Have you ever tried to buy something online but were disappointed when you discovered that it was out of stock? Or worse, maybe you did make the purchase, but after weeks of waiting, the product you ordered never arrived at your front door.
In ecommerce, this happens all the time. For instance, sometimes websites aren't updated fast enough and customers accidentally purchase a product that's actually out of stock. Or, there may be an issue with a supply chain, and the delivery is delayed until a future date. Or, a company just may have too many deliveries at one time and needs more time to get you your package.
Whatever the reason is, customers don't like being left in the dark and they want to know when their purchase is going to be delivered. If you don't have a visible supply chain, some customers will get frustrated by having to wait without a clear delivery date, while others will lose faith that they're getting their product at all. This uneasiness is more than enough to stop first-time buyers from returning to your store because they don't know if they're going to receive their order at the right time.
In this post, we'll explain everything you need to know about supply chain visibility, including what it is, why it's important, and ways you can improve it at your business.
What Is Supply Chain Visibility?
Supply chain visibility describes how easy it is for a business or consumer to track the delivery of products or parts that were ordered online. The benefit of making this information available is that all stakeholders of the business know when a product will be delivered or available for purchase.
For a business, supply chain visibility helps you understand when a product will be restocked so you can promote it to your customer base. If you know that a popular product is going to be delivered soon, you can create a timely advertising campaign and spread the message to your customers.
Why Supply Chain Visibility Is Important in Customer Service
Supply chain visibility doesn't just tell a business when a product will restock the shelves. In ecommerce, customers want to know when a product will arrive at their front door and will be disappointed if it's delivered later than expected. If they have no clue when the product will be delivered, most will be wary until it arrives on their doorstep.
Even when it does arrive, some customers will hesitate to return for another purchase. Especially if they wanted it delivered quickly or needed it by a specific date.
Here's a real example from my own experience.
Last summer, I bought a canoe from an online retailer because it was on sale. Unfortunately, I found out that the canoe was placed on backorder and it wouldn't be delivered until after August. My dreams of traversing the great rapids of northern New Hampshire quickly faded as I packed away my paddles for next summer and waited until Fall for my canoe to arrive.
The feeling of delight that I received from the sale was quickly negated by the company's poor supply chain visibility. While I was happy that I got a good deal, I wanted the canoe for this summer, not the next one. Since the company did a poor job communicating its product availability, I won't return for another purchase because I can't trust that the next order will be delivered in a timely manner.
Had the company done more to communicate the product was on backorder, this point of friction would have been avoided. I still would have bought the discounted canoe, but my expectations would have been properly set to have it delivered at the end of the summer. This would have strengthened my relationship with the brand because I would have appreciated their proactive customer service.
That's just one way a brand can improve supply chain visibility. Read on for a few more ideas in the next section.
Increasing Supply Chain Visibility
Map Your Supply Chain Network.
Be Proactive When Sharing Updates.
Communicate Often With Suppliers.
Offer Shipping Tracking.
Provide Real-Time Shipping Updates.
Partner With an Online Shopping Assistant.
Gather Customer Feedback.
1. Map Your Supply Chain Network.
Before you can make your supply chain more visible, you need to understand how it works and where your company's resources are coming from. The easiest way to do this is to map out all of your suppliers and analyze how each one delivers its product or resource to your business. Once you know how your products get made and delivered to your customers, you'll have an easier time making your supply chain more visible.
2. Be Proactive When Sharing Updates.
When a problem does affect your supply chain, it's important to be proactive and communicate any changes to your customer base. Don't wait around for customers to reach out to your support team because they haven't received an order. Instead, message them directly, so they know you're aware of the issue and are working to deliver their purchase as soon as possible.
You don't have to explain every detail, but you do need to let them know why shipping is delayed and when they can expect their product to be delivered. Remember, most customers will be understanding if you're transparent and reassuring. But, if you don't tell them when they're going to receive their order, they're going to keep calling until they get an answer.
3. Communicate Often With Suppliers.
The best way to know when a new shipment will arrive is to communicate often with your suppliers. If you forge a strong relationship with them, you can confidently tell customers when a purchase will arrive. And, when issues do affect your supply chain, you'll be one of the first to know about any updates or delays.
4. Offer Shipping Tracking.
If your an ecommerce brand, a great way to increase supply chain visibility is to add automated shipment tracking to your website — like in the example below.
This software lets the customer know exactly when an order is processed, shipped, and delivered to their front door. It also has live tracking updates that describe where the product is in each step of the delivery process. For instance, in the example above, we can see the product was packaged on June 8th and was sent out for delivery later that afternoon. That way, if the customer doesn't receive the package on June 8th, both the business and the customer know there was an issue with the delivery.
5. Provide Real-Time Shipping Updates.
Similar to the live tracking updates in the last example, real-time updates are another way to let customers know when a product will be delivered. In fact, many businesses use SMS to message customers with delivery updates, just like in the example below.
If you aren't looking to offer in-house shipping tracking, another option is to partner with an online shopping assistant who can do this for you. For example, Shop is an order tracking app that tells customers when their product is going to arrive. When customers buy something, their order information is forwarded to Shop where they can review things like expected delivery date, tracking numbers, and previous purchases.
Shop can even map the delivery route so you know exactly where an order is when it's marked "in transit" on the app.
If you're not sure where to improve supply chain visibility at your business, a good place to start is by surveying your customers. You can do this with an NPS or CSAT survey that's sent via email once a product has been delivered. With this survey, you can ask customers where your business can improve its delivery process and what more your company can offer after a purchase is made.