Supply Chain Trends to Watch; Top Retail Logistics Challenges; Other News

Supply Chain Trends to Watch; Top Retail Logistics Challenges; Other News

Supply chain technology trends to watch for 2024; what are retail logistics professionals most concerned about?; the fallout from the Baltimore bridge collapse; and other logistics and supply chain news.

Supply Chain Tech Trends to Watch

These are the top supply chain technology trends for 2024, as identified in Gartner’s recent annual update:

1. Cyber Extortion

AI will help cyber criminals intensify ransomware attacks on supply chain organizations. As a result, supply chain tech leaders will look to include ransomware attack scenarios in their corporate risk management processes.

2. Supply Chain Data Governance

Powerful advanced analytics and AI tools are scaling the capabilities for cross-functional visibility, scenario modeling, and decision automation. This is elevating the importance of maintaining a high level of data quality and strict governance processes.

3. End-to-End Sustainable Supply Chains

To meet growing sustainability-related legislation demands, data accuracy around sustainability must now meet stakeholder requirements while also driving internal decision-making.

4. AI-Enabled Vision Systems

Combining industrial 3D cameras, computer vision software, and advanced AI pattern recognition technologies, AI-enabled vision systems are positioned to be the next big thing in hyper-automation solutions.

5. Augmented Connected Workforce (ACWF)

ACWF initiatives seek to optimize intelligent technology, workforce analytics, and skills augmentation to serve as a unified, cohesive strategy to accelerate and scale talent.

6. Composite AI

The combined application of multiple AI techniques, composite AI will grow in importance as a way to improve the efficiency and accuracy of learning to solve a variety of business problems that drive supply chain performance improvements.

7. Next-Generation Humanoid Working Robots

Coming soon to a warehouse near you? Next-gen humanoid robots combine sensory awareness with mobile manipulation and dynamic locomotion to perform productive work that was previously relegated to biological humans.

8. Machine Customers

Machine customers are nonhuman economic actors that autonomously obtain goods or services in exchange for payment. One example is IoT-connected devices or assets that place orders independently of human command.

SMBs Embrace Global Trade

In a world where “local” is king, new data from the 2024 FedEx Small Business Trade Index challenges the narrative, highlighting the impactful role that global trade plays in the U.S. economy and showing surprising strength for small and mid-sized business (SMBs) in particular.

With global trade and free trade sure to remain highly debated topics in this election year, how do SMBs view the global marketplace? Here are some insights from the survey:

  • 96% of small business leaders support increased U.S. trade with global markets, with 85% saying it will help increase job growth and 79% believing it will help their business.
  • 86% of respondents credit e-commerce platforms for driving global trade and business growth.
  • 95% advocate for job retraining to enhance U.S. competitiveness on the global stage.
  • 84% cite shipping delays or disruptions due to geopolitical issues as the main barriers when exporting or importing goods.

Retailers Shop for Volatility Fixes

Between ongoing supply chain concerns, increased rent prices, and shoplifting, leading retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s have been forced to close stores. Despite the volatility, retailers feel the need to keep up with shifting consumer demands. Not surprisingly, they cite a long list of current challenges in NP Digital’s newest report, 2024 Retail Reveal.

More than 1,000 retail professionals across the United States shared their trends and fears for the year in the report, listing issues that include adapting to changes in how customers consume advertisements, growing sustainability initiatives, and navigating the ever-evolving role of AI in retail. Survey highlights include:

  • Supply chain focus. 33% of retailers name supply chain improvements as one of their top priorities for 2024, second only to strengthening brand loyalty.
  • Artificial intelligence. More than half (53%) of retailers plan to leverage AI to make personalized product recommendations for customers.
  • Navigating economic uncertainty. To generate sales in today’s economic climate, 56% of retailers say they plan to adjust prices, followed by partnering with influencers on co-branded products (49%).
  • Rent struggles. Almost half (48%) of retailers say brick-and-mortar rent prices are hurting profits—of which two-thirds (66%) are considering closing their physical storefront.
  • Rise of retail theft. Theft is a major concern for retailers—more than half (52%) state they feel “very” or “extremely” concerned and are taking action to address it.
  • Staffing concerns. More than 75% are examining ways to overcome staffing challenges in the new year.
  • Building up the brand: 37% see strengthening brand loyalty as a winning strategy in 2024.

Visibility Views Evolve

Real-time visibility has transitioned from a value-added service to a fundamental customer expectation. That’s the key takeaway from The State of Visibility 2024 survey from Charlie Pesti and Shipping & Freight Resource in partnership with Tive, which looked at elements driving the growing emphasis on real-time shipment visibility.

Respondents underscore the escalating demand for immediate tracking capabilities across sectors such as logistics, pharmaceuticals, and retail and they cite benefits including enhanced customer satisfaction and operational efficiencies.

However, the survey also shows persistent challenges to achieving effective real-time visibility, including technological integration, data accuracy, and high implementation costs.

Key takeaways from the survey include:

  • Industry specifics. The demand for real-time shipment visibility is especially high within the logistics service provider/3PL sector. Here, 42% of customers ask for 75-100% real-time visibility, followed by 36% of customers demanding 51-75% visibility.
  • Slow progress. Despite the critical need for real-time shipment visibility, nearly half of the surveyed organizations have not yet adopted this technology. However, 77% acknowledge its indispensability, and 42% of customers demand 75-100% shipment visibility.
  • Technology adoption. IoT devices are among the most adopted technologies for enhancing visibility, with 53% of companies currently leveraging IoT trackers/devices (vs. 25% in 2023) to facilitate real-time tracking and data analysis for decision-making.
  • Role in digital transformation. 41% of respondents consider shipment visibility a high priority, while 30% of participants assign it the highest priority level, underlining its critical role in enhancing digital strategies.

Baltimore Bridge Collapse: What now?

The tragic collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge in March sent ripple effects through the supply chain, with concerns arising over the disruption of vital logistics routes. As the primary artery to the Port of Baltimore, the collapse is poised to disrupt logistics flows for some time.

The 1.6-mile bridge served as a lifeline for the Port of Baltimore, facilitating the movement of goods crucial to the regional and national economy. Statistics show the key role the port plays:

  • In 2023, the port handled 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo, valued at nearly $81 billion, including a record 847,158 cars and light trucks, as well as 1.3 million tons of roll on/roll off farm and construction machinery.
  • In total, roughly 30 to 40 container vessels call the Port of Baltimore every week, unloading or loading some 21,000 TEU (containers).
  • More than 50 ocean carriers make nearly 1,800 annual visits to the port.
  • The port generates approximately $2.6 billion in business income.
  • More than 15,000 workers are directly employed at the port and it is indirectly responsible for nearly 140,000 more jobs in trucking, warehousing, and other related industries.

What should we expect moving forward? Delays and disruptions are inevitable, and experts say the incident underscores the vulnerability of global supply chains.

“The disruption comes as geopolitical conflicts and natural disasters wreak havoc elsewhere. It won’t take much to hobble supply chains and reinflate price pressures,” notes Harry Murphy Cruise, economist, Moody’s Analytics.

“Supply chain managers who get their deliveries via affected routes need to immediately accelerate orders that are likely to be affected. Speed of action is critical,” adds Andrei Quinn-Barabanov, supply chain industry practice lead at Moody’s.

The silver lining, if there is one?

“Delays should be measured in days or weeks, not months,” say Ben Ruddell and Richard Rushforth, professors in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University. “The abundance of alternative ports on the U.S. Atlantic provides redundancy and resilience and will expedite supply chain adaptation, limiting overall consequences from this disaster.”