supply chains is also helping keep things closer to home, reduce logistics costs and cut order fulfillment time for small businesses. Localization may take the form of strategically built warehousing networks to maintain inventory closer to major customer bases. Some businesses are also using third-party warehouses, but these can have numerous and complex restrictions, which are constantly evolving. With that in mind, regional warehousing could be a viable alternative.

The world of ecommerce logistics and supply chain is constantly changing, but digitization, localization and omni-channel distribution are the three areas of innovation that businesses should consider taking advantage of. New technologies are bringing more transparency to the process than ever before. While these trends are growing, it will be critical for businesses to stay vigilant and monitor for new innovations and supply chain developments in order to be ready to tackle future challenges and seize new opportunities to evolve and improve their supply chains.

About the author:

Yikun Shao is Head of Supply Chain for North America at international marketplace

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