May 2020 | Commentary | Checking In

Staying Productive in Unproductive Times

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Risk Management, E-commerce

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

While driving around my neighborhood, I've noticed a lot more people putting items out to the curb. Have you noticed this? I wondered about that for a moment and then realized what was happening. People are using the virus downtime to organize, clean, and take up projects long postponed. The result is an uptick in curbside bounty.

The same is happening in business. No one could have anticipated what we are currently going through. No panacea is providing the cure for what ails business operations no matter what "experts" say. There is no secret supply chain sauce or source of solutions. One-size answers will not fit all businesses. Who would have expected political leaders to kill a large chunk of the economy in an instant?

Basically, business-wise, you are on your own and will be in the future as the recovery kicks in. But like those garage-cleaning, motivated-to-organize-in-downtime homeowners, some business owners are doing the same.

A Painful Teachable Moment

Rather than wait for the next man-caused disruption or pandemic, smart business managers are extracting knowledge from a forensic investigation of their operations based on COVID-19 stress and kicking bad practices to the curb. Improving procurement practices? Yes. Upgrading technology? That too. Organizing warehouse operations? Finding new logistics partners? Revising and expanding business disruption planning? They are doing it all.

Fending off massive disruption by accelerating the shift to digital platforms is an answer for some. For many, customer buying habits have changed significantly, and the virus has increased Digital Darwinism for those who were late to the e-commerce party.

The number of unique digital shoppers rose 40% year over year in Q1 2020, according to Salesforce's Global Shopping Index. Digital shoppers drove 20% revenue growth compared to 12% in Q1 2019. Virus e-commerce buying outpaced the rate of pre-pandemic holiday shopping in 2019, which was seen as very strong.

What will business and consumer buying look like in a post-pandemic world? Will consumption habits snap back to the old normal? Not completely. A large lift in permanent work-from-home employees will change what people buy and when. More consumers have been acculturated to e-commerce and they won't go back.

A new Capgemini Research Institute report supports this dynamic, finding that consumers' online shopping patterns will continue to grow once lockdowns are over. Taking the time now to organize business practices that ensure success in that environment is the best way to be productive in an unproductive time.






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